Cultural Affairs Office

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The City of Houston Awards $99,500 to Projects Amplifying Artistic Creativity and Innovation

October 16, 2023 -- The City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA) is awarding $99,500 in grants to 40 individuals and nonprofit organizations for specific programs that amplify artistic creativity and innovation taking place in the City of Houston. An unprecedented number of awards were bestowed, underscoring the exceptional impact and significance of the recipients' contributions.

"The goal of Let Creativity Happen is to spark innovation and expand works for all Houston to enjoy,” says Mayor Sylvester Turner. “I am glad to see the large number of artists we can support in this round of the grant. I applaud the grantees’ creativity and their willingness to share it with everyone.”

The funds were awarded through Let Creativity Happen!, a competitive grant program that is administered by Houston Arts Alliance (HAA) and funded by a portion of the city’s Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT). The program opens three times in 2023 and encourages artists, creative individuals, and organizations to take creative risks that may not qualify for more traditional funding opportunities. Awards support innovative ideas that redefine artistic boundaries, reshape the conversation about art and art experiences, and/or establish unique opportunities to experience art.

The second round of the 2023 Let Creativity Happen! grantees will create the following work:

Texas Medical Center Orchestra
This art proposal features Dr. Mei Rui, a concert pianist with a DMA degree who also holds a faculty position in neurosurgery at MD Anderson. It explores the convergence of art and healthcare, inspired by the premature loss of George Gershwin to brain cancer. In collaboration with the Chairman of Neurosurgery at MD Anderson, this project aims to showcase modern medical advances that may have prolonged Gershwin's life and allowed him to continue his creative journey.

Dr. Rui will pre-record segments of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" while undergoing a simultaneous brain MRI. The video, depicting this union of music and neuroimaging, will be projected before her live performance. During the performance, Dr. Rui will use a laser pointer to actively demonstrate which regions of her brain are engaged as she plays, illuminating the profound connection between her music and neural processes. This innovative project honors Gershwin's legacy while emphasizing the remarkable progress in both medical science and art.

Babatunde Ogunseinde
“Village Square” is an interactive and multidisciplinary experience that immerses attendees in traditional and modern African art. Part art exhibit, part musical concert, part social gathering, “Village Square” does just what the name suggests—it brings the community together to celebrate and experience visual, performance, and musical art rooted in the African diaspora.

Musiqa heads underground to the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern November 9-12, 2023, for the world premiere of new music by artist board member Pierre Jalbert. This 30-minute composition was written to take advantage of the cistern’s unique acoustic reverberations.

Loren Holmes
“Mother, May I?” is a performance that shares the history, stories, and struggles of black and brown single mothers through dance, multimedia, and spoken word. It also aims to make the community aware of how they can help these mothers. This work is currently in production to be released as a documentary. A preview is set to take place in November 2023. The audience will have the opportunity to see the performance and meet the mothers featured in the film during a panel discussion that will close the evening.

Let Creativity Happen! - Gabriela Magaña

Let Creativity Happen! - Gabriela Magaña

Gabriela Magaña
“Sharing Threads” will be a series of women’s circle sessions. People who identify as women of color are invited to participate. Each session will start with a short meditation, followed by an art therapy exercise. After the introductory activities, the circle will gather to talk about what “safety”, “security”, and “home” means to them. Attendees will have the option to complete embroidery designs/words related to their concepts of the prompt words given to them. The fragments of fabric with the embroidery designs/words will be put together in a “community quilt” that will be exhibited at the Harris County Cultural Arts Center, and at the Leonel Castillo Community Center.

Pilot Dance Project
The Pilot Dance Project seeks funding to produce “Jarabe”, a new short play, for TEATRX’s La Vida Es Cortos short play and film festival to be presented in October 2023 at the Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston (MATCH). “Jarabe” is a dance theater piece told through words, Modern dance, and ballet folklorico. Jarabe portrays the aftermath of the 2019 Wal-Mart mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, and shows how gun violence has affected the Latinx community. The short play will be choreographed by Cynthia Garcia and directed by Executive and Artistic Director Adam Castaneda.

