Cultural Affairs Office

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

December 27, 2023 -- The City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA) is awarding $99,750 in grants to 40 individuals and nonprofit organizations for projects 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.

“We launched this grant program in 2018 and the hundreds of bold bodies of work have brought joy to many,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “Houston creatives continue to showcase why our city is an art city and I hope that you will join me in supporting these offerings.”

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 opened 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 third round of the 2023 Let Creativity Happen! grantees will create the following work:

Awardee: Andrea Martinez
Project Title: Mujeres de Mariachi
Project Summary: Houston's first and only all-female mariachi group: Mariachi Amor a Mexico will perform a live concert dedicated to the powerful "mujeres de mariachi". Guests will have the opportunity to mingle with one another, take pictures at various photo booth stations and learn about the often forgotten history of women in mariachi through a special exhibit displayed prior to entering the theatre for a live musical experience featuring hits from well renowned artists such as Rocio Durcal, Lucha Villa, and Amalia Mendoza. This will be a beautiful night dedicated to Latina leadership and excellence.

Awardee: Badie Khaleghian
Project Title: Synchronized Synesthesia: Kamancheh, Dance, and Brainwave Harmony
Project Summary: Synchronized Synesthesia: Kamancheh, Dance, and Brainwave Harmony is a collaborative10-12 minute performance featuring the Persian string instrument, Kamancheh, electronics, and interactive projection in collaboration with NobleMotion Dance. This piece is a culmination of my artistic journey, fusing my Persian heritage, passion for immersive multimedia, innovative brain-computer-interface research, and collaboration. During the performance, I will wear a customized EEG cap to translate my brainwaves into sonic and visual elements, creating a transformative experience that focuses on closed neurofeedback loop systems.

Awardee: Bharathi Kalai Manram
Project Title: ”Kolangal” - A Geometric Art and Painting Live Show
Project Summary: In our Golden Jubilee year (2024), Bharathi Kalai Manram (BKM) is excited to inroduce”Kolangal” - A Geometric Art and Painting Live Show on April 6th, 2024, from 2 - 5 p.m. at Durga Bari(13944 Schiller Rd, Houston, TX 77082).This event offers free admission, ensuring that everyone can partake. This live show aims to showcase”Kolangal" an intricate geometric pattern, adorned with vibrant colors, that comes to life on the ground. It will be presented in different forms colored sand, salt, flowers, gold inlays, rangoli, and acrylic paintings. We welcome individuals from diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds who share an interest in Indian traditions and arts.

Awardee: Carlos Gonzalez
Project Title: EP recording and promoting
Project Summary: As a Cuban singer-songwriter based in Houston, I am excited to share the next phase of my musical journey. Currently, I am embarking on the creation of my second EP, aiming to transcend language barriers and ensure that the poetry embedded in each song is not only understood but deeply felt by the audience. This project is a tribute to the Houston arts scene that has significantly contributed to my growth as both an artist and an immigrant. I plan to showcase the music through acoustic performances as well as with my band at local live music venues such as Rec Room, White Oak Music Hall, and The Heights Theater.

Awardee: Chamond Brooks
Project Title: Walk in Confidence/Master That Walk
Project Summary: Master That Walk is set to host a workshop dedicated to enhancing self-esteem, confidence, and self-awareness. This model workshop is designed to aid in recognizing and embracing the beauty within our imperfections. The session will specifically emphasize the significance of walking with confidence and embracing our individuality in a positive light. By featuring influencers who can share their personal journeys, the workshop aims to inspire and motivate participants, providing them with the encouragement to recognize and embrace their own strengths and the gifts life has bestowed upon them.

Awardee: Charlie Perez
Project Title: Climate Hope: Houston
Project Summary: The 'Climate Hope: Houston’ concert will feature a quartet of local jazz musicians, led by percussionist Charlie Perez and joined by belly dancer Alesha Yamal. The performance will draw upon the diversity of the Houston arts scene for a concert of uplifting music and dance with a message of hope and connection. In conjunction with the concert, the musicians will invite the audience to join them in a volunteer bayou cleanup through the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, encouraging greater awareness and stewardship of Houston’s waterways. This is one of many Climate Hope Concerts taking place across America in April 2024.

Awardee: Christopher Young
Project Title: Extremities
Project Summary: Extremities is a showstopper, performed at the historic DeLuxe Theatre in Fifth Ward. Our vision is to reach out to surrounding communities within the Houston area and the visitors alike to bring visibility to a historic theatre that may not be known outside of its district. Outreach will include the artistic community, young and growing families, inviting them to stretch outside of the typical art theatres they may be used to visiting.

