In 2008, the legendary Commerce Street Artists’ Warehouse ( CSAW ) closed, ending a long era of performance and monumental events for Houston. While art space closings are always a downer, this did not stop eight dedicated members (who decided the energy and momentum was far to great to let the loss of a building stop them from creating) from banding together to start something exciting and new. Together, the team rented a large property, a 1940’s two-story appliance storefront deep in East End, to form the new non-profit BOX 13 ArtSpace.

The name is derived from the number of the original displaced artists in addition to the story of a missing ballot box — box 13 — which was eventually found, securing a senate seat for Lyndon B Johnson. With BOX 13’s original 13 studios, which included space for artists like Elaine Bradford, Mat Wolf, Michael Henderson and Kathy Kelly, the artists built a new collective to host exhibitions, events and performances. They also decided to maintain multiple floors of studios for new artists.

Claire Chauvin. Photo courtesy of BOX 13 Artspace.

Operating on a monthly schedule, and with as many as four exhibition and project spaces, BOX 13 has organized over a hundred events and exhibitions to date. The organization’s list of artists who have been invited to participate reads like a museum’s who’s who of creatives. Since opening, BOX 13’s exhibitions have attracted over 10,000 visitors. From anything goes performances to political panel discussions and interdisciplinary events, Box 13 has always been driven to push the boundaries. This Saturday, May 5, the organization celebrates 10 years with “The Empty Box,” an all out blow out exhibition and fundraiser. 

BOX 13 never disappoints with its festivities, and this Saturday will be nothing short of outstanding. From elaborate costumes, custom cocktails, and an ever-impressive list of artists on view, the non-profit is pulling out all the stops for its big celebration. With each exhibition year that passes, it appears the group re-evaluates the highs and lows and fine tunes each component for the next year to come in order to insure a higher quality of programming.

Within the past several years the organization began a major renovation to the building, installing new walls, finishing out new studios and rewiring the exhibition spaces. The renovations brought a blast of fresh energy into the art space. It was only a few exhibitions ago that the attendance was so great patrons had to park blocks away and entered a scene similar to a SoHo opening of the ’80s. The room was asses to elbows with curators, artists and patrons. And it was certainly a record attendance for the organization. Box 13 has a do or die mentality, and it has refused to hinder programming do to economic downfall, real estate cost or changing administration. Its organizations like this that major institutions should pay close attention to.

Bret Shirley. Photo courtesy of BOX 13 Artspace.

The grassroots spaces never started off with million dollar capital campaigns; they are actually built upon blood, sweat and tears.

As a 100 percent volunteer, artist-run non-profit, we are always trying to rethink the traditional fundraiser model. The Empty BOX plays to our strengths and what we know best — other artists! We’ve worked with so many fantastic individuals in all stages of their careers over the last 10 years, both as member artists (those who rent studio space and help run the BOX) and exhibiting artists.” states Box 13’s President, Emily Link. “This event is what keeps us thriving and able to continue to offer studio and exhibition space… The community we’ve built here is something I hope to see continue to grow and improve for years to come.”

In the early days, members were paying for programming and openings out of their own pockets to maintain the standards they had set. While tiring, I am quite certain, the members of BOX 13 have invested extensively into Houston’s creative community and the neighborhood they reside in and have consistently provided much-needed space for creatives to grow. It’s organizations like these that show us, as a city, how important these needs are within the art world and how incredibly meaningful it is to have spaces willing to give artists the freedom they need.

Mark Ponder. Photo courtesy of BOX 13 Artspace.

With the most humble of budgets (and no paid members), Box 13 not only thrives to provide affordable studios for young artists still honing their crafts, but alongside artists of international stature. The 10-years-young space continues to push for honest surface-level presentation with the artists at the forefront.

The evening begins with a toast to its 10-year mark and a celebration of its victories over the years. The Empty BOX event showcases such artists as Angel Oloshove, Jessica Ninci, Bret Shirley, Daniel Bertalot, Rene Cruz, S Rodriguez and many, many more, along with all active BOX 13 members. The list of participating artists is staggeringly impressive and reflects the creatives that made the organization what it is today. The auction begins at 7 p.m., with all proceeds of the evening benefiting the non-profit.

BOX 13 ArtSpace is a staple of Houston’s creative community; it has set the bar high for how much a space dedicated to its city and driven by passion can accomplish. It’s reassuring to see a group of artists grow to such levels. And with so many celebrated art spaces closing every day, it’s truly inspiring to see this one still around.