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Meet Theresa Escobedo of Main Street Projects, Manteca HTX, The Union in Old Sixth Ward, Arts District Houston, Mid Main in Mid-Town

Today we’d like to introduce you to Theresa Escobedo.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I studied architecture at the University of Houston and upon graduating in 2008 (during a recession no less) was troubled to find that I had a dwindling desire to pursue architecture as a profession.

In fact, if I’m being honest, while studying architecture a growing desire to study art had been creeping into my everyday experience and I extended my enrollment to pursue post-baccalaureate studies in Photography and Art History.

Soon after, while unsuccessful in finding a job in my field of study, I applied and was invited to intern at the Houston Center for Photography (HCP), where I ultimately accepted a position as Lead Workshop Instructor. At the same time, I happened to stumble into a position at Deborah Colton Gallery, where I worked for or a number of years in various capacities, including Assistant Director. Those experiences combined, happening simultaneously, gave me incredible insight into my own natural aptitude for thinking and communicating about art, my ability to organize and share information through teaching, and my strength for curatorial and exhibition production. I had no idea I was project managing the entire time.

Also, during this time, and thanks to HCP, I met a fellow photographer and art educator, Galina Kurlat. who I soon found myself sharing my first artist studio with. Within weeks we decided to expand into the neighboring studio – demolishing walls and inviting more artists to share our space. Around this time, Galina developed the idea for Main Street Projects, a self-initiated, self-funded project through which to share artist’s work with the pedestrian public, and invited me on as an organizer and collaborator. These days, I continue to Direct Main Street Projects and present an annual program of exhibitions and public projects to the Houston public.

About Main Street Projects:
Main Street Projects is an artist-run, alternative venue in Mid Main/Midtown Houston for site-specific installations and art exhibitions featuring local, national and international artists.

Main Street Projects is an artist-run, volunteer collaborative in Houston, which has hosted over 200 local, national and international artists to date. Founded in 2o12, this artists’ initiative brings art into urban surroundings, visually engaging the street and the pedestrian. Main Street Projects endeavors to improve the public’s accessibility to contemporary art, to beautify and repurpose unused spaces, and to provide support that enables artists to directly impact and shape their community.

This project operates on the premise that pleasing enhancements to Main Street will improve connectivity and encourage new development along this important corridor to enhance social interaction among Houston’s diverse constituency.

Recently, and in large part because of my experience working in art galleries and because of my community work with Main Street Projects, I was invited to curate and project manage a significant community exhibition presented collaboratively by Multicultural Education and Counseling Through the Arts (MECA) and Lawndale Art Center.

The tradition of exhibiting retablos created by artists from the Houston community at large took root at Lawndale Art Center in 1987 and has been celebrated by the organization annually for 30 years. In an unprecedented show of deference to the tradition of retablo making and to the cultural heritage from which it was borne, Lawndale Art Center has passed the stewardship of this beloved annual event to MECA. The 2018 “Retablos31” as well as its supplementary programs and silent auction fundraiser was integrated into MECA’s month-long celebration of Día de Los Muertos at its Dow School campus in the Old Sixth Ward Historic District and intends to return the sacred practice of retablo making to its cultural roots.

At about the same time last year, while beginning my work at MECA on “Retablos31,” I was approached by the owner of The Union, also in the Old Sixth Ward, about activating the venue with exhibitions and public events. It’s an incredible daylit space filled with good energy and welcoming vibes. In addition to promoting artists through exhibitions, we’re hard at work trying to establish The Union as an events venue for small private and public events.

About The Union:
The Union is a newly launched exhibitions and events venue in Houston’s Old Sixth Ward. We host community activities and programs in an effort to showcase the work of Texas creatives of all kinds. Operating out of a restored Victorian bungalow in the Washington Avenue Arts District, we initiate community engagement and provide a forum through which artists can engage with the thriving creative community in our city.

My first exhibition at The Union, “Mujeres del Sur,” came together in a 2-week whirlwind, but is a project I’m exceedingly proud of. It put me in-network with an incredible group of very ambitious Texas Latina artists who I didn’t know I needed in my life. The exhibition also brought up and highlighted relevant issues around women, “women’s work”, minorities, and working collaboratively. The exhibition was very well received by the arts community and I hope facilitated new and long-enduring relationships among its featured artists. We’re all crossing paths like crazy these days — I just got back from a show in San Antonio that features some of the same artists, myself included. (“Intersections” is on view this month at Presa House Gallery in San Antonio.)

More than anything, “Mujeres del Sur” reinforced my interest in creating meaningful arts exhibitions that impact or help create community and it opened my eyes to a future with a more focused curatorial interest. I’m looking ahead into a potential deep dive into Latinx issues in art, which is an interest that may soon land me in interdisciplinary graduate studies.

While “Mujeres del Sur” was on view at The Union and the “Retablos31” project was wrapping up, I was approached by the Arts District Houston to project manage an help develop a public art initiative that investigates the history of the Arts District (which is made of up neighborhoods in the First Ward and Old Sixth Ward) to inform artist projects which will visualize the stories from long-time neighborhood residents. This is an ongoing project which hopes to debut civic artworks to the Houston public during Arts District Month this October.