Awardee: Crystal Wiley
Project Title: Lions
Project Summary: In a solo performance, Crystal Rae, recipient of the 2020 Houston Press "Best Actress" award and creator of the acclaimed "Best New Play of 2023," embodies the character of Pharaoh's Daughter. In this compelling narrative, she shares the experience of raising the world's most renowned adoptee, Moses. This contemporary and vibrant play joyfully explores the complexities and joys of interracial adoption, with performances scheduled for March 9th and 10th at The DeLuxe Theatre at 7:30 pm.

Awardee: Davin Morrow
Project Title: Out of the Strong Something Sweet - a fine art balloon sculpture exhibition
Project Summary: This exhibition will feature a large balloon sculpture and an accompanying painting as part of my 3-part series using the story of Samson to explore the effects of growing up in The Family International, a notorious cult started by my great-grandfather. The exhibition would also feature the first painting in the series and a print of its accompanying balloon sculpture as well as prints of my previous balloon art exploring religious extremism. The exhibition, held the weekend of March 1st, will transform Houston's view of balloons as an artform and open up a conversation about harmful religious cults.

Awardee: Deborah Brooks
Project Title: Agape
Project Summary: AGAPE is an innovative music album project that explores the intersection of art, spirituality, and romance, inspired by Song of Solomon and other biblical texts. This project offers a unique opportunity to experience the profound connection between divine love and human romance through the medium of music.

Awardee: Deeper Than Dance
Project Title: The Pearls You've Given Us
Project Summary: The Pearls You’ve Given Us is a short dance film that will act as the preface to a new series of dance short films that tell Biblical stories through dance. This piece surrounds the idea that every story found in the Bible can be likened to the value of a pearl, and that they must all be strung together to see the full picture, like stringing together pearls to create a valuable piece of jewelry. This film will debut in the Spring or early Summer of 2024 via livestream.

Awardee: Double Vision Dance 
Project Title: Selah Production presented by Double Vision Dance Inc
Project Summary: Selah Production: SEASONS is scheduled for the spring of 2024, with the premiere of "Selah: SEASONS" taking place on May 24, 2024, at 7 pm at the MATCH theater. "SEASONS" will artistically portray the essence of change in everyday life, narrating a story through a combination of movement and art.

Awardee: Elizabeth Newkirk
Project Title: The Archetype of Modern Man
Project Summary: "The Archetype of Modern Man" is a four-part series that unites philosopher and classical musician. Each presentation will explore a theme of the modern human condition with a philosophical narrative paired with a classical music program. The four themes of each presentation: loneliness, self-reliance, Americanism, and nihilism.

Awardee: Francisco Castro
Project Title: Systema - A multimedia
Project Summary: “Sistema”is an ambitious community-driven multimedia experience aimed at unifying and connecting the diverse diasporas within the Alief community in Houston, Texas through a custom-built sound system that honors the “Sound System” traditions in various latin and african diasporas currently represented in southwest Houston, Texas.

Awardee: George Brown
Project Title: Distrikt Magazine
Project Summary: Distrikt plans to be a vibrant art magazine that celebrates the rich tapestry of East Downtown Houston. Our publication will be dedicated to showcasing the talent and creativity of local residents, while also highlighting the latest happenings in the area. From new restaurants, bars, and shopping destinations to exciting events, we provide an insider’s guide to everything that makes East Downtown Houston unique. With stunning visuals and engaging stories, Distrikt is the go-to resource for anyone looking to immerse themselves in the thriving arts and culture scene of the neighborhood.

Awardee: Gulf Coast-A Journal of Literature & Fine Arts
Project Title: Speaking Change: Multilingual Voices of the Gulf Coast and Beyond
Project Summary: Internationally renowned and locally beloved nonprofit Gulf Coast Journal will launch a multilingual, interdisciplinary 12-event lecture series and podcast that reflects the rich diversity of the Gulf Coast and beyond and extends accessibility to language justice and the literary arts. In collaboration with Lawndale Art Center and Black Hole Coffee, we will invite global scholars, literary theorists, and language justice authors/activists to speak about the decolonial possibilities of translation, present on their respective areas of study (poetics, fiction, comparative literature, and literary and art criticism, in addition to translation), and read their work.

