Artopia Masterminds

MasterMinds 2015 Revisited: Houston Arts and Media Founder Mike Vance

This month the Houston Press will celebrate its eighth year of handing out MasterMind Awards, designed to go to three individuals or groups who are contributing a lot to the Houston area's artistic landscape. It is awarded to groups or individuals doing great things now, creatives who could use a little financial bump — a $2,000 check — as well as the added recognition the awards bring. As we come up on our MasterMind Awards 2016, we take a minute to update you about last year's winners. First up, Houston Arts and Media founder Mike Vance.

It’s been a very busy year for Vance and Houston Arts and Media, a nonprofit started in 2005, so the no-strings-attached $2,000 MasterMinds award came at a good time. “We bought a couple of nice little video toys. So, specifically, we bought a really nice sound pre-amp that has improved the audio on our documentary work. Previously we were running sound directly through the camera, which was fine, but this is better, a richer sound, better control. That was the biggest item,” says Vance. “You know, it's a little thing, but it really does make a difference.”

Being named one of our 2015 MasterMind winners also helped increase national awareness for HAM, a group of filmmakers, writers and artists who teach history creatively. “Recognition by people that did not know [about us] before was definitely the biggest benefit. We've put it into our promo material, and when we send out grant requests, we send out an awards page. In some cases, when it's an H-town organization, we include that we were one of the MasterMinds,” says Mike Vance.

Work on his Birth of Texas series – eight feature-length documentaries about the early history of the state – has continued over the past year, with the release of San Antonio and the Alamo supplementing 2014’s San Felipe and American Settlement and Washington-on-the-Brazos: The Politics of Revolution.

“The San Antonio film is the longest one in our Texas series, 20 seconds shy of three hours,” says Vance. “It's interesting, too, the Alamo. It transcends Texas so much, that story, and in a lot of cases it's the only Texas history out of the state. We’ve placed DVDs in Houston-area schools and [are] starting to get into other schools. With that Alamo film, I get requests once a week from places like Michigan, Colorado, California. The word is starting to get around, and it just amazes me.”

In addition to gaining national recognition, the documentaries are also winning awards. At 2015’s Worldfest-Houston International Film & Video Festival, San Felipe took home a silver Remi in history, and Washington-on-the-Brazos garnered a gold award.

For the release of the Alamo film, they held a big screening event in San Antonio, which was attended by local “high rollers” and historians. “There were two different people that were very esteemed Alamo historians. Both made the comment that it was the best Alamo documentary that they had ever seen,” says Vance.

They also held a screening locally at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Katy. “There were two dozen people who had never heard of us who came out to that event.

“The Alamo came out in late July, and we've been working hard on the next one, called Goliad, and it should be out in February [2016],” says Vance. “The one after that should be out before the end of the year, and that’s San Jacinto. That should be very, very local. It’s our story here.

“In 2017 there’s a big book project – finally – I’ve been working on this for six years,” says Vance about Historic Schools of Harris County. “Originally, we were going to try to publish it ourselves, but we worked out a deal with Bright Sky [Press] and they are going to publish this book in 2017. It's about historic schools in Harris County, a social history of Harris County as told through education. Segregation, gender roles, all the little bitty communities that we know because they are street names but were once separate towns. It will be the most comprehensive history of our city ever done, as told through the lens of education. Should be mid-2017, should be a nice coffee-table book, lots of history.”

HAM has other projects in the works as well, including HAM Slices (two-minute documentaries about different aspects of local history), Home Front: Texas in WWII (they’re looking for interview subjects and historic photos), Neighbor to Neighbor (an oral history project), Stand Up Story (a history of Houston comedy) and a resurgence of No-Tsu-Oh.

“In October, we did a fundraiser, and we brought back No-Tsu-Oh; Houston's Mardi Gras was how people referred to it. It ran from 1899 to 1915,” says Vance. “So, we brought it back on the [100-year] anniversary, and we're going to make that an annual thing.

“The plan is – again this probably won't happen until 2017 – but, hopefully within a couple of years, it will involve a couple of other organizations, and we can make it a citywide thing that is not just an expensive fundraiser. We really want to bring as many people as we can into the Houston history fold. We want to get something that has different levels of accessibility – something for the hardcore history people and information that is totally accessible to people who know nothing about Houston's history.”

We think this is very appropriate — a group of creatives and historians resurrecting Houston's biggest party event from a century ago. We can't wait.

MasterMind Award winners will be announced in the January 28 edition of the Houston Press and will receive their awards at  the Houston Press Artopia party starting at 8 p.m. on January 30. Winter Street Studios, 2101 Winter Street. For information, visit Advance pricing $55 until January 29 at midnight, day of pricing $65 at the door.

MasterMind Award winners 2009 Patrick Medrano and Katy Anderson, Hightower High School's Broadcast Academy, Nova Arts Project

MasterMind Award winners 2010 Reginald Adams and the Museum of Cultural Arts, Houston, Opera Vista, SoReal Cru

MasterMind Award winners 2011 Foodways Texas, Catastrophic Theatre, Nameless Sound

MasterMind Award winners 2012 The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, Alex "Pr!mo" Luster, The Pilot Light Restaurant Group

MasterMind Award winners 2013 Opera in the Heights, Karen Stokes Dance, Stark Naked Theatre

MasterMind Award winners 2014 Chuy Benitez, jhon r. stronks, Apollo Chamber Players

MasterMind Award winners 2015 Patrick Renner, Jefferson Davis High School Mariachi Pantera, Houston Arts and Media founder Mike Vance
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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney