Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Nassau Bay's Space Walk Plaza is barely more than a median in one of the access roads to the Clear Lake-area bedroom community. But it's across from Johnson Space Center, and thanks to sculptor Eric Ober, it's one of Houston's most unique points of interest. Five years in the making and dedicated in spring 2013, the plaza boasts a dozen or so steel monuments marking various milestones in the manned space program's 50-year history: the Gemini and Apollo missions (including Buzz Aldrin with the American flag and Neil Armstrong on the ladder of his capsule); a typical shuttle launch; the International Space Station; an adorable depiction of the Mars Opportunity rover; and a fountain-situated earth-moon centerpiece. NASA's funding may have seen better days, but thanks to Ober, the agency has inspired a collection of public art any community can be proud of — especially this one.
It's been a more eventful year than usual for Dan Electro's, probably the lowest-profile place among Houston's major live-music venues. It started off sadly with February's death of Rozz Zamorano, the bass master who was one of the Sunset Heights club's stalwart musicians, and then went through another big change when Shakespeare Pub partners Kyle Soltis and Jason Sandman took over ownership from Bob Edwards back in May, leading to its new motto, "improving while grooving." The transition hasn't seemed to set Dan's musically off-course, though, and it has continued hosting some of the top unsung names in blues, roots music and rock (Ana Popovic, Pete Anderson and Chris Duarte) to go with the laundry list of locals (Ezra Charles, Eric Tessmer, John McVey, Vince Converse and Teri Greene), people who know the pristine-sounding stage underneath the fluorescent green stars is one of the best places to play in town, and the lushly landscaped patio one of the best places to, er, relax. For newcomers, the best way to sample Dan's laid-back but hard-rockin' vibe is probably the Thursday open jam, where both regulars and guests (including Billy Gibbons and Gregg Allman) have laid a hurtin' on happy audiences since December 1988.
When you're looking for a great downtown watering hole, you can't go wrong with Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge. Located on Main, it's nestled in a long space with cavernous ceilings and a balcony that offers a fantastic ringside seat to downtown Houston. But this isn't just a room (and a balcony) with a view — the folks behind the gleaming wooden bar at Bad News can mix up whatever you desire, along with some alcoholic beverages you never even knew you were secretly dreaming of. If your grounds are downtown, stomp no further.
It's not as beautiful as it once was. The paint is faded and worn away. But even in its neglected state, Leo Tanguma's The Rebirth of Our Nationality is an example of public art at its best. It stirs emotions. It's something to be proud of. It gives the public a sense of ownership. Tanguma, who studied with Texas State University's John Biggers and worked with Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, completed the block-long work in 1973. Populated with indigenous peoples from various stages of history, the mural is topped with the sentence "To become aware of our history is to become aware of our singularity." Talk about restoring The Rebirth, considered a landmark example of Chicano art, surfaces from time to time. That may or may not happen. Even if it doesn't, The Rebirth continues to fulfill its mission — it inspires.
Try as we can to sing Houston's praises, the battle to change the outside world's perception of our city will probably have to be fought one person at a time. There are those out there who still assume we all ride horses to work, repress women and hate gay people because isn't that what Texas is all about? We know we're better than that, and while the Pride Parade may not be the silver bullet that proves we're cool to the rest of the world, it at least shows that not all of us are the enemies of progress. The Pride Parade is wild and uninhibited — two things that are incredibly Texan, by the way — and provides a safe space where everyone can come together and just celebrate. Oil, NASA and sports are all well and good, but it's time we start showing the rest of the world we're pretty damn progressive, too. And you can do that by taking your guests to the Pride Parade. At least they'll have a story to tell everyone back home.
The numbers give you an idea of the scope of FotoFest 2014. The citywide exhibit, with its focus on contemporary Arab video, photography and multimedia art, lasted more than six weeks, featured work by about 1,200 artists who came from 37 different U.S. states and 40 countries, and exhibited in 200 different galleries and spaces. Some 275,000 people from 43 countries experienced the festival, and another 123 million worldwide read reviews and watched news reports. Those are the official numbers. Impressive as they are, they don't convey the number of participating artists who considered exhibiting at FotoFest a milestone in their careers, a stepping stone to international recognition. Or the number of curators and collectors who reached a new level of understanding of contemporary Arab visual art. No other Houston visual arts event had the worldwide impact of FotoFest 2014.