Arts / Performing Arts

The Woodlands’ Unique Artfeel Celebrates the World of Difference That Art Can Create — Embracing How the Works Move You

What Started as One Woman's Journey Has Become a Community Wide Phenomenon

BY // 12.28.23
photography Frankie Collado

While experiencing some mobility issues due to autoimmune disease-fueled severe joint pain, Artfeel’s founder Nickole Kerner Bobley, a resident of The Woodlands, found inspiration and motivation in her recovery process in the extensive public art collection in the community. The art benches along The Woodlands Waterway, a project of The Woodlands Arts Council, literally became benchmarks for Bobley to measure her progress as she once again started to walk more independently.

Slowly at first, then a little more each day with the benches marking her progress.  

“The art motivated me to get moving again,” Bobley tells PaperCity The Woodlands.

That motivation in turn led her to create Artfeel about five years ago to honor the relationship she had formed with public art. The Woodlands Arts Council also partners on Artfeel.

Artfeel is an art appreciation show that spotlights a particular public artwork and asks people to share how it makes them feel – their artfeel. Some people sing. Some dance. Some play instruments. Some tell a story. Some read a literary excerpt or perform spoken word poetry. Some show-and-tell their own artwork in progress or share a sentimental object from home. And some say just one word – the emotion the artwork has evoked in them.

Everyone gets two minutes or less to express themselves using the artwork as a creative prompt. Artists, accountants, physicians and plumbers alike have all taken part. While the quarterly events are scheduled, some passers-by stumble across the show by accident.

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“People who we catch accidentally often stop and say the most profound things,” Bobley says.

David Deveau, Nickole Kerner Bobley and Gideon Busamante at Shoal's ArtFeel. Bobley presented the hosting robes at show's end to celebrate Gideon joining David as co-host.
David Deveau, Nickole Kerner Bobley and Gideon Busamante at Shoal’s ArtFeel. Bobley presented the hosting robes at show’s end to celebrate Gideon joining David as co-host.

Past Artfeel events have taken place at Market Street and Hughes Landings, but Artfeel had its beginnings at Crush Wine Bar on The Waterway. The latest show used “Shoal,” a newly installed piece of art at Hughes Landing from Squidsoup, as the inspiration for the evening’s creative expressions. The Bayou Land Conservancy group joined in the fun since Shoal was inspired by nature — a shoal of fish.

“Artfeel is an excellent way for our community to interact and immerse themselves with a piece of public art,” The Woodlands Arts Council executive director Jenny Carattini-Wright says. “We are glad to be in a community like The Woodlands that values public art and grateful to Howard Hughes for their contribution of Shoal.”

Artfeel is part of The Woodlands Arts Council’s “Because Art Matters” programming.

Inspired by the artwork, Gideon Bustamante, Artfeel’s artist-in-residence, led a creative collective — a Shoal of songwriters — in the production of an original song that debuted during the show. “Our songwriters took inspiration from several sensory elements of ‘Shoal’ and have been writing and producing from these notes of inspiration,“ Bustamante notes.

Artist Olimpia Petzold Rodriguez made the Artfeel show.
Artist Olimpia Petzold Rodriguez took part in the Artfeel show.

Other performers included show co-host David Deveau, poet Dede Fox, singer/songwriter Kurt Vatland, painter/mime Olimpia Petzold Rodriguez, writer Teresa Kenney, singer/songwriter Pilar Victoria, cosplay and performance artist Takanae Ana Mae, painter Marlo Saucedo, and storytellers Sarah Haider Alam, Amanda Kentworthy Van Dusen and Brandon Kline. 

Many of those performing appreciated the opportunity to transmit a positive message using art.

“To have this group in my community means to be aware of how impactful art can be in different people’s lives because art allows us to express our inner world in a profound way,” Rodriguez says.

The December show was the finale for Bobley as a host. She is passing the reins to Bustamante. 

“Here, I felt seen, heard and valued as a performer,” Bustamante says. “I felt like I had this new family.”

Bustamante is inspired to give back to The Woodlands community that is his home and is investigating new ways to expand Artfeel with Bobley (who will continue working on Artfeel behind the scenes).

“So many people are having more courage to showcase their art — thru Instagram, open mic nights,” Bustamante says. “Our goal is for people to engage with art.”

In a community like The Woodlands, with the clear emphasis on public art, there’s no shortage of opportunities to get involved with the art. To think about how it makes you feel.

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