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Houston Leaders Make It Their Mission to Educate the Community About the Arts

A family portrait Angela Smith painted in the beginning of her career. Photo Credit: Angela Smith.

The City of Houston is booming with the strength of its economy, but it is also thriving with an arts culture community that is dancing its way into the spotlight. Houston has a rich fusion of cultures that is displayed within the city’s annual festivals, museums, and community events.

In the year 2014, the price of oil continued to drop and so did the number of employees in oil and gas industry. This affected many Texans, but did not affect the arts community, surprisingly. The Museum of Fine Arts – Houston, the second largest museum in the United States, received 20 percent of their financial support in years 2013-2014 from companies such as Kinder-Morgan, Apache Corporation, and ExxonMobil. Charitable giving has increased by 10 percent over the past two years and it won’t be decreasing anytime soon.

Houston’s economic stability continues to shed light on the impact the arts has on its community. According to The Guardian, 40 percent of all Americans in the workforce will be freelancers by the year 2020. Among these freelancers are artists in the Houston area. This sends the strong message that no matter the condition of the economy, art will never die.

Professionals like Amy Bishop are helping to promote Houston’s arts culture by giving artists a platform to share their work with audiences using her podcast.

Arts & Culture Journalist, Amy Bishop. Created by: Victor Media Productions.

Amy Bishop, the Arts and Culture reporter for KUHF News 88.7 Houston Public Media and former classical radio announcer for KUHA 91.7, is helping to shine the light on events in the Houston area.

One of her most recent articles featured Urban Souls Dance Company who performed Between Two Worlds: A Hymn for Black Gay Men on Race, Religion, and Rites of Passage. The event was held on Friday, June 24th at 7:30 p.m. at The MATCH theatre.

Amy is a native Houstonian who left in 1999 to complete her undergraduate studies at University of North Texas in Denton, TX. After graduating, she landed a job in Dallas, TX as a classical radio announcer. Amy moved back to Houston in 2012 and searched for an opportunity to become involved in Houston’s art culture.

“I missed having that interaction with people in the arts and arts organizations,” said Amy. “Feeling like you’re more apart of it—more than just a spectator.”

She is the first person to hold the position of Arts and Culture reporter for Houston Public Media. Read articles by Amy which discuss how the heavy, Houston rain has affected different arts events and organizations. She discusses how the Houston Grand Opera, the First Saturday Arts Market, Free Press Summer Festival, and other artists in the community have suffered financially.

More happenings within the Houston arts scene include the MFAH expansion project, a new photo-documentary about Freedmen’s Town, and Principal POPS conductor for the Houston Symphony, Michael Krajewski, who will be performing his last season in the fall.

To stay updated on Amy Bishop’s stories about Houston arts and culture, follow her on Twitter or

Willa Cather, a significant contributor to American Literature, once said, “Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.”

Willa Cather knew early on the power of a young writer. Programs such as Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, which grants more than $200,000 in scholarships to teens grades 7-12, and the Signet Essay Contest, which is now in its 21st year of awarding monetary prizes to junior and high school students, are giving writers an opportunity to hone their skills. Sara Cooper is dedicating her time to support these young writers of tomorrow.

Photo Credit: Writers in the Schools.

Sara Cooper is an educator and Ph.D. student who works with Writers in the Schools (WITS). WITS shows teachers and students the unconventional ways to learn reading and writing. Sara is a member of the WITS collaborative program in which teachers partner with other teachers in the Houston Independent School District. Teachers are trained on more efficient ways to teach reading and writing to their students.

“I believe professional development for teachers is important,” said Sara, a WITS collaborative 3-year veteran.

Sara Cooper, Poet & Creative Writing Advocate

Sara, a former University of Houston Intro to Poetry instructor, is also involved in the Favorite Poem Project Anthology effort.

Sara initially followed the desire to become a graphic designer in her undergraduate years at Northern Arizona University. She quickly realized that it was her destiny to study English. Sara spent time as an editor for a car-washing magazine before going back to school to earn her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Poetry from New Mexico State University. Since she was a child, Sara loved reading and creative writing.

“My favorite book as a child was Matilda,” said Sara. “I loved Roald Dahl books.”

While completing her Ph. D., Sara intends to work at the University of Houston – Clear Lake next year, teaching two general writing classes.

To participate in frequent poetry readings visit the Houston Public Library, Poison Girl Bar, and Avant Garden.

