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Free for All: Art Without a Price Tag

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There's only one place to be on Friday night, and that's the opening of FotoFest 2012 Biennial: Contemporary Russian Photography. The festival is huge (more than 1,000 photographs by some 150 Russian artists covering the time from the late 1940s to 2012 and spread out over more than 100 galleries, museums, nonprofit and corporate spaces). Divided into three groups, the main exhibits include "After Stalin, The Thaw, The Re-emergence of the Personal Voice (Late 1940s-1970s)," showing at the Williams Tower Gallery, "Perestroika, Liberalization and Experimentation (Mid 1980s-2010)," on display at the Winter and Spring Street Studios, and "The Young Generation (2007-2012)," on exhibit at the FotoFest Headquarters.

Hundreds of Russian artists, curators and photography fans are coming in for the festival, in no small part due to the fact that many of these photographs haven't been seen in Russia before, or at least not in such large groupings. The festival provides an unblinking eye willing to look at all of Russia, from its gloried and pained history to its hopeful, if uncertain, future. And on Friday night, it's the opening-night party with all the hoopla, schmoozing and fun the world-renowned festival deserves.

The FotoFest 2012 Biennial opening-night party is at 8 p.m. FotoFest Headquarters Gallery, 1113 Vine. The exhibit there is "The Young Generation 2007-2012." Regular viewing hours there are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Through April 29. For a full schedule of other exhibits and events, visit www.fotofest.org or call 713-223-5522.

On Saturday, we'll start our St. Paddy's Day celebration at the 53rd Annual St. Patrick's Day Parade downtown. "I like to think we're the Mardi Gras of Houston parades. A little bit different, a lot of fun and definitely geared toward families," says Jeannie Kearns, parade organizing committee member and matriarch, who has been involved with the planning of the event since 1977. Her grandson, Sean Kearns, will serve as this year's Grand Marshal over 140 moving entries of floats, bands, dancers and cars. (Yes, you can expect those funny little cars driven by the Shriners.)

Oh, and Kearns says you don't have to worry if your ancestors aren't from the Emerald Isle. "We have all ethnic groups represented in the parade, but everyone gets to be Irish for the day."

The 53rd Annual St. Patrick's Day Parade starts at noon at Minute Maid Park, 501 Crawford. For route information, visit www.hsppc.org. For more St. Patrick's Day events, check out the Houston Press holiday guide by Abby Downing-Beaver here.

This Sunday continues the Country Playhouse 2012 New Play reading series and this week's offering is Philip Nichols's Murder for Dummies. Presented in a concert reading, Dummies features Nichols, an experienced ventriloquist, in the role of, would you ever guess, ventriloquist Lester "The Great" Winchell. Along with his dummy Corky, Winchell appears as the entertainment for a ritzy house party. But the party turns into a crime scene when there's a murder, and Winchell and Corky set out to solve the case. They'll have to work together if they want to uncover the killer, but that isn't always easy for the pair -- even if one of them is an inanimate object.

The Country Playhouse 2012 New Play reading series, with a concert reading of a new play by a Houston writer every Sunday through April 8. See Murder for Dummies at 7 p.m. Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury. For information, visit www.countryplayhouse.org or call 713-467-4497.

Bob Ruggiero contributed to this post.

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