Vincent Valdez
I am seeking to develop a detailed online archive of my work that will support the long-term development of my artistic practice and career. I will use the funds to pay a studio assistant to conduct research and archive activities and to cover the costs of an online database tool for two years. The results of this archiving project will be presented in a free, public conversation in Houston in 2024.

Partnerschools Inc.
Partnerschools invites public participation to a bucket drumming workshop offered in a central location outside the downtown branch of the Houston Public Library. Participants will receive materials and instruction on the fundamentals of percussion, culminating in an improvisational performance open to all. This fun, lively, and interactive event will highlight Partnerschools’ mission to empower and inspire by building connections through the arts, as it builds on the fundamental knowledge that lies in our hearts: Rhythm! Our heartbeat is the strongest proof that we are more similar than we are different.

Dominika Dancewicz
Duo Dramatique and Holocaust Museum Houston are joining forces to present a powerful performance of music and poetry created during World War 2, the post-war communist regime in Eastern Europe, and the US Harlem Renaissance. The performance demonstrates the power of art leading from the darkness of loss and terror to perseverance, freedom, and hope. This project aims to move and instill pride and trust in the human spirit and its creativity as it shows how the human spirit overcomes wars, political regimes, death, and destruction in the name of a better future. Music by Prokofiev, Pendercki, Pärt, Janaček. Poetry by Baczyński, Dylan Thomas, Claude McKay, Paul Celan.

Monica Villarreal
Monica Villarreal presents "Reflections of Coatlicue: Our Mother, the Creator and Destroyer," a film that intricately intertwines the concept of the land with the human reproductive system, drawing parallels between their roles as givers of life and agents of death. The project showcases a compelling collaboration involving four indigenous women who will deliver an emotionally charged performance through kinetic movements and organic music.

This event not only serves as a platform for the exhibition and sale of indigenous art but also fosters meaningful conversations around the themes of loss and abundance within the context of birth. The venue for this event will be either Aurora Picture Show or Box 13, offering a fitting space for the presentation of this unique artistic expression.

Hispanic Alliance for Performing & Audiovisual Arts
The proposal is a 5 presentation series of the short play “El Sueño” which will be followed by a conversation with the audience about the ideas presented in the play. This is a 25-minute short play where a kidnapper and a human trafficking victim engage in a conversation that explores the extrinsic motivations behind their pursuit of the American dream. They try to discern the circumstances that led them to their positions of victim/perpetrator. After the performance, HAPAA will organize a conference with the artists. The conference will address issues such as identity and responsibility in the pursuit of dreams.

Olivia Tokarski
This work is a comedic contemporary dance piece titled “Bear-ied.” It explores childhood trauma, featuring 6 dancers donning teddy bear heads. Premiering at Houston MET in November 2023, this 25-minute performance delves into the delicate balance between childhood innocence and hidden pain. Through clever choreography and humor, the dancers will evoke empathy and introspection from the audience. “Bear-ied” is an engaging and thought-provoking experience that invites laughter, reflection, and healing.

Olanrewaju Buraimoh
“Illuminating Minds and Embracing Wellness” is an art exhibition that aims to shed light on mental health through artistic expressions. The exhibition showcases a diverse collection of artworks that explore the complexities of the human mind, promote mental well-being, and inspire conversations around mental health. Through the transformative power of art, the exhibition invites viewers to embrace wellness, raise awareness, and foster empathy and understanding. The Exhibition will take place at Sean Anthony located at 3300 Chimney Rock Rd., Houston from the 7th of Dec. 2023 to the 15th of Dec. from 3 pm to 9 pm each day.

Emily Peacock
“Stash and Burn: Comedians Who Make Art” is an ambitious and dynamic art show that seeks to showcase the artistic endeavors of comedians beyond their traditional roles as performers. It is a celebration of the creative synergy between comedy and visual art. It brings together a diverse group of comedians who have a passion for artistic expression in various mediums.

Caroline Philippone
This series of workshops will serve as hands-on intensive introductions to film processing for the Houston community. Although there has been a resurgence in film photography over the past few decades, there is sometimes a gap between taking images on film and the final chemical processing step once the roll is finished. In these no-cost workshops, participants will be guided through black-and-white film processing from start to finish and walk away from the workshop feeling empowered to process their film independently, without the need to spend additional funds on lab processing.

