If you want an honest assessment of Houston's music and art scenes – mainstream and especially underground – a good place to start might be with The Eternal Artist. T.E.A., for short, is founder, curator and creative director of Urban Circus. The interdisciplinary art collective marks five years of work with a celebration tonight at Walter’s.
“The arts scene in Houston is certainly the strongest by far of any city in Texas and, from my travels, I would rank us within the Top 5 arts scenes in the United States. There are a multitude of artists here creating a massive amount of work,” T.E.A. says.
At least some of that art is the result of Urban Circus’ efforts. The group formed in 2012 in Houston's East End while T.E.A. and co-founder Afam Obianagu were attending college at the University of Houston and Houston Community College. Along with fellow founders Grayson Paul Creely and Art Blackmore, the collective’s earliest goal was to unify talented professional artists and give them channels for expression in Houston and elsewhere. The quartet of Urban Circus architects cover a broad swath of artistic pursuits, from filmmaking and photography to sound engineering, animation and music.
Tonight’s event is music-heavy, with performers from Houston and Chicago playing indoor and outdoor stages. Acts include Tim Woods, Mother Nature, Hiram, DASHR, Delayed Therapy, Rajesh, Gr8Sky and Jeff K%nz. T.E.A. says the night doubles as an album release for one of the collective’s artists and will feature live graffiti art by two of Houston's most notable graffiti artists, WEAH (Daniel Anguilu), and SODE (Roland Saldana). The group’s photographers (Captain Cisco, Nicholas High and STNKLD) will present a photography show. There will be live projections from T.E.A. and plant-based light design by DASHR.
“As with any Urban Circus showcase, we will be bringing the aesthetic of interdisciplinary art home once again. This is our fifth anniversary show, and also DASHR's album Nightwave release show, so this will most certainly be the best, full-circle multimedia experience we have curated to date,” T.E.A. says.
Music producer DASHR is one of several musicians in the Urban Circus fold, including Creely, STNKLD, DJ Subtle Chemist and Obianagu. T.E.A. has worked with them and several Grammy Award winners over the years, most notably Tim Ruiz, bass player for Tejano stars La Mafia. Being enmeshed in the arts this way gives The Eternal Artist a perspective few in the city have. T.E.A. says the underground arts scene is thriving in Houston because the conventional scene is bogged down by politics, but creatives still need avenues for expression.
“It's really all about who you know, not what you're creating which is why that [conventional] world is losing validity on a constant basis, certainly in the Internet age. The best art shows I've ever seen in Houston have been at the underground galleries like El Rincon, Box 13, the H.A.M. or at hole-in-the-wall studio spaces,” T.E.A. shares. “Most non-artists I've spoken with only seem to know the MFAH, CAMH and maybe Lawndale Art Center. I would say that overall there seems to be a healthy level of support for the scene and bigger institutions, but not as much knowledge and education on the underground scene.”
“Midway through our second year, while organizing the beginnings of our website, we gained an understanding of the massive amount of creativity around us in Houston and elsewhere," he adds. "It was at this time that we decided on making our website into an underground media source that would help to tell the story of creatives here in Houston and beyond.”
T.E.A. believes Houston’s music story is still developing and faces the same nepotistic challenges as the traditional arts scene.
“Unlike the art scene, the music scene here in Houston is quite small and at best I would describe as ‘still trying to get on its feet,’” he opines. “There are several factors that contribute to this. One, there are too few venues, and the ones that do exist are in large part monopolized by a select few. Second, there is a small handful of people who have painted themselves as the gatekeepers to the scene. No one owns or controls this massive city. This is why you have to create your own wave!”
Urban Circus’ work might be by underground artists, but it’s for the masses. To date, its members have worked with brands like Topo Chico, Deep Eddy Vodka and Sofar Sounds. Their work has been published on PBS and in Zagat, Mass Appeal, AfroPunk and local publications. Urban Circus’ Eric "MUNTA" Mpwo last year was the solo featured performer in a Twitter commercial. The group’s website has featured local content as well as work from New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Austin, Atlanta, Bali, Amsterdam and London.
“Our objective with the collective has and always will be to create and maintain a channel for expression. In the first five years, the goal was to create an outlet by which we could publish books, films, music or anything we could think to create,” T.E.A. says. “As of October 2016, Urban Circus is now a full-fledged publishing company. We currently publish music, music videos, live in-studio videos and stories on our underground media source.
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“By the end of 2017, we plan on releasing a short film and are in talks with several authors about releasing a book," he adds. "I would say that by the end of year five we will have accomplished everything we set out to do in the first five-years and then some. Our objective by the ten-year mark is to build our resumés on a deeper level, collaborate on international projects and showcase our art in galleries and museums around the world.”
These goals, both achieved and yet to be realized, are at the heart of tonight’s celebration. T.E.A. encourages crowds to come party and creatives to come network.
“If people are dope at what they create, no matter the medium, and they're down to be a part of this movement, then we're down to see if they fit into what we have going on.”
Urban Circus celebrates its fifth anniversary tonight at Walter's, 1120 Naylor. The all ages event begins at 7 p.m. and features Tim Woods, DASHR and others. Tickets are $5-$15 and available through Eventbrite.