What She Does: Mary Margaret Hansen is one of those enviable hyphenates -- she identifies as an artist, a writer, a blogger, a photographer and a collaborator. She's also a mother, a crocheter, a cultural anthropologist, a community advocate and, fiercely, an East Ender.
In fact, until recently, the artist served as president of two neighborhood organizations -- the East End Chamber of Commerce, and then the Greater East End Management District, where one of the group's greatest achievements was ridding the neighborhood of graffiti. She left that job five years ago to devote herself full-time to her art.
"I left, resigned, retired, whatever, because there were so many other things I wanted to do," said Hansen. "I didn't want to get to be 85 and have a bunch of regrets."
Hansen, who in her so-called retirement is busier than ever, shouldn't have to worry about that. One of her first big projects in this new phase of her career kept her in the East End, too. Second Seating, an installation held in a warehouse next to the legendary Irma's Restaurant, featured work by nine artists, including Hansen's own whimsical chandeliers made out of Dynamo soccer balls and Chlorox bottles. During its six-week run in fall 2009, more than 2,000 visitors passed through the pop-up gallery.
"I love to create an environment or atmosphere in which people can come in, stay there, and come back again and again," said Hansen.
The artist followed that collaboration up with another that also creates a unique atmosphere for visitors. After winning the city's commission to fill the walls of its new Houston Permitting Center with art, she pulled together nearly a dozen other artists to help her do the job. In one of the best non-gallery art shows in Houston right now, you can find new works by sculpture duo Havel Ruck Projects, graffiti artist Gonzo247 and, of course, Hansen, whose "text walls" decorate the white paint of the hallways and waiting rooms with bits of overheard conversation or words connected with recycling.
Why She Likes It: There's a reason that Hansen, who sports a handsome shock of gray hair, has been making art for more than 45 years.
"Well, I'm never bored," said Hansen. "There are so many ideas going on in my head all the time that I could just spend my whole life just acting on what's going on in my head."
Hansen also finds much enjoyment through her recent turn as a collaborator and curator of sorts, pulling diverse Houston artists together.
"I love collaborating with artists," said Hansen. "It's so much fun."
What Inspires Her: For Hansen, the simple act of creation provides endless possibilities.
"It's the notion of possibility, the notion of what could be that doesn't exist right now, and that you could pick ideas that are floating through your brain and make them real," said Hansen. "You get to pick and choose what you act on and what you don't act on."
If Not This, Then What: That thought is nearly impossible for Hansen to contemplate. If she didn't make art, she'd write all the time, but that's already something she does a lot of. Her work would still have to be doing something creative and which brings people together.
"I would probably still want to make spaces where people like to gather, where the space had some sort of an effect on them," said Hansen.
She could also see herself making furniture, or putting up posters with wheatpaste, à la Banksy or Shepard Fairey.
"I love the cleverness of some of these people," said Hansen. "When it's clever, it's really good."
If Not Here, Then Where: Hansen has lived in the East End since 1993, and she's not looking to leave anytime soon. But if she had to, she wouldn't mind revisiting New York, where she spent some time as a college student years ago, or the Caribbean, where she grew up on the island of Aruba. In fact, any city with access to the beach would suit her perfectly. But if she had to live in a more rural area, there's one rule she'd follow.
"As my mother used to say, if you have to live in a small town, choose a college town, because there would be interesting, smart people there," said Hansen.
What's Next: Between blogging, crocheting and checking in on the works at the Houston Permitting Center, Hansen has plenty to keep her busy. Though one of her biggest projects right now is writing a memoir. Part of it currently can be found in Coping with Transition: Men, Motherhood, Money and Magic, a compilation of essays by 14 other Houston women who address a transition in their lives (Hansen's was having a new romance after being single for several years). Hansen is hoping to combine that essay with new material she's currently writing and publish a novella.
When not writing, Hansen is also contemplating her next art move. And she's open to anything -- another pop-up gallery like Second Seating, a public art project like the Houston Permitting Center, or an installation all her own.
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"I have ideas in my head," said Hansen. "Now I'm looking for the next big thing."
You can find Mary Margaret Hansen at a reading of "Coping with Transition: Men, Motherhood, Money and Magic" at Brazos Bookstore, 2421 Bissonnet, on February 23 at 7 pm. For more information, call 713-523-0701.
More Creatives for 2012 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).
Richard Tallent, photographer Viswa Subbaraman, opera director Emily Sloan, sculptor and performance artist Sonja Roesch, gallery owner Enrique Carreón-Robledo, conductor Sandy Ewen, musician Camella Clements, puppeteer Wade Wilson, gallery owner Magid Salmi, photographer Carl Williams, playwright