Houston Brass Quintet
Through original arrangements, “HBQ Celebrates Lunar New Year” features a collaboration with the Houston Hwamei Chamber Orchestra. Happening alongside Lunar New Year, this collaboration celebrates Chinese Folk Music with original arrangements like “The Moon Represents My Heart” and “Purple Bamboo Melody”, this concert will be hosted in Stude Hall. This is the first time brass musicians have been included in this annual program.

Adam Castaneda
“Bayou People” is a new futurist dance work choreographed by Adam Castaneda and set to music by the MMC Ensemble (Markus and Melissa Cone) that explores the idea of an alternate Houston, one that developed through the promulgation of its natural geography rather than as a capital of oil and gas production, consumerism, and capitalism. “Bayou People” explores what the cultural fabric and ethos of this imaginary Houston would be, a water-born city operating by the cultural norms of the Indigenous cultures of the region. Adam Castaneda’s movement will be accompanied by the Ensemble’s original electronic, futurist score.

Jeffrey Guyot
We are a group of artists, illustrators, writers, and editors that are working to develop a coming-of-age comic story called “Cross Frequency”. “Cross Frequency” is an Afro-Futuristic comic/manga story of young community kids who come to learn the secrets of their society and what they must do to protect it. Our aim is to produce this comic by Summer of 2024 and to have it locally published and distributed through entities such as 50Fifty Comix and Gulf Coast Cosmos Comic to share the story amongst Houston’s Comic community.

Jahrel Pickens
This is a 4-episode documentary series on independent record labels and audio engineers in Houston. It will show how Splice Records, Wonky Power, and others contribute to the music scene with their roster of musicians and support team. The episodes will be released bi-monthly. All filming will take place in Houston beginning October 1st, 2023, and conclude June 9th, 2024. The initial episode will be released at the end of November. The remaining episodes will be released at the end of January, the end of March, and the end of May. A final review & edit will be made of every episode after all 4 episodes are complete.

Carolina Borja
“American Lattice” (Celosia Americana) is a participatory sculptural installation that reflects the human process of adapting to a new city. Throughout history, migration has been one of the primary activities realized by humankind. The work attempts to highlight the connecting elements we use as a tool to adapt. Nostalgia significantly influences how we view new street names, landmarks, and neighborhood landscaping as we blend past references with new ones.

Aaron Bielish
In “EYEmusic-the Poetry Project” I create EYEmusic scores inspired by David LeJeunes poetry. Two musical ensembles, Relative Dissonance, and Loop38, will read the poetry, see the graphic notation, and create two new musical compositions. Audiences will be able to see the artwork, read and hear the poetry and compare the two music compositions in one evening!

Emily Areta
“La Jungla” is a femme, queer, music-forward sound and movement-based experience featuring sounds from Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America. The experience occurs every other month from 9 PM-2 AM in local venue spaces across the Houston area. It features local and out-of-town DJs that identify as femme/women, LGBTQIA+, and play music from across the Black diaspora. Enter “La Jungla” and you will be transported to a BIPOC (Black/Indigenous/ People of Color) and queer-centered community space where sound and movement converge. Guests can feel the fullness of their existence with like-minded individuals.

Lakota Wilder
Often, newly emerging artists will showcase their work at local pop-ups, markets, and festivals. Unfortunately, there isn’t a designated time for artists to speak to guests about their work, themselves, and what their artistic goals are. “The Get to Know an Artist” project will be an event that will bridge the gap between art and artist, fostering a deeper connection and networking opportunity with Houston creatives, art enthusiasts, and its supporters. This will be the first event in which guests will not only be able to view amazing art but become adept in each artists’ story, inspiration, and artistic process.

Lashavia West
My proposed project is a music video that showcases the culture of Houston Hip Hop with our city’s skyline and landmarks filmed. The music would exemplify the Houston Culture lyrically. It will feature Houston artists who will be part of the visuals. This video will be broadcast through most of Houston’s HipHop television stations such as Street Flava, and will be online and on social media outlets to be globally viewed, as I have fans in other countries who want to visit Houston because they are fans of my music and visual projects.

