HOUSTON'S CREATIVE ECONOMY: WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Brittany Johnson, Communications Intern
In 2012, Houston Arts Alliance, in partnership with the University of Houston, commissioned a study, The Creative Economy of Houston, to examine the economic impact of creative industries in our city and compare it with those of similar American cities. The results of this study proved what we already knew to be true; in addition to being the Energy Capital of the World, home to NASA and to the Texas Medical Center—the world's largest concentration of healthcare and research institutions, Houston is also extremely creative! Creative businesses (and non-creative businesses that employ people to do
creative work) employ tens of thousands of people and generate billions in economic activity.
In our first report, which you can read here, we profiled 11 Houston creatives to find out what they do and how they do it. Now, four years later, we've caught up with each of them, the work they're doing and its impact on our great city.
Read on to find out who they are and what they've been up to recently.
FIONA MCGETTIGAN + ALAN KRATHAUS
In the time since the duo were originally profiled, they haven’t slowed down. McGettigan continues to serve as Associate Professor for the University of Houston’s School of Art; and in 2015, Krathaus was invited to participate in Blaffer Art Museum's Innovation Series. The series, led by the University of Houston, invited participants to discover “what happens in the brain as people create and contemplate art."
Together, CORE Design Studio has been involved in a slew of projects, including completing the branding, signage, print collateral (menus, coasters, etc.) and graphics for both Midtown’s Weights + Measures and Bramble, which is now open for catering and private events. CORE Design Studio is also responsible for the public art at the Richmond, Guildford and Westheimer Metro Light Rail stations and for the English and Spanish language banners topping the light poles in downtown Houston. The text used for the banners are a patchwork of thought-provoking and quirky messages, sourced from local poets, school children, professors and celebrities with local roots, such as Beyoncé and Neil Armstrong. Each was designed to encourage passersby to reflect on what it means to be a Houstonian. Not sure you’ve seen one of the 575 banners? Next time you’re downtown, look up!
After closing her West University boutique and taking a brief hiatus, Toni Whitaker has successfully re-established her presence in Houston’s fashion scene. In addition to returning to designing and debuting a new line, in 2014, the designer, whose career spans more than 30 years, taught a course on fashion and film for Rice University’s Glasscock School of Continuing Education. Her course explored films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Pulp Fiction, The Great Gatsby as well as several others that have had a long lasting impact on fashion and style. On a larger scale, the course also seeks to start a larger discussion about the city’s role in fashion. “Now that Houston is trying to put a stamp on fashion, I have been trying to find ways that we can start to come up to the level of other fashion cities around the country. They all have fashion incubators, they have fashion weeks, they do fashion films and film seminars. My goal has been to throw ideas out there to get people to start stepping up to the fashion game.”
Whitaker is dedicated to this goal, in addition to the course at Rice, in December 2013 she founded the Houston Incubator Project (HIP) a pop-up shop aimed at exposing Houston’s emerging designers and developing the spirit of entrepreneurship. Unlike a traditional pop-up shop, here today and gone tomorrow, HIP ran the pop-up shop for the first 4 months of 2014 before the project moved on to host trunk shows and mentor artists and professionals for the rest of the calendar year. She is also co-founder of For the Sake of Art, an annual wearable-art competition. The competition, which is a partnership with Texas Southern University’s University Museum took place in June at the Omni Houston Hotel.
In April 2013, Gwendolyn Zepeda’s decades of hard work and her talent were recognized when she became Houston’s first poet-laureate. This two year position for which winners are required to write poems for the city of Houston and participate in community outreach events, gave her the opportunity to bring her love of poetry to new, diverse communities. “I conducted four weekly classes on poetry basics that attracted a pretty varied cross-section of Houstonians. We did several writing exercises that resulted in work the participants were proud of, and it was gratifying for me to be a part of other people’s poetry awakening, so to speak,” she said to Inprint Houston.
Since the end of her tenure in May of 2015, Zepeda has returned to blogging and publishing. Her latest book, Monsters, Zombies and Addicts: Poems was released last year. The collection of 62 narrative poems contains observations about the rituals of contemporary life, musings on family, childhood memories and more.
