By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
A long time ago, in another era of TV land, there was a show called The Millionaire. It wasn't reality TV so it didn't really happen, but it played to the daydreams of many viewers looking for a bit of luck.
The millionaire (never seen on camera) made it his business to give money away to people. He picked a different person each week, handing a cashier's check to his executive assistant. The assistant would go out into the world and deliver a check for a million dollars to a stunned recipient.
The Houston Press isn't in the position to hand out million-dollar checks. But it can do something real in terms of recognition and a monetary award (on a slightly lesser scale). The idea that there are worthy people out there, particularly in the arts world, whom we could recognize with praise and reward with a little seed money was a compellingly satisfying one — and one we decided to pursue.
We started talking about the MasterMind program with our readers last fall. We would recognize local artists working in all sorts of milieus: visual arts, performance arts, writing, video, whatever. We took in nominations and examples of work through the end of October, and then our critics and some of our staff members put their heads together and came up with a list of the best possibilities before narrowing the field to our winners.
This Saturday we'll hand out three $2,000 checks to the recipients of our 2009 MasterMind awards in an8:45 p.m. ceremony at the Winter Street Studios at 2101 Winter Street. It'll all be part of our first-ever Artopia bash, an extravaganza of food and drink and art and fashion viewing.
Through the process, we weren't looking for a lifetime or body of work. We were looking for artists on the cutting edge right now, people and groups doing some pretty amazing things, often on limited budgets.
In the end, the artists who caught our eye were an interestingly mixed bag:
• Patrick Medrano and Katy Anderson: a husband/wife team of visual artists who specialize in different mediums and combined their talents and work to transform an abandoned building into an East Texas art mecca.
• Hightower High School's Broadcast Academy: a group of high school broadcast students under outstanding teacher Ted Irving who's got them doing things both technologically advanced and ethically impressive.
• Nova Arts Project: a new member of Houston's alternative theater scene carrying live performances that introduce new audiences to theater.
The stories of each group are uplifting, the challengers overcoming more than plenty enough. Through them all weaves a common thread of determination, creativity and the search for excellence.
Patrick Medrano and Katy Anderson
When Patrick Medrano and Katy Anderson met, neither knew their most ambitious and exciting collaboration as artists — Medrano paints and sculpts; Anderson is a photographer — would involve buying an abandoned building in a Texas ghost town that everyone wanted to forget, and then transforming it into an East Texas art mecca.
"I really want to get people out there because once you're there you can feel it," says Anderson. "I want to get it cleaned up and show people how cool it can be and how close it is to Houston. It's only about two and a half hours away; it's a perfect day trip."
Fodice, Texas, is a tiny blip on the map in Houston County near the Davy Crockett National Forest. Settled by freed slaves after the Civil War, by 1914 the community was thriving. In 1938, the Works Progress Administration made improvements to the schoolhouse, which held classes until 1960, when desegregation caused students to be transferred to other area schools. As a result the population of the town dwindled, and the school was eventually abandoned. It received a Texas historical marker in 1997.
Now married, both Medrano and Anderson are familiar with small-town Texas. They grew up in little cities that are virtually equidistant from Houston. Anderson was raised in the East-Texas Austonio/Lovelady area to the north, and Medrano hails from coastal Victoria to the southwest.
Since forming the Fodice Foundation last year (2008) to restore the school building and host artist residencies, the two artists have realized that once you start digging up history in East Texas, there are those who'd rather keep it buried. "We're saving a historical site and letting the world know about a community that nobody knew about before," says Medrano. "Whether they want to or not, they're going to know about it. All we can do is tell the truth and make a really exceptional arts community out of it."
Anderson, who lived near the school and first started exploring the building while she was in high school, is aware of the local attitudes when it comes to Fodice, and it crosses racial divides. "We're going to be bringing trouble in their eyes — and change. Digging up all this black history, which no one wants to talk about there. It wasn't until I left that I realized the kind of ignorance that exists there."
Medrano and Anderson hope the foundation's outreach program — bringing artists into community schools and mentoring students — will change locals' perspectives on their own history and hopefully foster acceptance and a deeper understanding of other cultures.