Anthony Barilla
I will produce an EP made up of new arrangements of songs by Houston artists to be performed by the members of Houston’s Accordion Super Stars, a band of local musicians that create arrangements of existing songs for accordions. This short album will be distributed widely online and released in person at a public performance: the intention of this project is to raise awareness of the scope and size of Houston’s music scene by shining a spotlight on a diverse group of songwriters and presenting their work in an alternate light. This project will culminate in the spring of 2024.

Kay Davis in the Community Foundation Inc.
The death of George “Perry” Floyd ignited everyone across the globe and sparked a social justice movement. The world only knew the George they heard about in the news, they did not know who he truly was to his family, friends, and community. Kay Davis in the Community Foundation saw his importance and allowed others to get to know him through “George Floyd, The Unveiling: A Photographic Exhibit.” Kay Davis in the Community (KDITC) will showcase a traveling photographic exhibit to communities in the Houston area entitled “George - The Whole Story.”

Lisbeth Atencio
“Venezuelan Voices” is a project that will help gather the diffused Venezuelan Community in Houston. As the most recent wave of immigrants, this community has not had time to come together. This project is led by a Venezuelan female artist and creator of Monday, a brand of sustainable, climate friendly notebooks. She is using her art to create a business that empowers Latinas and Venezuelans by supporting each other, sharing their stories and dreams, and uniting to plan the course for their community in Houston. The notebooks are created in Venezuela, but are carried in Houston, just like the community.

Let Creativity Happen! - Frederick Goodall

Let Creativity Happen! - Frederick Goodall

Frederick Goodall
I will photograph several Afro-Latino Houstonians to show the impact they have on the community. I will display the photos in a series of events with Afro-Latino music (live performances), food, and lectures.

Iraqi American Community Inc.
The Iraqi American team is dedicated to orchestrating and overseeing a comprehensive program aimed at elevating community unity and fostering collective involvement in the arts and culture. Our organization boasts a dedicated section with a wealth of expertise, featuring board members, advisory boards, and volunteers who serve as subject-matter authorities. These team members bring extensive professional and academic experience to the forefront. Furthermore, we aspire to broaden our impact by engaging more artists from Iraq and the Middle East, many of whom have relocated due to conflicts and wars, to present their work to the public.

Project Strategy: Strengthening Community Cohesion and Promoting Collective Engagement in Arts and Culture.

Activity One: Enhance language proficiency and literacy
Activity Two: Immersive integration of attendees into the world of arts
Activity Three: Cultivate engagement among program participants
Activity Six: Expand our volunteering capacity and recruitment efforts
Activity Seven: Foster awareness and understanding of diverse cultures and artworks within the local community
Activity Eight: Provide guidance on fostering a healthy and safe environment
Activity Nine: Promote teamwork, networking, and collaborative initiatives
Activity Ten: Encourage public participation and involvement in the arts

Gjanal Bordallo
“Got Me Lifted, Feelin’ So GIFted” Project pays homage to the City of Houston, celebrating its unique art and culture. With a salute to Filipino American History Month (FAHM) in October 2023, immerse yourself in the vibrant spirit of “H-Town” through an exclusive collection of Animated GIFs. Experience the captivating talents, rich heritage, and mesmerizing artworks that uplift and inspire our vibrant community. Celebrate the dynamic spirit of the City of Houston — H-Town, hold it down!

Joy Jones
The production of “Cleopatra” will celebrate the historical figure as a multifaceted character, displaying her as a flawed yet captivating queen, ambitious leader, and a fierce mother. By focusing on her complexities and challenging societal expectations, I aim to provide a fresh and empowering perspective on “Cleopatra.” The heart of this production lies in combining Shakespeare’s text with my original poetry, adding spice and relevance to her story. This adaptation will include film and projection art to help build the play's world. Through this production, we will challenge stereotypes, allowing “Cleopatra” to express herself, flaws, and all without shame.

