Arts / Galleries

Little Galleries Turn The Heights Into a Walking Art Wonderland — and They’re Set to Spread Throughout Houston

These Miniature Masterpieces Leave a Big Impression

BY // 12.09.21

It’s a Lilliputian masterpiece that takes you a bit by surprise as you stroll down Heights Boulevard. There are two Little Galleries that pop up as you make your meandering way from Dish Society to Lululemon. These eye-catching treasures are a testament to the mesmerizing beauty of public art in unexpected spaces throughout Houston.

Beyond the murals and street art, now Little Galleries illuminate the expression of public art in Houston.

Right outside of The Heights’ popular sandwich haunt Ike’s Love and Sandwiches, you’ll stumble upon a little gallery that resembles a doll house perched on a turquoise stand featuring a diminutive sculpture by Houston-based artist and native Argentinian, Karen Navarro. The untitled piece is a part of Navarro’s series called “The Constructed Self” (2019 to 2022). Navarro’s work is deeply influenced by her experience as an immigrant.

“These miniature maquettes — it’s a wonderful idea produced in such a thoughtful way,” Navarro says. “I thought it was so much fun. It’s a way of having art in the world for people who might not go to the museum.

Little Galleries
Houston-based artist Karen Navarro loves the unexpected beauty of little galleries popping up along your path. “I think that having art that’s free and open to the public.”

Little Galleries is the brainchild of Tra’ and Amber Slaughter, co-creators of the nonprofit organization Artists for Artists.

“Tra introduced me to the Miniature Show,” Amber Slaughter tells PaperCity. “The entire family became obsessed. I thought, ‘This is so fantastic. I can work in miniatures and potentially grow a public art program, if we do this.’ So that’s where the idea is born.”

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The objective of the Little Galleries program is two-fold — to engage the community and to also help support local artists through these miniature installations, according to Slaughter.

“What a great place to engage the community and have free access to fine art where there wouldn’t be access otherwise,” Slaughter says. “A lot of people are afraid to walk into a gallery. It’s perceived as being pretentious or very intimidating.

“In addition to a museum, they don’t have the funds to pay a hefty ticket price to get into some of these.”

Little Galleries
Launching from the Heights, this tiny gallery project could potentially open up to an artwalk of 10 Little Galleries. Photo Credit: Morris Malakoff

Beyond the aesthetic charm of the tiny galleries in little boxes popping up along your walk through The Heights, the essence of Little Galleries is to delve more deeply into the meaningful stories conveyed by Houston artists and activists.

“When I look at these galleries, I think of them as places to have these conversations — and for artists to make these statements, so we can learn,” Slaughter notes. “So we can evolve and have a memory of our past. These stories have to be told. They have to be honored, and we have to learn from them.

“And we have to teach future generations about the mistakes that we made. And if it makes you uncomfortable, then good. These stories have to be told. If you follow Artists for Artists Instagram, you’ll find the heart and soul behind the tiny paintings and installations, as well as the overall vision of the project.

“We’re looking at putting them throughout Houston, putting them in parks, also in the Houston Botanic Gardens, and even in the Texas Med Center. It’s good to get out and engage with public art and your community.”

Little Galleries
The message behind Little Galleries is that certain conversations need to be had from an artist’s perspective, so why not allow public art to be the vehicle. Photo Credit: Morris Malakoff

The goal is to start small and see what emerges from there, potentially an artwalk of 10 Little Galleries.

“The idea was doing a birthing of them in The Heights, so we could beta-test them,” Slaughter says. “We do want to grow the program, a large series of these, so we can do these artwalks. An artwalk would involve around 10 sites, in the same area where people can walk and engage with each of the little galleries and experience them all.

On view near Axelrad is a little gallery created by Houston-based artist and native Filipino Matt Manalo.

“When they asked me to be involved in it, I was really excited,” Manolo says. “I thought it was going to be a great opportunity to showcase my work because my work is sort of biographical.

“It’s about me being an immigrant here in the U.S.  I like that it (Little Galleries)  is making the story more accessible to the public.”

Little Galleries
The idea of creating a thought-provoking piece of art on a miniature scale intrigued Houston-based artist Matt Manalo.

Manalo’s work is grounded in sustainability. Inside the tiny gallery lies Manalo’s installation which bears an esoteric message borrowed from Rudyard Kipling: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.”

“The miniature is created out of sustainable materials to have this same feel and aesthetic,” Manalo says. “There are two parts of the message within the gallery. The words are actually borrowed from Rudyard Kipling’s A White Man’s Burden. Then, Mark Twain’s satirical response.

“These two literally works really spoke to me, and I wanted to highlight them, make it the center of the installation. It talks about my immigrant experience and what is the root that causes me to be here

The prospect of creating a thoughtful piece of art on a diminutive scale ignited Manalo’s creativity.

“One thing that really excites me about this was the scale of it,” Manalo says. “We were taught in art school to always go large. So to imagine work that is smaller and you only have this small box of space — how are you going to put this together? It was almost a challenge. I was really excited about that.”

Little Galleries Mean More Accessible Art

For artists involved in the Little Galleries project, it’s a creative opportunity to have their work on a less intrusive, wider platform.

“It’s an opportunity of being seen by tons of people who would otherwise have not seen my work,” Navarro says. “It’s a good way to support the arts in different ways, giving them exposure, paying artists to do that. The Heights is very artsy — and the Little Galleries offers a perfect setting.”

Navarro’s multimedia work weaves together thoughtful portraiture and still life imagery, delving into the intersections of identity.

“I started to think about the identity of social cultural construct,” Navarro says. “The latest body of work is about deconstruction of identity. How we contain many identities at the same time. From photography, I jumped into doing more collage.

“Sometimes pieces take up to two months to create. . . I enter into a meditative state which causes me to think about my own identity.”

Little Galleries
Houston-based artist Karen Navarro weaves Navarro loves to delve more deeply in the images of identity and the immigrant experience. Photo Credit: Morris Malakoff

There’s a greater mission behind the pop-up galleries concept — one which helps support the mental health initiative supported by Artists for Artists.

The revenue we take back in to the organization is allocated to our creative wellness program,” Slaughter says. “That is a program that we have been cultivating since the beginning the pandemic. It’s our initiative to get in front of emergencies that artists and musicians encounter when it comes to health care.

“Rather than writing a check when something gets to a critical level, I wanted to help more. There needed to be a bridge between health care providers and creators.”

What entices the artists like Navarro to the Little Galleries project is just the freedom of seeing her artwork in a different space that’s open to all Houstonians.

“I think it’s very exciting to see your work in a different setting,” Navarro says. “I think that having art that’s free and open to the public, it’s good for everyone. It’s like a gift for the city.”

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