Schmatta: A Collective at the Collective

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Christmas and culture make for friendly fellows -- particularly in Houston. Where the city's art scene usually has distinct lines of demarcation throughout the year -- art lovers can go to galleries, fashion lovers can go to trunk shows, film lovers can go to the recently opened Sundance Cinemas -- the advent of this year's holiday season is seeing a melting pot of all facets of Bayou culture.

That is exactly what happened last Friday, as the Community Artists' Collective stayed true to its name -- and the spirit of the season -- by hosting the film screening of Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags, which was surrounded by the Objects of Art and Craft, a yearly art exhibit curated by Jacqueline Miller, a spread of vegan popcorn and hotdogs by Vegan Comfort, organic wines and spirits mixed by Drink Motions and goodies from Natural Reign, purveyors of beauty and haircare products.

Schmatta (the word "schmatta" is slang for clothing, or more specifically, worn, ragged clothing) is a documentary that chronicles the rise and fall of the fashion manufacturing industry due to outsourcing of labor. The film begins in New York City with Jewish and Italian immigrant sweatshop workers who evolved to the garment cutters, ribbon trimmers and clothing suppliers of modern day. It moves to firsthand accounts from former fashion industry laborers -- Bob Winters, Joe Raico and Maryanne Dimatteo, among them -- about the loss of lucrative creative careers to overseas competitors who work for sums as low as 31 cents an hour.

Parts of the film are pretty graphic; the pictures of victims from the 1911 New York Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire who jumped from the eighth floor to their deaths hauntingly paralleled the 9/11 jumpers.

Like many documentaries, there was no foreseeable solution, only unexpected fact: In 1975, 80 percent of clothes were made in the United States. In 2009, the number had dwindled to 5 percent. Schmatta quietly provides a timeline of fashion and fashion pioneers and risk takers (Ralph Lauren's provocative ads caused quite the controversy back in the day), while simultaneously telling the plight of laid-off fashion factory workers.

The screening of Schmatta is the third event in the Hot Nights on Holman series created by Planners' Revolution, a grassroots organization intent on livening up the streets of Holman.

"We're building the streets back to where they used to be," said Sherri Collison, a co-coordinator for the group and the event. Collison added that the Hot Holman nights are usually accompanied by food, live music and an art exhibit, hence, its Collective label.

Michelle Barnes, the executive director of the Community Artists' Collective (and "cofounder and janitor," she added), said Hot Holman nights are exactly what the 25-year-old artist's haven is for.

"We have a space. We can share the space," Barnes said. "We're building a base from which other creative outlets can spring."

The Objects of Art and Desire exhibit will be on display until December 24. For more information on the Hot Nights on Holman series or other events at the Community Artists' Collective, contact Tea Room Gallery, 1412 Holman, Houston 77004 at 713-523-1616.

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