Randy Twaddle has returned to his practice full time. In 2015, he again joined forces with Joe Meppelink and Metalab Studios for Seeds, Trees, People, a set of limestone benches in McGovern Centennial Garden in Hermann Park. He has also created work for the Houston Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and for Mirabeau B., a 14-unit residential complex in Hyde Park. Twaddle’s 7-foot-high, 25-foot-long white, textural, tile wall, which is featured in the complex lobby, is derived from a photograph of a power transformer and its tangle of wires. This fixation with power lines has been present in Twaddle’s work for the past several years, from tile walls to a line of "Transformer" rugs sold at Carol Piper Rugs, to drawings hung for his 2013 exhibition, New Work: Drawings, Collages, and Tiles, at Moody Gallery. “I’m interested in things that are overlooked, and in finding the beauty that exists within,” said Twaddle. “I find those things and reframe them in a way that gets people to pay attention.”
This summer, Twaddle’s most recent works, titled Sham-a-Ling-Dong-Ding were on view at Moody Gallery.
In the time since her original profile for Houston’s Creative Economy report, Tina Zulu has continued her role as marketing powerhouse and creative force in all things art, music, fashion, culinary and entertainment. In addition to running her company, Zulu Creative, and representing Phoenicia Specialty Foods, Asia Society Texas Center, 13 Celsius, Abejas Boutique and more, in 2012, she became a mom. Her son Michio is now 4 years old.
Between being a new mom, the Creative Chieftess at Zulu Creative, she can now add, “Ladypreneur” to her resume. In November, she launched Kimono Zulu, a collection of 50 vintage silk kimonos. Zulu is hoping that with this line, her love for these “gorgeous, functional pieces of clothing” will transfer to other Houstonians. “I’ve just had an attraction to kimonos for years, they’re so wearable,” she told Houstonia magazine. Zulu’s vintage finds are sourced from Japan through a connection she met at the Houston Japan Festival and are priced between $100 and $175.
If at this point, you still don’t believe that Tina Zulu can do and does it all, she has also taken an active role in our community, serving as board member to several arts and non-profit organizations, including Fresh Arts, The Women’s Home, Asia Society Texas Center, Art League Houston’s 360 Degrees Vanishing Project, Diverseworks and more.
ANDREW VRANA + JOE MEPPELINK
SABA + SARAH JAWDA
In the years since they were first profiled, business partners Andrew Vrana and Joe Meppelink have continued to advocate for the city’s manufacturing businesses, making sure to involve the Houston based companies that make up this industry in as many projects as possible, and in taking on projects near and far. The pair have certainly proven to others what we already knew to be true- Houston is a creative city. Earlier this year, Metalab Studios provided design optimization and project management services for Radiance, a public art project for El Paso Airport. In September, they finished and sent the foundations for their Nautical Swing, a piece created for Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco, CA; and in 2014, they designed the Greenway Blueway Byway Skyway, a bridge, scenic overlook and park bench hybrid that was installed over the Yadkin River in Lenoir, North Carolina.
Don’t think for a second, however, that Metalab Studios has traded creating work in Houston for advocating for Houston manufacturers. The team played a large role in the re-development of TDECU Stadium at University of Houston, teaming up with Jim Isermann to create and install Cougar Pride, an outdoor public work that greets visitors as they exit the rail line extension that runs past the southwest corner of the stadium, through the campus.
Since winning Project Runway and returning to Houston, Chloe Dao has continued to invest in our city. In addition to designing and making the items sold in her store exclusively in Houston, Dao chooses to showcase her work at Fashion Houston each year; and in 2014, she added costume designer for the Houston Grand Opera to her resume. Dao took on the challenge of blending contemporary and traditional Vietnamese dress to create the costumes for Bound, which premiered at the Asia Society Texas Center. “It [was] amazing to be in the same room with all those voices,” said Dao. “It’s so authentic too. The story is true, and the composer and many of the cast are Asian. It’s a complex story of Vietnamese people.”