Most recently, I’ve been hard at work with MantecaHTX, a newly founded artist-run collaborative that is soon to launch a Latinx Artist Registry & Directory for Houston — a public online index of Latinx artists active in the Greater Houston area, as well as its first round of Open Call curatorial projects, presented in tandem with the 2019 Latino Art Now! (LAN!) conference and the City of Houston’s Spring of Latino Art (SOLA).

About MantecaHTX:
With generous support from the City of Houston and the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA) via a Houston Arts Alliance City’s Initiative Grant, MantecaHTX has been founded to operate in two primary capacities:

To create a Latinx Artist Registry & Directory (LARD) — a searchable online resource for artists, curators, institutions, scholars, art collectors, and the general public that indexes and highlights Latinx artists in the Houston area and shares artist opportunities.

As a Curatorial Collaborative whose first projects, to be presented during the 2019 Latino Arts Now! (LAN!) Houston Conference (April 4 – 6) and during the Spring of Latino Art (SOLA)(February – May 2019), will activate several venues across Houston via a city-wide open call to Latinx visual, literary, and performing artists.

This effort will present a Spring 2019 program of curated open call exhibitions and events at a number of venues across the city, including at the Community Artists’ Collective, The Union, Main Street Projects and Sabine Street Studios at Sawyer Yards, among others.

Founded in late 2018, this collaborative initiative is made possible by a partnership with Tony Diaz, founder of non-profit Nuestra Palabra, and through a team of veteran and emerging Houston creatives: Lead artists and educators Delilah Montoya, Gabriel Martinez, and Julia Barbosa Landois, with Frances Almendarez and a team of curators: Theresa Escobedo, Tina Hernandez, and Moe Penders.

And that brings us to the present – where I find myself deep in the mix of simultaneous synergistic creative projects which combine my work experience, my gifts and talents, and my sincere interests. Magic is happening for me these days in ways that are bringing wonderfully supportive artists, collaborators, and community organizers into my life. It’s also true, I’m finding, that there is simply no way to avoid challenges, circumvent obstacles, or shirk hard lessons learned. If anything, I’m learning to bear that in mind that, no matter its success, every project teaches me something valuable to take to the next opportunity. All in all, I’m feeling quite grateful for this very busy time in life.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Definitely not.

My Mom was devastated about me not pursuing architecture and it did impact our relationship – I learned about sticking to my guns and struggled with what motivates people to work: money vs. passion in work?

I couldn’t find a job out of college to save my life but learned to create my own work. This has served me tremendously and turned me into a self-starter – a quality I have come to look for and value in others.

I had to teach myself to teach myself – especially as a photographic educator trying to stay ahead of technological learning curves. And I learned that I love to learn.

I had a terrible boss for a very long time – and I learned about how confronting relationships force you to self-analyze and evolve as a person.

I’ve learned how to make a big impact in productions that have zero budget – as in no money to start with. Making something from nothing is possible!

This list could go on and on…

This list goes on and on!

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Main Street Projects, Manteca HTX, The Union story. Tell us more about the business.
Every project I do truly prioritize enhancing and supporting our community experience through the arts:

About Main Street Projects:
Main Street Projects is an artist-run, alternative venue in Mid Main/Midtown Houston for site-specific installations and art exhibitions featuring local, national and international artists.

Main Street Projects is an artist-run, volunteer collaborative in Houston, which has hosted over 200 local, national and international artists to date. Founded in 2o12, this artists’ initiative brings art into urban surroundings, visually engaging the street and the pedestrian. Main Street Projects endeavors to improve the public’s accessibility to contemporary art, to beautify and repurpose unused spaces, and to provide support that enables artists to directly impact and shape their community.

This project operates on the premise that pleasing enhancements to Main Street will improve connectivity and encourage new development along this important corridor to enhance social interaction among Houston’s diverse constituency.

About The Union:
The Union is a newly launched exhibitions and events venue in Houston’s Old Sixth Ward. We host community activities and programs in an effort to showcase the work of Texas creatives of all kinds. Operating out of a restored Victorian bungalow in the Washington Avenue Arts District, we initiate community engagement and provide a forum through which artists can engage with the thriving creative community in our city.

About MantecaHTX:
MantecaHTX has been founded to operate in two primary capacities:

To create a Latinx Artist Registry & Directory (LARD) — a searchable online resource for artists, curators, institutions, scholars, art collectors, and the general public that indexes and highlights Latinx artists in the Houston area and shares artist opportunities.

As a Curatorial Collaborative whose first projects, to be presented during the 2019 Latino Arts Now! (LAN!) Houston Conference (April 4 – 6) and during the Spring of Latino Art (SOLA)(February – May 2019), will activate several venues across Houston via a city-wide open call to Latinx visual, literary, and performing artists.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
Luck is a part of EVERY success story. Coupled with perseverance and commitment, luck is a game-changer.

It can’t be taken for granted, but it shouldn’t be ruled out of what’s possible.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Edna J Photography

Getting in touch: VoyageHouston is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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