Sheng Kuan Chung
In contemporary art, the concept of shape transcends its static and fixed nature, becoming an active force that can be harnessed, manipulated, and embodied. This proposal explores the notion of shape as a verb, emphasizing its transformative power and investigating how shape can be utilized as an action, process, or performative element within painting practice. I propose to create and present 10 new paintings to the public exploring the notion of shape as a verb. I will create my first painting in front of a live audience and 9 paintings to exhibit at the Houston Watercolor Art Society Gallery.

Culture Of Health - Advancing Together
Immerse yourself in the vibrant world of art and health education with our “Engaging Art for Health” project. Join us this fall semester in Houston schools as we bring the magic of music and theater to students from diverse cultural backgrounds. Through interactive workshops and performances, we will explore the connection between art and health, fostering creativity, self-expression, and holistic well-being. Do not miss this unique opportunity to empower immigrant and refugee youth through the transformative power of art.

Indo-American Association
This new project builds upon and delves deeper into our 2020 project “Sukoon: Tranquility Through Music.” ‘Sukoon’ is an Urdu/Hindi word for tranquility, peace, and calm. As its predecessor project did, “Tune of Sukoon” strives to bring such serenity by releasing recordings of our concert performances as a digital meditation album. Our previous “Sukoon” digital concert soothed loneliness and isolation, but today we seek to bring peace to minds inundated with troubling political and social climates and injustices that leave us feeling afraid and anxious. These recordings will be released through IAA’s social media platforms, YouTube, & Spotify.

Essence Mclaurin
For this project, I desire to show the rebirth of my art career. I have been through a multitude of experiences that almost made me stop art altogether, and I want to show that circumstances do not have to stop your passion. I will document my rebirth in Houston, a city I am new to, through my art, and turn it into a production by the end of summer. “Renessence” is the Renaissance but with my name because it is my rebirth.

Kevo Aregbe
I am a local artist, professor, and stage play producer. I have recently written a stage play about the life of Van Gogh, and I have an opportunity to perform at the DeLuxe Theater, the week of Thanksgiving.

Jorge Galvan
“Sigue el Hilo: Woven Together in Diversity” is a transformative community art project that celebrates the cultural heritage of local immigrant basket weavers. Through a series of workshops, an exhibition, and community engagement, the project seeks to empower immigrant weavers and foster cross-cultural understanding of the immigrant experience in Houston. The project will begin outreach and research to connect with immigrant weavers. Workshops will follow, taught by these talented artisans, which will enable skill-sharing and cultural exchange. The project will culminate in a vibrant exhibition featuring the weavers’ creations, accompanied by documentation of their stories.

Maya White
“A Moment in Bliss” is a short film to be filmed and screened alongside a community activation in the Fall 2023 to give community members a chance to connect to their inner child.

Willians Guaregua
“Escritores Cronopio Houston” was established as a Spanish writers’ collective in 2012. It is well known by Latino writers in Houston, TX. This project will organize and publish the first anthology for the group. The anthology will be presented in a meeting open to the Houston community.

Mark Francis
With this project, I plan to reproduce and donate works from my series “YOU ARE ART: A Love Letter to 5th Ward” to community organizations. I also plan to print coloring books of this series and donate copies to these same organizations to distribute for free to community members. This is part of a plan to allow the artistic reproductions and coloring books of community members to live in the community permanently.

Find out more information on past grantees and stay up to date with grantees and news related to grants sign up for the Houston Arts Alliance Newsletter.

About the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs
The City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs guides the City’s cultural investments with policies and initiatives that expand access to arts and cultural programs in the community, attract visitors, and leverage private investment. Learn more at and follow us on Facebook & Instagram @HoustonMOCA.

About Houston Arts Alliance
Houston Arts Alliance (HAA) is a local arts and culture organization whose principal work is to implement the City of Houston’s vision, values, and goals for its arts grantmaking and civic art investments. HAA’s work is conducted through contracts with the City of Houston, overseen by the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs. HAA also executes privately funded special projects to meet the needs of the arts community, such as disaster preparation, research on the state of the arts in Houston, and temporary public art projects that energize neighborhoods.
In short, HAA helps artists and nonprofits be bold, productive, and strong.

To learn more about HAA, visit and follow us on Facebook /houstonartsalliance & Instagram @Houstonartsalliance