GET TO KNOW US: ANGEL QUESADA
Houston Arts Alliance
Ever wanted to put a Houston Arts Alliance (HAA) name to a face? Every month we feature a different member of our staff, providing a little insight into who they are and what they do.
This month the spotlight is on Angel Quesada.
DEPARTMENT: Folklife + Traditional Arts Manager
RESPONSIBILITIES: Since 2013 I’ve been working alongside trained urban folklorist Pat Jasper. We frequently conduct fieldwork in a wide variety of cultural communities throughout the Greater Houston area. Fieldwork can involve interviews, photography and video documentation. Our work — on any one project — can span for months or even years at a time, depending on a given subject. These ethnographic pursuits result in public programming. We present exhibitions, concerts, and workshops that are free and open to the public. Lately, we’ve been translating our research and programming into digital resources that can live online. Our aspiration is to launch the content as “Online Projects.”
Our goal in presenting work from these community traditions is to respectfully take them to larger audiences. In effect, we help introduce Houston to itself and expand the network of people that HAA serves. At this job, I use all of my various skills in production, music, and visual arts. Here is some media coverage of our past programs: Anointed & Adorned - Indian Weddings in Houston; Houston SLAB & Family Festival; Weaving Home - Textile Traditions from Houston’s Karenni Community; Stories of a Workforce - Celebrating the Centennial of the Houston Ship Channel. More recently we produced STORM SONGS & STORIES. Every now and then I am called upon for important programs that lie outside of Folklife’s scope, and I work jointly with other HAA departments —- such as Transported + Renewed, an NEA placemaking project.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB IN THE ARTS? In 1990, I lived in La Colonia Vieja in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, where I drew portraits for money and made at least $20 a night, enough to eat well the next day. I could say that my first true calling was as a visual artist, but it doesn’t count when it’s not sustainable. In hindsight, my first substantial job was as a performer. I was a musician in a punk-mambo band called Babaloo from 1996-98 that toured extensively up and down the East Coast playing countless national rooms three to four times a week.
WHAT IS YOUR PAST EXPERIENCE WORKING IN THE ARTS & CULTURE? My first regularly paying job in the visual arts was in 2004 as an exhibition preparer for a touring Latino art collection at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, NM. Upon moving back to Texas in 2005, I worked at Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin for three and a half years as the production manager (a job that I created), designing, installing and co-curating major exhibitions. It was there that I started my work as a muralist in earnest, establishing their 5th Street and Congress wall to paint contemporary murals reflecting what was inside the museum. (I painted about nine or ten before I moved to Houston.)
In 2009, I worked with Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department at the Mexican American Cultural Center where I designed curriculae and served as a Master Instructor. It was a great eye-opener. The experience was a true lesson about how the arts and government infrastructure interact. In 2010, I moved to Houston and was subsequently hired as the visual arts director at Talento Bilingüe de Houston, which showcased more than 300 local, regional, national and international artists. In addition, I learned a great deal about theater production. Last year, as part of the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture’s Advocacy Leadership Institute, I travelled to Washington, D.C. That experience helped me realize the power that we as citizens and constituents possess when it comes to influencing our representatives in Congress and locally. Elected officials want us speak up and guide them through important issues we all face. It’s our basic right to do so.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT WORKING AT HOUSTON ARTS ALLIANCE? One of my favorite things is presenting talented musicians and artists from the different cultural communities we encounter. Our city is chock-full of many cultures, formed by different forces such as economic upbringing, ethnicity, language, etc. Houston’s symbiosis of intermeshed cultures pervades, informs and/or confounds all of our interactions. This delicate dance of documenting culture in a considered way is what I strive to do. Since working at HAA, I’ve begun editing film and learning 3-D modeling to prepare for exhibitions. I am passionate about editing short films and sharing the stories of this city’s many communities. I’ve heard the term “digital humanities” thrown about, and I suppose I’ve been doing some form of this at HAA. I really love creating great content and seeing how people encounter these rich communities and their traditions and the presentations we craft to communicate them. It makes my job rewarding.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS / ATTRACTIONS / EVENTS IN HOUSTON? The Menil Collection, Chinatown, HUE Mural Fest, Aurora Picture Show, Houston Cinema Arts Fest, Hermann Park, Downtown at night, or wandering into ethnic grocery stores. Houston has too many hidden nooks and crannies to even begin to mention!
FUN FACT ABOUT YOURSELF: I am a Tai Chi practitioner (15 years) and have competed nationally. I even trained with Li Jing who learned from Wu Bin, the same teacher of Li Lianjie. Once, I was teaching in Los Angeles’ Runyon Canyon Park, in 2001 while Crispin Glover was in the class. I noticed a man hanging out watching my class. Turns out it was David Carradine. He gave me a kung fu salute, and I returned the same.
DO YOU HAVE ANY PETS? I have a rescue dog that I named “Rosy” who is half rat terrier and half Chihuahua. She responded to the sound of the name immediately. I once ran into the previous owner and found out her previous name was Brody. Rosy keeps me from becoming too serious because she’s very cute.
IF YOU COULD CLOSE YOUR EYES AND BE ANYWHERE ON EARTH WHEN THEY OPENED, WHERE WOULD YOU BE?
I would really like to visit the Antarctic glaciers or be in the middle of the ocean with a 360-degree view of the line where the sky meets the water. Those experiences seem transcendent and awesome.
WHICH MUSEUM (IN THE WORLD) IS YOUR ABSOLUTE FAVORITE? WHICH ARE YOU DYING TO GO TO? One of my faves is the MARCO in Monterrey. With its Legorreta architecture, it has a central fountain that gushes out into the central patio and fills the entire place with the sound of flowing water. I also adore MFA Boston and the Art Institute of Chicago. I’ve not been to Europe, but I’d love to visit the Lourve and the Prado someday.
WHO WOULD PLAY YOU IN A MOVIE OF YOUR LIFE? Directed by Tarantino or Guillermo del Toro, the movie’s protagonist would either be bad boy Robert Downey Jr. or sensitive John Cusack to play me as a dystopic antihero in a feel good action-adventure-post-apocalyptic-detective-dramedy —-also featuring Rosario Dawson and Salma Hayek. It would likely be set in Laredo.
WHAT KIND OF IMPACT DO YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE ON PEOPLE? One can never really truly know the impact one has on people and rarely is anyone forthcoming about this sort of thing. Depending on the person’s age, cultural upbringing, or context of the situation, I’ve learned that perception is always fluid, and I just try to accept people where they are and be responsible for my side of the relationship. I’ve cultivated this understanding via the ethnographic work I’ve done with the Folklife program. As a result, I’ve become more introspective and thoughtful. I am always appreciative and encouraged when I’m acknowledged out in the world by a person who recognizes me because of the work that I’ve done. This is a sign that I’m doing good things.