Dao has continued to push herself beyond the bounds of what you saw on TV, or even what you may see in her boutique. In 2015, she collaborated with James Beard winner Chris Shepherd, head chef and owner of Underbelly, to create a line of “uber-functional” denim aprons, suitable for cooks of all skill levels. The aprons were sold online and through the restaurant.
Despite now splitting his time between Houston and Los Angeles, Greg Carter is well respected in the Houston film community and still considers himself a Houstonian first. “I love H-town” he says. Carter is frequently in the city shooting and visiting family, and when time permits, he teaches filmmaking and storytelling.
In the time since we first profiled Carter, he has been keeping busy with a full litany of producer, director and writer credits for both television and film. His 2014 film, Lap Dance, which was filmed in Houston, and stars Stacey Dash, Lynn Whitfield, Carmen Electra and Omari Hardwick, gained notoriety for being the true story of his and his girlfriend’s life in Houston, prior to their move to Los Angeles. In 2015, Carter produced/directed Lucky Girl staring Houston’s very own, LeToya Luckett, and former Scandal actor, Colombus Short. His most recent film, My B.F.F., premiered last month at Urbanworld Film Festival in New York City.
In the time since he was featured in our 2012 report, Workman and SugarHill Studios have continued to thrive. In 2014, the studio and several employees were nominated in several categories for a Houston Press Music Award. Workman in particular was nominated for Best Producer; the studio was also featured in Texas Monthly as a must stop landmark for music lovers visiting our city! In 2016, the studio’s 74th anniversary was featured in the Houston Chronicle, and Workman was approached by Houston First to create Good Day, a 30-second mini music video shot in and around Houston’s Historic Market Square District. The spot, which uses Workman’s commercial length version of a song of the same name by the band The Suffers received acclaim after its debut screening during the bands performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Between gaining accolades and helping Houston gain recognition as a music city, Workman and SugarHill Studios still find time to spend quality time with artists. Grammy Award winner, Ledisi, rapper Kid Ink and Frank Black, lead singer of the Pixies, among others have recently laid down tracks at SugarHill Studios.
The opportunities have, in fact, proven to be endless for the Jawda sisters. In the years since they were profiled, the pair have continued to successfully run their firm, Jawda and Jawda. In the upcoming months, the firm’s biggest project will begin to take shape, Post HTX, known to most as the Barbara Jordan Post Office, will be transformed, with the help of the sisters, into a popup mall and event center in time to attract Super Bowl LI visitors and others coming downtown for game-related festivities. The pop up mall, which will also feature art installations and food stations, is part of a larger plan to re-introduce the space to the public. “It’s going to be a downtown focal point,” said Sarah Jawda. The sisters are planning “an homage to the history of the building.”
Additionally, since 2012, the sisters have curated and hosted a holiday pop-up shop in their Montrose design studio. In addition to being “chic” and affordable, the majority of the brands featured are either based in or have some connection to Houston. Last year, they even helped bring another sister act to town; when Parisian fashion brands, Sandro and Maje, founded by sisters Evelyne Chetrite and Judth Milgrom, made their collections available to Houston shoppers, Saba and Sara were invited to host the launch party at Saks Fifth Avenue.
While continuing to support and harness the star power of his students at St. John’s School, Benitez’s work has received high praise both at home in Houston, in his native El Paso/Juarez and nationwide. In 2014, he won the Houston Press MasterMind Award for his impact on the city’s art community. Part of his earnings were used to prepare and ship photographs from his Cultura series to New York for “Miradas: Contemporary Mexican Photographers” at the Bronx Documentary Center; an exhibition which received glowing reviews from both the New York Times and The New Yorker. The New York Times also recognized Benitez for his unique use of panoramas. “My aim is to capture an event in a single image, versus doing so in a photo essay,” said Benitez. Earlier this year, the Multicultural Education & Counseling through the Arts Center, mounted an exhibition of Benitez’s work. Taquerias Southmost explored themes of entrepreneurship, family and tradition in the “Texas motherland of taquerias,” Southmost Boulevard in Brownsville, TX. The Southmost area was the first in the US to host brick-and-mortar taqueria spots (as opposed to little taco shacks and mobile taco trucks).