Friday Night: First Annual Westbranch Community Association Arts Crawl

When Julia Moreno-Perri and Christopher Perri traded the busy city of Philadelphia for Westbranch, a quiet, residential neighborhood in Houston, the couple was surprised. What they thought would be a tight-knit community of more than 1,000 houses turned out to be a fragmented set of buildings. After a year, Julia became a Westbranch Community Association board member, where she quickly began the process of defragmentation.

Julia was insightful enough to see a neighborhood whose frequency of activities had lapsed, decided to revive the community, and, together with her husband and the help of others, namely fellow resident and former board president Ann Holloway, planned a cultural event to bring folks together again.

The result? Westbranch Community Association's First Annual Arts Crawl, which took place Friday night at three locations : The Neurodevelopmental Therapy Services Center, Westway Park Dental and finally, a crowd gathering and conclusion on the deck of the Red Balloon Café. It was, in fact, on the tree-shaded patio of the restaurant where all of the crawl's artists converged to show their works to a sparse audience. However, the spirit of the event wasn't lost on small numbers. Instead of walking through a gallery in painfully high heels, guests sat in comfy lawn chairs wearing comfy tye-dye tees and sandals while being serenaded by two-man folk song cover band The Swinging Gringos.

Lakreshia Gadison, a recent graduate of Spring Woods High School who will be attending Sam Houston State University as an art major and education minor in the fall, had the distinct honor of having her art displayed inside on the Red Balloon's red walls. There, she hosted her very own precocious gallery opening of abstracts, Christian and still art. Her favorite piece, she said, was "Hope," a visual representation of her pride at being accepted to college.

Outside, Stephanie Walton's bejeweled flattened glass bottle pieces were a standout, despite how their creator, a Spring Shadows High School art teacher, tried ever so conspicuously to weave jewelry together on the side of the restaurant building without being noticed. On the table next to her lay the lovely mosaics of Judy Vitolo, also an art teacher. Vitolo's recycled material mosaics, with backgrounds made out of clay and forefronts out of cut glass and formed in the shape of miniature guitars and trumpets, prompted a "How cute!" from the art-watching public.

Christopher Perri was lucky enough to have his black-and-white scene shots on the café wall of fame next to Gadison's art. Most interesting of his work were the triad of Italy-based photographs taken in Sienna, Bologna and Rome, respectively, depicting ground-up shots of cathedrals and bikes at rest. The photos of quiet, mundane city shots were magical stolen moments. Christopher, who lives a double life as a child development social worker at The Monarch School by day and a moonlights as a hip hop artist and photographer, shares in his wife's ambition to see the Westbranch community grow, not just for the sake of the people in it, but for the world's sake, saying that change begins in one's own backyard.

"In addition to trying to change the world, I believe in promoting values right in my neighborhood," he said.

Julia agreed, calling the event a grassroots effort to "celebrate diversity in our community."

Ann Holloway, wearer of the tye-dye t-shirt and knitting artist extraordinaire, was delighted to see such an outpouring of support, no matter how intimate, from the community, especially since the art crawl was initially her idea.

"I think it's fantastic," she said of her brainchild. "It's awesome."

In a city more often known for its Uptown, Midtown and Downtown attractions, The First Annual Westbranch Community Association Arts Crawl was a hidden surprise. Still, it may take time for the community to revive Westbranch. But, as long as Julia Moreno-Preei has anything to do with it, that won't be a problem.