Three Women-Led Art Commissions Coming to Landmark Alief Neighborhood Center

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Three Women-Led Art Commissions Coming to Landmark Alief Neighborhood Center
Alief Swarm by Bennie Flores Ansell
HOUSTON – The Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA) is pleased to announce three public art commissions that will be displayed in the landmark Alief Neighborhood Center scheduled to be open in the Spring of 2022. Two  interior and a single exterior commissioned public artworks will debut with the facility opening and will be added to the City’s Civic Art Collection.  Each was created by Houston-area artists Bennie Flores Ansell, Falon Mihalic, and Red Thread Collective – Rakee Jain Desai, Ami Mehta, and Sneha Bhavsar.The new $54-million mixed-used center will accommodate three City of Houston facilities under one roof, creating a civic center at the heart of a redeveloped 38-acre active urban sports park.  A new paradigm for providing City services, the 70,000 sf 3-story LEED-certified, award-winning building is the first of its kind, designed to leverage resources between the Houston Health, Houston Parks and Recreation, and Houston Public Library departments for the benefit of the Alief Complete Community with special focus on community engagement, identity, and civic wellbeing.  In the event of natural disasters and emergencies, this facility will also serve as resilience hub or lily pad.

“Each of the local artists selected to create artworks for this state-of-the-art facility highlight the strength of Houston’s creative community,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “The three commissioned public artworks that will be displayed at the Alief Neighborhood Center will not only enhance the Alief Complete Community, but will also inspire its residents and make the entire city proud.”

MOCA released the opportunity to artists residing in the Greater Houston Area and, with input from District F Council Member Tiffany Thomas, oversaw a selection process which emphasized community representation. A selection panel of City department, community, and art world representatives was assembled to review 9 finalists proposals, three for each artwork site, from 76 original applicants. Panelists included Xandra Eden, Executive Director, Diverseworks; Gordon Greenleaf, Artist and Alief Community Member; and artist and arts educator Divya Murthy; John Middleton, Assistant Director, Houston Public Library; and Lisa Johnson, Division Manager, General Services Department.

Each of the three commissioned artworks - Folding Stories (Red Thread Collective), Alief Swarm (Bennie Flores Ansell), and Windbloom (Falon Mihalic) - will engage the Alief community to participate in the completion of commission designs ahead of fabrication.

Folding Stories, a suspended sculpture, welcomes visitors to the Center while celebrating the strength of diversity in Alief and will seek writing samples from Alief ISD students and civic groups. Alief Swarm also seeks direct connection with residents and will feature 1,000 shoe-inspired butterflies created from photographs of shoes captured by the artist. Embedded in the urban parkscape, Windbloom will give form to the site’s ephemeral ecological qualities and fortify the new neighborhood center as a place for reflection, connection, and discovery.

Each public art commission is planned for completion in the Spring of 2022.

Find more info on the artists and commissioned artworks, here.

About MOCA  

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.

To learn more about the City’s cultural programs visit www.houstontx.gov/culturalaffairs and follow us on Facebook and Instagram @HoustonMOCA.

Folding Stories by The Red Thread Collective

The community of Alief is a multicultural tapestry; woven from countless intriguing stories of strong female pioneers, of leaders embracing change, and of immigrant families full of aspiration and perseverance. “Folding Stories,” strives to honor these struggles and successes by creating three multifaceted sculptures with hand-painted, culturally inspired textiles. These textiles will serve as a visual narrative of Alief’s incredible journey to becoming one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the US. Taking inspiration from the founding female postmaster, Alief Magee, the artists will collect written letters from residents. Excerpts from these letters will be superimposed on the fabric facets, ensuring the sculptures resonate with words of wisdom and hope directly from the people of Alief.

As South Asian female artists and long-time Houstonians, Rakhee Jain Desai, Ami Mehta, and Sneha Bhavsar (The Red Collective) believe in the intrinsic value that every diverse person contributes to a thriving community. “Folding Stories” will create a thought-provoking and intimate creative experience that will encourage the residents of Alief to gather, learn, and grow from one another; further ensuring that the Alief Community Center serves as a welcoming and inclusive destination that will be embraced by current and future generations.

Alief Swarm by Bennie Flores Ansell

Alief Swarm will create an uplifting experience and provide a transition space to all. A swarm is the word for a large group of bees emigrating to start a colony in a different location. Like bees, any group of people can be considered a swarm emigrating and working together, fiercely toward a goal. The seed that Dr. Paul Quillian planted for a youth center in Alief 60 years ago, is now growing into this spectacular facility.

Community Involvement and ownership is a large component of this artwork that will be suspended from the ceiling space of the East Entrance and atrium. Composed of over a thousand of what appear to be butterflies, upon closer inspection the viewer will see that they are in fact shoes.  Houston-based visual artist Bennie Flores Ansell will gather the 1,000 shoe models and engage community groups and online voting to select the shoes that will be used to create the individual laser cut printed dichroic plexiglass she-butterflies that connect this indoor piece to the outside butterfly garden.

Windbloom by Falon Mihalic

Windbloom is an overhead sculpture, like an umbrella, meant to be experienced up close from underneath as a colorful shading device or from a distance as a supersized flower map. Viewable from the new Alief Community Center front porch, it is at the scale of the larger landscape and nestled within the butterfly garden. Inspired by the native site ecology as an open coastal prairie, it creates a colorful map of the site’s prevailing winds with “petals” of colorful resin. Constructed of painted carbon steel, polycarbonate resin panels, and customized attachments, all components of the sculpture are envisioned as “plant-like” with the structural supports taking on the form of plant tendrils and the attachment plates modeled after a flower calyx (the plant part between flower petals and leaves). Interdisciplinary artist Falon Mihalic will invite the community to interact with the work both through firsthand experience of the piece and through the community engagement wind map diagrams housed in the public library.

MOCA contracts with Houston Arts Alliance Civic Art + Design team, funded by the City’s Civic Art Ordinance, to commission and acquire permanent artworks for the City of Houston Civic Art Collection which are enjoyed by more than 64 million people each year.