Diverseworks, Where the Process of Creating Art is Valued!
DiverseWorks is a Houston-based non-profit art center dedicated to presenting new visual, performing, and literary art, a place where artists can test new ideas in the public arena. By encouraging the investigation of current artistic, cultural and social issues they build, educate, and sustain audiences for contemporary art.
Diverseworks is located in a 10,000-square-foot red brick warehouse on East Freeway a few blocks north of downtown Houston. It was established in 1982 by a group of Houston artists led by Charles Gallagher, who desired exhibition and studio space during a period when local artists received minimal support from Houston's galleries and museums. Using New York City alternative spaces such as the Kitchen and P.S. 1 as models, the artists pooled their resources to establish a center in the historic Foley Building on Travis Street. Despite a flood that left the gallery a foot underwater, DiverseWorks opened in May 1983 with an exhibition of four East Texas artists and a performance by saxophone player Richard Landry.
The organization mounted retrospectives of the work of local artists such as Mel Chin (1985), Jesse Lott (1987), and Dee Wolff (1989), and functioned as a venue for performances and installations that had limited commercial appeal. Their support of challenging work by local artists, especially those who were too young or controversial to be featured in the city's galleries and museums, contributed to Houston's emergence as a leading art center in the 1980s.
Exhibitions are frequently organized around political themes. Mothers of the Disappeared (1989) featured Houstonian Richard Lewis's photographs of members of Co-Madres, a group that provides support to relatives of those who have reportedly been arrested, kidnapped, or killed by Salvadoran "death squads". Perhaps the most successful exhibition to date was Project: Houston (1990), organized by Deborah Brauer, who invited over forty architects, artists, scientists, and engineers to collaborate on projects geared toward the future development of Houston. Outstanding among the various projects were proposals to restore historic Freedman's Town in the Fourth Ward qv. build an urban wetland featuring native plants in Buffalo Bayou Park, and turn a warehouse into a shelter for abused women and children. DiverseWorks has also participated in fund-raising efforts to benefit Amnesty International and Art Against AIDS.
In addition to mounting ten to thirteen exhibitions a year, DiverseWorks features film and video screenings and performances. The center has exhibited an ongoing commitment to placing local artists' work in public places; for example, it coordinated the renovation of Market Square Park in downtown Houston, where James Surls's sculpture was publicly installed in Houston for the first time. The organization also supports local artists with cash grants and offers studio space to artists-in-residence at its original location.
On February 9, 1989, a fire rendered the Travis Street location uninhabitable. The center subsequently found more spacious quarters in a 1920s cotton warehouse, which was remodeled with grants totaling $46,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Cultural Arts Council of Houston, the Transco Energy Company, and individual pledges. The organization opened at its new location in the fall of 1990. In addition to gallery and performance areas, the new space includes DiverseBooks, an art bookstore, which sponsors PhoneWorks, a phone-in poetry-reading service.
With the announcement of its 08-09 season, they continue to stimulate audiences’ minds and expand the definition of contemporary art. Under the direction of Co-Executive Directors Diane Barber and Sixto Wagan, DiverseWorks will commission ten new works and exhibitions that feature some new and familiar faces, all of them having strong artistic voices to comment and explore the issues of contemporary society. Their specialty -- a series of cross-disciplinary projects that underscore the organization’s practice of blurring the lines between visual and performance art is getting a necessary support – money, rehearsal time, production support under the DW protective wings.
“Contemporary artists are no longer masters of a single discipline. The creative culture has developed practitioners who bring experience and professionalism from different sectors of their lives to explode the boundaries of their craft. Performance Artists continue to more deeply integrate technology and visual objects; artists act as cultural anthropologists, focusing on details to comment on the change (or its lack) in society; writers are historians cultivating histories to define a new shared experience. The artists use their work to explore and explode issues, so that DiverseWorks is the starting place for dialogue” says Sixto Wagan — Co-Executive Director, Performing Arts Curator