Inside the MasterMinds

The Houston Press honors three local arts groups on the city's cutting edge.

Last year, we decided to spread a little good karma (and a little cash), and recognize some locals on the cutting edge Houston's arts scene. It's not like we're the Houston Endowment, and there were no foundation-imposed hoops through which potential candidates were required to jump; no grant writers needed — just a good reputation and some buzz.

And while we couldn't fund an entire theater season or provide a year's worth of studio rent, we could offer $2,000 apiece to three recipients and tell them to spend it however it helped — whether that meant supplies, rent, groceries...whatever.

The resulting MasterMind Awards didn't create any international superstars, but it allowed each of the recipients — at least in the short term — to take a deep breath, enjoy some local stardom and evaluate the next steps down their artistic paths. As far as we're concerned, that's a success. So why not try it again?

The intricate mosaics of Antoni Gaudí are the inspiration for MOCAH's public art projects.
Photos courtesy of Reginald Adams
The intricate mosaics of Antoni Gaudí are the inspiration for MOCAH's public art projects.
Adams uses MOCAH to expose kids to art.
Photos courtesy of Reginald Adams
Adams uses MOCAH to expose kids to art.

Last fall, we put out the feelers with our readers, and of course, our staff members and critics had some ideas too. After careful and considerate deliberation, we narrowed it down to three deserving winners.

So, in a ceremony at our second annual Artopia celebration, an evening of culture, fashion, art, food and music on January 30 at Winter Street Studios (2101 Winter St.), we'll hand off three $2,000 checks to our 2010 MasterMinds:

• Reginald Adams and his Museum of Cultural Arts, Houston, an organization that engages underserved communities with public art projects and arts education.

• Opera Vista, a young group that's developing artists and audiences for original opera works.

• SoReal Cru, an internationally recognized dance group specializing in hip-hop. SoReal recently opened a Bellaire studio as a springboard for young dance talent emerging in Houston.

On to the winners, then.

Reginald Adams and the Museum of Cultural Arts, Houston

When we think of public art in Houston, we might think of David Adickes's Virtuoso or Jean DuBuffet's Monument to the Phantom, two downtown sculptures that say essentially nothing about Houston life. While the city's public art is by no means offensive, it could be better. Artists like Dean Ruck and Dan Havel (Inversion) and the Art Guys bring a great local sensibility to their own public works. But one man is bringing public art to the people in a way that truly engages Houstonians.

Reginald Adams's lifelong relationship with art isn't a typical one. The dreadlocked 37-year-old was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and moved from city to city practically his entire childhood. His father worked for the Department of Agriculture, a job that required short-term stints in different locales. "Since I wasn't paying any mortgages around that time, I didn't really have a say in where we moved," says Adams. "It was great in the sense that we saw a lot of different environments. We lived in the suburbs, we lived in the city, lived in the mountains, lived in the woods." One of the only constants growing up was his love of drawing. "I've been drawing as long as I've been able to hold a pencil. You couldn't really punish me by sending me to my room. As long as there was a piece of paper, and I had a pencil, I was okay." Most kids with a passion for art beg to take art classes, and it sparks the flame. For Adams, though, an art teacher damn near snuffed it out in kindergarten.

For an assignment to copy basic shapes like circles, triangles and squares, Adams went above and beyond the call of duty, rendering them in 3-D. The teacher singled him out in front of the class. "She tore my paper straight in half, and then she takes my crayons and she crumbles them into like a thousand little pieces. And she says to the rest of the class, 'I did not ask you to do anything other than copy what you saw on the board.' I was devastated." Two things happened as a result of that traumatic experience: Adams decided never to show anyone his work ever again, and he kept drawing. Later, a family trip to the Grand Canyon inspired him to reignite his passion for art.

Adams's business-oriented father encouraged him to finish business school at Texas A&M, but he needed a break. He moved to Houston and began forging his art career. He worked at community centers and after-school programs teaching art and honing his skills. He could sense the impression he was making on the kids; their parents were pleased by Adams's positive influence.

One day he asked his students a question. "I said, 'by show of hands, how many of y'all have been to a museum, an art studio or a gallery?' And I was surprised by how many kids had never been to these traditional art spaces. I wasn't asking the question because I had something premeditated in mind; I was just curious as to who is exposed to the arts. Growing up, I had great exposure to the arts, but I wasn't 'pushed' to art. We went to plays, to operas. In school we went to performances and to galleries. But it was just part of your education to see it, and then you go back to your books." Adams's curiosity kicked off the idea that would eventually become the Museum of Cultural Arts, Houston.

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