Awardee: India House Houston
Project Title: Mural Wall
Project Summary: We propose to get a mural wall painted at our facility. India House is a community service center where people from different walks of life come and make use of all the free services like yoga, chair yoga, online bollyx and art classes, soccer classes, technology, and English-speaking classes provided at our facility. The mural will be a representation of the artist's vision of India House as we believe in equity in all the projects we do, inclusion of all our community members from different ethnicities and commitment to serving our communities in need.

Awardee: Joel Aguilera
Project Title: The “Each One, Teach One” Show
Project Summary: The “Each One, Teach One” Show is a FREE, hour-long educational and interactive performance showcasing the several styles within Hip Hop dance to be performed by Houston Hip Hop dancers at the Midtown Arts & Theater Center - Houston (MATCH) on May 3rd and 4th, 2024. This performance celebrates Hip Hop Culture while educating young audiences about the various dance styles within Hip Hop, such as breakdancing, popping, locking, house, and social moves.

Awardee: Jonathan Guijon
Project Title: "Light Orbs of Houston"
Project Summary: I plan to bridge technological advancements in 3D Printing with the medium of light to bring forth an art installation that will illuminate many Houston landmarks and also our community. I call it "Light Orbs of Houston". By incorporating 3d Printing technology I will create lithophane spheres that when illuminated will display Houston landmarks and the community surrounding them. I plan to showcase and display "Light Orbs of Houston" at George Bush Intercontinental Airport for all to see how technological advancements in 3d printing technology can be used to create and form art.

Awardee: Jordan Carter
Project Title: Vorise x Millennial Merch Fashion Show
Project Summary: In September 2024, the 5th Annual Millennial Merch Fashion Show will return and serve as the runway to showcase a new collection of my unisex clothing brand titled Vorise. Taking place at the new 713 Music Hall, this show, titled "The Roots Are Deep" will allow us to take a trip into the mind of Southern Brazoria County native, Jordan Carter's, roots using fashion, set design and a carefully curated combination of audio and visual.

Awardee: Kemi OG
Project Title: Borderline Expectations (Working Title)
Project Summary: "Borderline Expectations (WT)" is an experimental short story about the sacrifices and pressures faced by international students striving for success while carrying the weight of family expectations. My goal is to finish Borderline Expectations by January 31st, 2024, and then to design a digital marketing launch campaign that will take anywhere from 1 to 3 months. We anticipate the campaign will take just as long, so I anticipate a release in the Fall of 2024.

Awardee: Kinetic Ensemble
Project Title: At Play
Project Summary: “At Play,” Kinetic Ensemble’s final concert of the 2023-2024 season, invites an interplay between music and dance as it explores the role of “play” as an optimistic response to an uncertain future. Music from a diverse group of living, American composers will be paired with new choreography by Frame Dance artistic director Lydia Hance and performed by both professional and community dancers. This event takes place at MATCH (3400 Main Street in Midtown) on May 17, 2024.

Awardee: LaShawn Darnell
Project Title: Let's fine the inner YOU
Project Summary: This project is designed to bring attention to the art and craft traditions that may have been overlooked amid the bustling city life. The goal is to unite the inner-city and nearby communities, encouraging them to come together and celebrate the creation of crafts that hold personal significance. The event is scheduled to take place around the back-to-school season at the Third Ward Multipurpose Center, 3611 Ennis St, Houston, TX 77004-4407, on Saturday, August 3, 2024, from 9 am to 3 pm.

Awardee: London Ham
Project Title: Flower Man House Virtual Site
Project Summary: The core concept of this project is to digitally reconstruct the exterior façade of The Flower Man House, a landmark example of Houston outsider art from archival material, in 3D. The project will be presented online via a web-based Augmented Reality application triggered by a QR code at the site , available for download to use on mixed reality devices, and as an Augmented Reality model on Instagram, accessible to anyone with a smart phone. This project is about digital conservation, the history of art outside of the museum in Houston, and making archival material accessible to the public.

Awardee: Multicultural Education and Counseling Through the Arts
Project Title: 19th Annual Frida Festival
Project Summary: “MuXerHTX” is thrilled to announce the 19th annual Frida Festival, a celebration of the life and works of the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. In collaboration with Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts and the Alley Theatre, the festival will feature a range of events for all ages and interests. The festival will kick off with an art exhibit on April 6th at MECA at TBH, 333 S. Jensen Dr. Houston, TX 77003 and a two-day festival on April 26-27, featuring performances, a fashion show, vendor market, a Frida look-alike contest, and more.

