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Performing Arts

These organizations are carving new paths in Houston art

From ballet to opera, Houston certainly has more than its share of major performing and visual arts companies. But the city is also bustling with innovative, niche groups that offer a wide assortment of programming. Puppets and African dance troupes are just the start--check out the organizations helping propel the city's dynamic arts scene.

Houston Center for Photography
The Houston Center for Photography endeavors to showcase work by new photographers 

Performing Arts

Touted as the oldest and largest African-American theater in the Southwest, Ensemble Theatre has more than three decades of performances to its credit. The group aims to preserve African-American artistic expression and enrich the city's diverse community through works that portray the African American experience. Roughly a half-dozen shows are staged each season.

Specializing in music from the Golden Age of the 17th and 18th centuries, Ars Lyrica Houston brings world-class period performances to the city. Programming revolves around little-known dramatic and chamber works that merit revival. Ars Lyrica has produced a number of world and regional premieres since its formation in 1998.

Bobbindoctrin is not your kid's puppet show. This innovative theater troupe has produced more than 30 original puppet plays to introduce artists and audiences to the art of puppetry. What began with performances in nightclubs and parking garages has now grown to be one of the city's most celebrated, original arts groups.

The first play at Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company was put together with no budget and borrowed costumes and set pieces from the actor's own closets. Today, the company founded in 2001 by actress Jennifer Decker and poet/professor John Harvey has produced multiple seasons of plays, from original works to Houston premieres of works originally staged in London and New York.

Housed in a space that once held the Radio Music Theatre's sketch comedy shows, the five-person troupe at Music Box Theater puts on original comedy shows weekend-shows such as Damaged Divas of the Decades, which explores the Judy's and Barbra's of the 20th Century, and Oscar in the Box, a musical journey through the songs popularized by Oscar-winning films.

Over the last four decades, Talento Bilingue de Houston has expanded beyond the confines of a bilingual theater group to encompass mediums such as video and film production, art exhibitions, festivals and ballet folkorico. Housed in a 16,000-square-foot facility with a 300-seat theater, rehearsal room, gallery space and more, Teatro Bilingue is one of the city's foremost cultural arts organizations.

Unhinged Productions stages professional plays to create an emotional connection with the audience and to give voice to Houston's LGBT community. Presenting a mix of new plays by local writers and performers, Unhinged's work often mixes humor with experiences relating to discrimination, prejudice and individuality. The company is recognized for raising awareness on social issues through its high-quality alternative work.

Visual Arts

It's one of the most unique art forms around, and in Houston it has its very own museum. The Art Car Museum is a private institution dedicated to contemporary art with an emphasis on the meticulously crafted art cars that are a focal point of the local folk art scene. The museum, or "Garage Mahal," as many people know it, features the most imaginative, elaborate, and artfully constructed art cars, low riders, and mobile contraptions, as well as art exhibitions by local, regional, and national artists.

project row houses
A room inside Project Row Houses

One of the few venues in the country dedicated exclusively to craft at the highest level, the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (HCCC) highlights art made of glass, fiber, clay, metal, wood or found/repurposed materials. HCCC provides exhibition, retail and studio spaces to support the work of local and national artists and serves as a resource for artists, educators and the community at large. Visitors can see innovative exhibitions, interact with on-site artists-in-residence, and even create their own crafts in a variety of workshops.

The Houston Center for Photography is one of only a handful of nonprofit spaces around the country committed to showcasing great new photography. HCP has shown work from some of the greatest photographers of the twentieth century, in addition to the work of many emerging photographers who have gone on to artistic success. HCP's cutting-edge work has helped to define the state of photography, both regionally and nationally.

Founded in 1979, Lawndale Art Center is a space dedicated to the exhibition of contemporary works in all media. But here, the focus is on Houston-area artists. Three galleries in its Art Deco building in the Museum District exhibit a rotating collage of exhibitions. More than 20 events, including informal talks, exhibitions and other special presentations happen annually.

The Orange Show Monument is a Houston postman's creation extolling the virtue of his favorite fruit. The 3,000-square-foot outdoor monument is maze-like in design and includes an oasis, a wishing well, a pond, a stage, a museum, a gift shop and several upper decks. It was built single-handedly from 1956 until its completion in 1979 by the late Jefferson Davis McKissack. Its parts consist of a plethora of materials, including many found objects such as gears, tiles, wagon wheels and mannequins.

Project Row Houses is a highly acclaimed art and cultural community center consisting of 22 renovated shotgun-style homes. Ten of the twenty-two row houses are dedicated to art, photography and literary projects, which are installed on a rotating six-month basis. When a group of artists is commissioned, each is given a house to transform in ways that speak to the history and cultural issues relevant to the African-American community. Located in seven houses adjacent to those dedicated to art, The Young Mothers Residential Program provides transitional housing and services for young mothers and their children.

Set in a former auto shop, Midtown's Station Museum is a private organization dedicated to thought-provoking contemporary art displays. Station aims to promote public awareness of cultural, political, economic and personal dimensions of art. The museum does not feature a permanent collection, but does offer three-to-four changing shows each year.

By AJ Mistretta