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Idea Fund Announces 2011 Grant Winners

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Last night at the El Dorado Ballroom, the folks behind the Idea Fund presented their 2011 grant winners at a public reception, offering a preview of 10 projects that are receiving support, and alerting the Houston art community to some fantastic upcoming opportunities. Mark your calendars.

The awards were highly competitive, selected from an initial pool of 150 proposals that, according to DiverseWorks' Tracey Morton, showed an impressive quality of arts innovation in Houston and Texas. The Idea Fund - a coalition comprising Project Row Houses, the Aurora Picture Show and DiverseWorks, with backing from the Warhol Foundation - supports Texas-based artists working "outside of the traditional frameworks of support," employing "risk-taking forms that help to define new practices in contemporary art." So what does that mean?

As the organizers behind The Genderbook explain it, projects like theirs don't fit into ordinary arts grant programs, and other foundations won't likely support it as an educational or social initiative either. The Genderbook is a publishing venture initiated by a group of "female-born persons in varying degrees of masculine gender expression." The Idea Fund grant will provide time to research, design, and distribute the 45-page, hand-drawn exploration of gender diversity, aimed not only to other transgender persons, but any curious person of any age or background. Another foundation might not recognize the need for such a project, but Mel Hill, one of the organizers, articulated that need through the experience of a transsexual friend who ended up paying $100 a session for the privilege of educating her own therapist, who didn't know dick about transsexuality. A preview booklet was distributed at the reception: It includes a helpful glossary distinguishing between trickier-than-you-thought concepts like "gender" and "sex" and "transgender" and "transsexual." The Genderbook aspires to national distribution through independent bookstores, infoshops, community centers, as well as through partnerships with groups like Planned Parenthood of Maryland which already plans to get The Genderbook to every school superintendent in the state. Look for it in August 2011.

Around April 15, 2011, consider making that excruciatingly long drive to Marfa, and then go 50 miles even further away from anything else, to Ruidosa, a tiny border town (pop. 13, and at one time Pancho Villa's stomping grounds) that will change the way you see the border, the river, and site-specificity. There the Rio Grande Collective will host "The River is the Road Festival," featuring a half-dozen Texas-based artists, including Matthew Day Jackson, who recently completed a residency at the Chinati Foundation, Eileen Torpey whose video installation will draw your attention to the Rio Grande where it makes only notional national boundary. They are actually looking for someone to run the cantina there during the festival, so interested persons should get in touch.

On November 12, 2011, Andy Rihn will gather 500 volunteers for an experiment in mass-event planning, amateur musical performance, and noise. At an abandoned railway somewhere, following Rihn's direction, they'll strike hammers to the rails to make "Texas' Largest Hammer Choir." He'll document the results on video, but you can be sure the record will pale in comparison to the event itself. In the meantime, Rihn is extracting and videotaping promises from participants to attend what is admittedly a rather out-of-the-way happening.

Out-of-the-way seems to be a theme in this crop of art projects. While we have video to document Buster Graybill's "Progeny of Tush Hog," the real action happens out in the West Texas scrubland, where wild animals interact with Graybill's "custom minimalist corn feeders." Check this out!

The Idea Fund will provide the resources for Graybill to continue developing the design, implementation, and video documentation of new feeders, all of which will highlight the growing interaction between encroaching human development and the big animals that find themselves in the way of it.

Closer to home, on the weekend of June 4, 2011, ArtScouts Houston plans to host a four-day sort of arts-retreat-cum-summer-camp called "Nohegan East" somewhere near Brenham. Artist participants will sign up to attend workshops, play games, make art, sing songs, and build community. At night, surely you can expect s'mores and ghost stories. ArtScouts is looking for workshop leaders who will get a modest stipend to share their craft with others, all media welcome.

Other projects are as yet unscheduled, or will emerge and continue over time. Curators Leila Grothe and Cynthia Mulcahy are planning "Square Dance: A Community Project" which revives the state's official dance with a seasonal potluck for novices and experts at the new Trinity River Audubon Center Dallas. David Feil and Amye McCarther are organizing the Andrus Studio Archive, which aims to preserve and make available a treasure trove of Houston psychedelia, even inviting folks with first-hand knowledge to contribute what they can remember (!) about those zonked-out happenings at places like the Love Street Light Circus Feel Good Machine. And Nathaniel Donnett's "What's The New News?" will set out news boxes in key locations in Houston's Third Ward to distribute rap-and-poetry interventions into what constitutes the news for different generations. Find out about all the grant recipients here.

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