Awardee: Najeeba Ali
Project Title: Creative Horizons & Sacred Strokes
Project Summary: Engage in a multifaceted community project that nurtures artistic exploration and expression, specifically delving into the rich heritage of Islamic calligraphy. This initiative aims to foster intercultural understanding, togetherness, and innovation, serving as a platform to showcase my artistic talent while actively engaging the audience through interactive workshops. The primary goal is to deepen appreciation and understanding, connecting participants to the cultural and spiritual significance of Islamic calligraphy. These workshops, open to individuals of all ages and backgrounds, provide a unique opportunity to learn, appreciate, and actively participate in fostering a deeper understanding of this ancient art form and its relevance in contemporary society.

Awardee: Olivia Pinner
Project Title: High-lite
Project Summary: Houston is full of infrastructure. Most of this infrastructure is gray. Houston is gray. “High-lite” is a simple proposal that injects art and color to the everyday transit of Houstonians, beginning in February 2024. The pink painting of the Sabine Street pedestrian bridge draws attention to this important connection to Buffalo Bayou over Memorial drive, transforming our everyday-gray infrastructure into a public art experience bursting with color.

Awardee: Orange Show Center for Visionary Art
Project Title: Mural Program with Harris County Juvenile Probation
Project Summary: A partnership with Harris County Juvenile Probation and the Mayor’s Anti-Gang Office provides opportunities to bring Orange Show Center for Visionary Art staff and artists together with at-risk youth and young adults from throughout the city to cooperatively plan and execute mural projects. These murals are part of an effort to “de-institutionalize” a wraparound educational facility and provide a platform for hopeful artistic expression. Funds are requested for the next mural project, our third at The Opportunity Center, 6500 Chimney Rock.

Awardee: Priscilla Salisbury
Project Title: Canciones de mi Tierra
Project Summary: "Canciones de mi Tierra," is a performance of music and dance, centered around the Nahuatl poetry of Jose Maria Bonilla, set to music by composer Salvador Moreno. Featuring Mexican soprano and artistic director, Priscilla Salisbury, this performance fuses Mesoamerican and Mexican dance and traditional dress with the classical tradition of vocal art song. "Canciones de mi Tierra" brings the indigenous roots of Mexico to the forefront and creates a new way for Mexicans to tell their own stories.

Awardee: Rashad Thomas
Project Title: IZORIYA: The Community of Art
Project Summary: "IZORIYA: The Community of Art" is a vibrant multicultural arts festival set to take place on May 25th, 2024, from 6:00 PM to 12:00 AM at the scenic Wonder like wander venue in Houston. This immersive event will showcase a diverse ensemble of artists, including musicians, painters, poets, and dancers, offering an evening filled with live performances, art exhibitions, interactive experiences, and a wide range of vendors promoting environmental sustainability and unity. "IZORIYA: The Community of Art" aims to unite Houston's radiant communities, celebrating cultural richness while fostering connections and enhancing the city's reputation as a cultural destination.

Awardee: Raymond Dunlap
Project Title: 3pm to Midnight
Project Summary: "3pm to Midnight" is an experimental play about love and despair, based upon real life experiences of the artist and creator Ray Dunlap.  4 figures interact within a set of hand painted backdrops and custom clothing, acting out short scenes of self-questioning and self-realizing dialogues. Throughout the performance, the actors pose periodically for figure drawing exercises lasting 5-10 minutes each. The theater/classes will be free and open to the public with materials provided.  Four performances will be offered during the month of April/May, located at the Sabine Street Studios in Sawyer Yards.

Awardee: RONAK Sobti
Project Title: Abstract Scents - A Synesthesia Love Story
Project Summary: This is a new series of large-scale abstract paintings paired with custom fragrances. Each will be reminiscent of my version of abstract modernism but will also have its own unique scent created specifically to give the viewer more depth; inviting them to engage with and experience the art on multiple sensory levels.  I aim to showcase the exhibit in a gallery or rented space in Montrose (preferably renting Flatland Gallery) during Saturday 1/20/24 from 12PM to 3PM.

Awardee: Salma Ekambi
Project Title: The KNKYHAIR Show / BHP
Project Summary: The BLK History Project docuseries is a decade long labor of love, meticulously filmed to spotlight a variety of significant contributors to our vibrant local creative community within the African Diaspora. Over the course of 10 compelling episodes, we delve into the rich tapestry of Houston's black excellence while focusing on the nuanced journey of trial and error that has shaped our local artistic landscape. This illuminating series is set to premiere throughout the month of February, the month dedicated to celebrating African American history. Each episode will be released online, starting on February 1, 2024, at 12 PM CST.

