During the summer of 1999, when my wife, Rhonda Radford-Adams, and I stepped out on a limb and decided to both quit our jobs to begin on an incredible journey now known as the Museum of Cultural Arts Houston (MOCAH), we had no idea what impact our work would have on Houston. What we did know for sure was that we were committed to the idea of bringing public art and creative learning and life experiences to inner-city youth and communities. Through a myriad of public/private partnerships and collaborations involving development authorities, schools, community organizations, and major corporations, MOCAH has been enabled to fulfill its mission of using art and creativity as tools for social and community development.
Almost ten years later we are both honored to be co-founders of an organization that has actively and deeply engaged more than 11,500 youth, ages 8-18, in the design and production of more than 90 murals, sculptures and other public art projects. The public/private partnerships that have been forged to facilitate this body of work has supported more than $2 million in social investments in some of Houston’s most underserved neighborhoods.
MOCAH’s two most recent partnerships embody the power and potential that such collaborations can have, not only on the community but on the lives of people in the community. This summer young MOCAH artists created public artworks for Buckboard Park, which is a development through Greenspoint Redevelopment Authority in collaboration with Knudson & Associates. The Dinerstein Company, in collaboration with Clark Condon & Associates, sponsored the design and production of a series of three mosaic murals for the swimming pool courtyard of the Millennium Greenway Luxury Apartments. This summer more than a dozen high school students from all over Houston converged in a downtown studio for MOCAH’s Public Art Camp (MPAC).
The big picture for MPAC is to provide middle school and high school aged youth with indelible vocational experiences in designing and producing public art. The young participants must accrue 50 hours of community service with MOCAH in order to become eligible to receive a paid apprenticeship through MPAC. During the 50 hour community service period the young artists learn how to enhance an environment using public art. They experience a transformation of their own as they spend more than 400 contact hours working alongside professional artists to learn about teamwork, planning, design, and production of public art. The artwork for Buckboard Park includes 12 mosaic sidewalk medallion inlays, five mosaic hopscotch patterns, and a giant 40-foot-long and 5-foot-tall mosaic caterpillar play structure. The second half of the apprenticeship was spent creating the three mosaic murals for the Dinerstein Company apartment development.
Jessica DeAlba, a 17 year old senior at HSPVA, is a great example of how this work can impact the life of a young person. Jessica became involved in a MOCAH project when she was a fifth grader at Edison Middle School. During her stint at Edison MS, Jessica was involved in the design and production of over 25 mosaic murals that line the hallways and exterior walls of the campus. From then on Jessica found a way to keep herself engaged in virtually every public art project that MOCAH produced. She now has more than 40 public art projects in her portfolio and she has not even graduated from high school. Because of her intense project experience and aptitude for leadership, this summer Jessica served as the MPAC Youth Project Manager, a role she carried out with the confidence and determination of a seasoned professional. “It’s a big challenge and a lot of responsibility to have to be in charge of people who are as old or even older than you, but it’s also fun to work on these projects and help other teens realize that they can do something positive and creative that makes a difference in the community,” says DeAlba.
At the end of the day, these types of partnerships are playing an incredibly vital role in supporting local artists, empowering youth, revitalizing communities, and creating lasting legacies for residents and visitors to Houston to appreciate for generations to come. Oftentimes the process alone takes years to plan and sometimes longer to complete, and because of the sporadic occurrences of these types of projects in neighborhoods and communities across Houston it’s not always easy to see and even more difficult to measure the impact of these partnerships. Nevertheless, the effects are real and the transformations are taking place one brush stroke, one ceramic tile, one child, one block, and one community at a time.
Businesses and organizations that initiate and embrace such partnerships are accelerating the transformation of Houston into a truly world class artistic and cultural destination. These partnerships are helping change the lives of youth that may never know exactly what a redevelopment authority or commercial developer does but they will never forget what these types of experiences have done and are doing to make their life and the community they live in a better place.