Visual arts are just as important as literary arts. The HARPO Foundation gives up to $10,000 in grants a year and Women Arts has 32 categories of grants that give thousands of dollars to artists each year, some totaling $35,000. Artists like Sana Mirza, Angela Smith, and Briana Banks are worth the money.

Created By: Zondra Victor

Sana Mirza is a former Canadian resident who has lived in the Houston area for 15 years. The Pakistan-born artist incorporates Arabic calligraphy into her colorful artworks. Sana has dedicated 25 years to embodying the spirit of unity through her colorful works of nature which are always comprised of calligraphy.

Sana will be participating in the Islamic Arts Festival for the third year in the row this year. The event is free and will be held at the Masjid Al-Salam mosque, 16700 Old Louetta Road. The festival takes place Saturday, October 29th and Sunday, October 30th from 10:30am to 5:30pm.

Sana’s work incorporates Sufism, which brings a sense of spirituality into her art.

“I like to put a lot of soul in my work,” said the artist. “You know, it connects to people in general and they feel it.”

Sana is a member of the Islamic Art Society. The organization recently introduced Arabic calligraphy at the Houston Calligraphy Guild and at the Houston Public Library. Sana helped visitors write their names in Arabic and shared her culture to attendees of the event. Calligraphy is a minority arts field in the Houston area, but according to Sana, it is steadily growing.

“There is a good, fare share of calligraphy artists out there,” said Sana. “I wouldn’t say it’s as known as other forms, but it is definitely growing, the art of calligraphy.”

To purchase any of Sana Mirza’s work or to contact her, please visit and follow her on Instagram.

Created By: Zondra Victor

Angela Smith is a native Houstonian who serves the community using her gifts as a portraiture and a mobile art instructor. Angela twists the boundaries of traditional art by creating reflections of people in her everyday life as well as celebrities.

Angela’s art has been on exhibit at Piola café since Sunday, May 15th and ends on Sunday July 17th. The café’s Houston location is 3201 Louisiana Street.

Although Angela has been artistic all of her life, she began envisioning art as a career three years ago. She is a testament to how a flower can bloom in the most unusual environment.

“I had a boyfriend who would say ‘you need to go promote your art and do events,’” said Angela. “He passed away and even though it hurts that he’s gone, this is his legacy—for me to do this.”

Painting of Maya Angelou
"She Sings Freed" by Angela Smith

Since then, her career has grown tremendously. Angela has had exhibitions at The University Museum at Texas Southern University and the Houston Fire Museum. She teaches classes to adults as well as children with Splash Kids. She is a mobile arts instructor who brings her talents to parties, workshops, and other events.

Angela gives credit to model Angelina Catz, her mentor Margaret Footit, and Paintin’ Place for giving her a platform to showcase her skills as an artist. Her most notable influence is the father of international sensation, Beyoncé, Matthew Knowles. Angela held her very first exhibit at The House of Dereon in 2014. Matthew Knowles told Angela she resembled his daughter, Solange, in that she had the passion and versatility of an artist.

For more information on Angela Smith, visit her on Facebook or at

Created By: Zondra Victor

Houston native, Briana Banks saw first-hand the impact of the oil and gas industry in 2014. In December 2014, she graduated with a degree in Professional Land and Resource Management from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. When the oil industry jobs were disappearing, she saw it as an opportunity to leap after a career doing what she loves.

Briana Banks is a 22-year-old freelance dancer. Briana has been artistic since she was a child and has been employed as a professional dancer for four years. In addition to dancing she puts in time as a freelance blog writer.

Briana instantly fell in love with teaching dance when she began instructing young dancers at her church, Windsor Village – Kingdom Building Center.

“I started realizing that I was enjoying teaching more so than performing,” said the dancer. “I started realizing that I was inspiring other people through this gift.”

Briana’s inspiration to continue teaching may have stemmed from her failure to find a job in the oil industry, but she is more hopeful than ever before.

“People say things will fall into place when they’re supposed to,” said Briana. “I was at church one Wednesday night, teaching my girls. Then someone walks up to me and says ‘Hey, I’m the dance teacher at Victory Preparatory Academy and I need a TA. Can you come help out?’ I was like are you crazy? Yes!”

Briana also performs in dance videos and other projects. For more information on Briana Banks, follow her on Facebook.

When the oil and gas industry has fluctuating numbers, the number of artists, both literary and visual, continue to increase. Houston is taking the lead in the promotion of the arts and the rest of the nation should take notes.

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