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FotoFest 2000 - The Houston Chronicle: March 5, 2000
March 5, 2000

By Wendy Watriss
Houston Chronicle
03/05/00

It is an extraordinary moment in time for the arts and Houston. The central city, from downtown to the Museum District, is rebuilding itself as a focal point for public life, encompassing not only the presence of global corporations but culture in its broadest sense. Houston joins a growing number of large and midsized cities across the United States for which fine arts, alongside commercial entertainment and sports, have become a catalyst for urban revitalization.

It is clear that there is a need and demand for new opportunities for collective activity in cities like Houston. One only need to experience the size and character of the public turn-out for the Houston Grand Opera's simulcasts on Fish Plaza to see that the sharing of culture can draw people from all walks of life and of all ages. The fact that the classical arts as well as sports and commercial entertainment will all be available in a 20-block area from the Wortham Center and Bayou Place to the Alley Theater and Enron Field is a testament to Houston's evolution.

"Almost every community in this country is using the arts in some way as part of revitalization." says Hilary Frost-Kumpf who is doing a book for the Americans for the Arts coalition. "There are 50 to 60 officially designated cultural districts in cities across the country. People are coming downtown again."

An important step in further connecting the life of the arts and the future of Houston is the interlinking of the visual and performing arts through the Main Street corridor projects. Along a north-south corridor, from DiverseWorks Art Space on the north to Midtown and the Museum District, there are more than 40 visual and performing arts organizations with significant citizen constituencies.

Because of the size and prominence of the downtown performing-arts organizations, the role of the visual arts downtown is often overlooked. But it is the visual arts and artists that have been pioneers in revitalizing historic parts of downtown and the warehouse districts - nonprofit organizations such as DiverseWorks Art Space, Commerce Street Art Center, Mother Dog Studios; commercial galleries such as Lawing Gallery, ArtScan and Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art; artist studios such as Purse Building Studios and Erie City Ironworks; building projects such as Vine Street Studios that link the arts and arts-related businesses with other types of commerce.

historic district. Working with the Houston Downtown Management District and the Downtown Historic District, FotoFest constructed public galleries in buildings that, for years, had been vacant and unused. Through a careful placement of exhibitions and art installations, FotoFest 1996 created a reason for people to walk around downtown and look at the early 20th-century architecture of the city. The opening night FotoFest 1996 was a downtown happening.

As a result of their re-opening to the public, several buildings were sold to entrepreneurs and developers who subsequently renovated and leased them to commercial interests. In 1998, FotoFest expanded its activities to the Theater District and Bayou Place. This year, FotoFest is extending south on Main Street with events and exhibits from Main and Franklin to Main and Lamar. A major feature of FotoFest 2000 is the collaboration between FotoFest and Foley's and the commissioning of 17 Houston-based artists to design the window displays in the downtown store.

With FotoFest, art becomes a catalyst for the rediscovery of downtown, the historic district and warehouse districts north and west of downtown. FotoFest founded on the belief that creative people can transform our environment, develop a sense of place and strengthen the sense of who we are as a community. It's the belief that art is an energizing force - not a marginalized element in our society, but one of the most powerful catalysts we have for collective communication and change.


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