Let Creativity Happen! – SAMARPANAM

Let Creativity Happen! – SAMARPANAM

Awardee: Samarpanam
Project Title: Presenting the Houston premiere of ‘Explorations’ by the Anubhava Dance Company
Project Summary: We will present the Anubhava Dance Company, a group of six talented young Indian classical dancers based in Cleveland OH, as they premiere their show “Explorations” to the Houston audience. “Explorations” interfaces science, technology, philosophy, and medicine with Indian classical dance in a theatrical foray traversing the complexities of human behavior across a myriad of themes - including scientific exploration, mental health, and multicultural literature. Integrating original musical scores and choreography, this production is sure to spark curiosity in all ages and backgrounds of viewers.

Awardee: Segundo Barrio Children’s Chorus
Project Title: Pilot Program - "Conjunto de Guitarras" (Guitar Ensemble) for Children of Second Ward/East End District
Project Summary: The Segundo Barrio Children's Chorus is the largest community-based, out-of-school time arts enrichment program for children and families residing in Houston's Second Ward/Greater East End. In an effort to expand curriculum beyond music literacy and choral singing techniques, we are launching the "Conjunto de Guitarras" (Guitar Ensemble).The program will begin as a pilot-program in the Winter/Spring of 2024 including a performance alongside the SBCC children's chorus, with an intention for permanent placement in future programming.

Awardee: Stacey Allen
Project Title: A Little Optimism Goes a Long Way
Project Summary: Nia is a young girl who loves learning about dance but is a bit too shy to really get out there. In "A Little Optimism Goes a Long Way," readers follow her journey falling in love with dancing and finding her voice despite her initial hesitation. Inspired by the legendary dancer and choreographer Katherine Dunham, Nia embarks on a thrilling journey, with the support of her family weaving together her love for movement and a deep connection to her heritage. This project will be an interactive story time complete with dance and music.

Awardee: Through the Lens - Houston
Project Title: Dream Big with Warren Moon, Andre Ware & Vince Young
Project Summary: As part of our programming around the College Football Championship on January 8, 2024, we will hire local artists to create one of our “Dream Big”, animated film and kids book about Black Quarterbacks from Houston, Warren Moon, Andre Ware and Vince Young. We will highlight their achievements on and off the field and explore the impact they had on breaking barriers. Warren Moon was the first Black quarterback inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Andre Ware was the first Black quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy. This funding will allow us to present our program for free.

Let Creativity Happen – Únies Gonzalez

Let Creativity Happen – Únies Gonzalez

Awardee: Únies Gonzalez
Project Title: Leave the Kitchen Light On
Project Summary: February 24th, 2024, join Únies Gonzalez & Jeremy Perez at Stinson House for "Leave the Kitchen Light On," an alternative photo installation that transforms a familiar Houston home into a canvas for shared experiences, memories, and reflections of life. Striking a balance between personal and universal, this exhibit invites visitors into a narrative of common yet intimate moments, shining a light on the silent stories we share, and fostering a genuine, warm connection.

Awardee: Violet Moon
Project Title: The Thread Between Us: A Raw and Haunting Duet on Genderless Intimacy Alongside Trauma
Project Summary: I propose an evocative dance duet performance scheduled for the Barnstorm Dance Fest at the Midtown Arts and Theatre Center Houston (MATCH) from May 28 to June 2, 2024. This 10-minute piece is a visceral journey into the complexities of intimacy, trauma healing, and nonbinary expression. It challenges traditional gender expectations, compelling the audience to uncomfortably witness the raw, haunting space where two souls, scarred by shared trauma, yearn for connection. Through androgynous performances, we aim to break free from societal norms, inviting viewers to explore the devastating need for intimacy that transcends our learned roles and expectations.

Awardee: Violette Bule
Project Title: Being for Others
Project Summary: In April 2024, I will present “Being for Others”, a collaborative and participatory performance installation at Night Light, an initiative with the Buffalo Bayou Partnership and Aurora Picture Show. The unexpected passing of my father in 2021 forced me to face the painful challenge of overcoming geographical distance in my situation as an immigrant bearing an expired Venezuelan passport at a time of personal mourning and mobility restrictions on a global scale. The performance is grounded in this intimate personal context but proposes an expansive reflection on personal identity and transit across physical and bureaucratic space.

For more information on past grantees, click here. To stay up to date with grantees and news related to grants sign up for the Houston Arts Alliance Newsletter here.

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.