There’s an accountability that I think rests very squarely on the shoulders of creative people and their ability to speak and to touch the masses. It is critical that we recognize that and use that for all things good that will motivate and elevate.
HOUSTON IN 2020: SELF-EMPLOYED BLACK ARTISTS is a multimedia project documenting the impact of current sociopolitical, economic, and cultural factors on five Black artists in the Bayou City.
The project's title is not only a reference to the year it was produced, but a nod to the adage that hindsight is 20/20. By documenting the stories of some of our city's Black artists in real time—in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, a Houston native, and in the midst of a global pandemic that has wreaked havoc on small businesses and minority-owned businesses, in particular—this project serves as an opportunity to reflect on and learn from this challenging period for decades to come.
The goal of the project is to illuminate stories of self-employed Black artists in our community who are facing unprecedented barriers not just to success, but survival. It is also a reminder that creative people usually find creative solutions, and the pivots these artists have made in order to continue earning a living in their chosen fields are no exception.
This multimedia documentary effort speaks to the power of creativity, conversation, and connection when we all need it most. It also offers up a healthy dose of inspiration to help us navigate these trying times and carry us into the future.
This is Houston in 2020.
A NOTE ON PROCESS
All of these interviews were conducted in early August 2020. By August 14, Houston was a COVID-19 hotspot, and the city reported 90,574 confirmed cases and 1,012 deaths. A mask-wearing ordinance was in effect, and social distancing became second nature for just about everyone. As a result, and to ensure the safety of all participants, all of these interviews were conducted via Zoom.com, and all photographic portraits and videos were made at an appropriate distance. This, of course, did not allow for the deep listening and lingering interactions that in-person interviews usually afford. Even so, it is this interviewer's belief that our craving for human connection during this period of strict social isolation made even these virtual connections profound.
All participants received honoraria for their contributions to this project.
All interview materials are being archived at The African American Library at the Gregory School, part of the Houston Public Library.
Interviews, photographs, videos, writing + website by Amy C. Evans.
At the close of 2020, the Houston Arts Alliance offered 2020 grant recipients the opportunity to apply for project extensions to complete or enhance their work, since original grant awards were cut in half as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I revised my scope of work for HOUSTON IN 2020, requesting additional time and funds to sustain the momentum behind the project, incorporate follow-up interviews one year later,* schedule additional events, and include more creative products. The City of Houston and Houston Arts Alliance approved my request in the Spring of 2021, and I spent the rest of the year expanding the project. The resulting work is a profound and thorough document of the toll that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take on the artists featured here, as well as their continued perseverance in the face of such sustained adversity. It incorporates conversation about Black artists not just celebrating resistance, but shaping culture.** It is also a reflection of the inspiration they have gleaned from their pandemic experience, as evidenced by the commissioned works from each of the five artists—a collection that may prove to be the most powerful and lasting product of this extra time and support.
At the time of this writing, the COVID-19 Omicron variant is rampant, and hospitalizations in Houston are the highest they have been since the beginning of the pandemic. There is an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. At least we can take some comfort in knowing that for the artists featured here, their art is pandemic proof.
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*Please make sure to read the transcripts of the follow-up interviews that were conducted in October 2021, one year and two months after the original interviews, and are featured on each artist's individual page within this site.
**"The Profound Significance of 'High on the Hog,'" Osayi Endolyn's New York Times review of the Netflix series that premiered in May 2021, was a touchstone for the follow-up interviews and inspired conversation about Black artists shaping culture and finding joy.
T-shirt created and sold by Brandon Morgan's podcast team, Actors Quarantine Corner, March 2021.
Art has a way of reflecting the times, whether it be through painting or speech or poetry or spoken word or theater. Art is basically the illustration of the commentary of the times, and it is always relevant.
2021 PROJECT UPDATES
AMY C. EVANS, artist & oral historian