Houston was devastated by Hurricane Harvey, and its effects will remain for many years to come. For the last four weeks, our lives have been a living nightmare as we try to get our heads above water. While driving to work or walking through neighborhoods, it’s still common to see whole strips of neighborhoods that look as though they could be featured in “10 most abandoned places” click bait articles. Piles of garbage and innards of houses stack the streets 12 feet high, and the air is unbreathable in a number of areas due to fumes from nearby chemical plants or the millions of gallons of sewage soaked into the soil. As we begin to limp through a shadow of normal lives, we are faced with new challenges and endless problems as infection, disease, looting, crippling pollution, and a housing crisis grips our region — the flood was only the first chapter of our worries. As community members, the goal is to keep moving and working towards the normal day to day. “Keep on Keepin on,” is a fitting mantra for our current situation. There isn’t a single person who has escaped unscathed from the forceful blow of this tragedy that still plagues our beloved city. So the real question is, “What now?”
The creative community of our city is just as affected by all of this as everyone else, and there is only one need left: climbing out. Directors, artists, musicians, and performers lost so much as their homes were inundated by the flood waters or the rain-heavy roofs of the studios or spaces they maintain collapsed under the weight of several feet of rain. Being a cultural writer at this time is a heavy task because it’s hard to not prioritize Harvey and its effects on Houston as the main topic you want to be writing about. In the same light, the creatives of our city are struggling to find balance and foundation on the platforms they created as they stand on soggy ground, inches deep in a toxic sludge. Only now have we had the chance to look up, take a deep breath, and truly assess the damage around us.
PTSD is not an ailment reserved only for members of the military. Thousands of Houstonians are suffering from its grasp, and its breadth within the community is staggering. The result is jarred and shattered individuals working through a whole new set of problems they are unfamiliar with. The TV and online sources play out the same story every day as our local government struggles to get above the debris field, which was once our infrastructure, just to see true damage that lays ahead of us. It’s mind blowing to think of the work that has to be done still, and it’s difficult to grasp that timeline. Many of our fellow neighbors have lost touch with their normal roles as they have worked within different lives for what feels like years — the artist continues delivering box-laden trucks of food and supplies from county to county and city to city, and the director is only just now using their space for art and not a command center and 24/7 civilian FEMA warehouse. With four major hurricanes blasting the islands and states along the coast and the earthquake with our Mexico City sibling city, how do we work our way through it all? How do we return to what we know and live the blissful lives of internet memes, binge watching the next Netflix craze, and simply doing whatever it is we want to do without guilt? These questions grip the entire state of Texas and all of us living within it, let alone the creative world.
Talking to a friend after the election, I ask the question, “Does it make any sense now to have a group show of paintings or new exhibition of sculpture, etc?” The conclusion we came up with then was “Of Course, AND its is ever so needed.” Understanding that this hurricane added a world of hurt to this issue, the same rules apply. As creatives, it is our goal to take what is happening around us and apply it to an experience. These talents should still be used whenever possible to aid the recovery that we need — in whatever realm that comes about — but we also simply need to continue. The need to continue is the driving force. As soon as spaces, galleries, and creative hubs began to open back up again, the community was there. And this wasn’t because they didn’t care about what was happening outside and down the street, but because they did care! They were supporting the artists and the directors. They are supporting the need to return to what we had and what we can soon get back to. We need to see beauty. I myself, just like so many, have the urge every morning to climb back under the covers and stay there for four more months. However, that is not the answer. What happened to the city is different than a political movement, new executive order, or string of shit shows that happen within our government. All of the above is still very important and should especially be watched with a mindful eye, but the city itself should be our main priority. We can’t get moving forward until we rebuild. This happens in a hundred different ways, and we all play a key role. And for members of the creative community, that means we need to wear a few more hats if and when possible. We must not forget the roles we play within our city and how influential the work that we do is — it’s worth its weight in gold. Moreover, there is work to be done, and we have to pick up where we left off so many Fridays ago when the rain began to fall.
It is, however, admittedly hard to stay focused on these goals when the need is everywhere and in so many places. As members of this community and members of the creative world, we have an important mission. It’s the role of the creative community to take what is happening and rework it so the idea is accessible to everyone. The important objective is how to take all that is happening and project that to the public in a way that is approachable, and this goal is reachable. This doesn’t have to be so literal, but you get the idea. I have a piece that hangs in my office of an Astronaut floating over a sofa as he floats by a window. How does this piece relate to Harvey? Was it made about a hurricane-related topic? Of course it was not, but it does relate and it helps. The piece was created almost ten years ago by Portland Oregon artist Liz Haley. I don’t remember if there was a story or explanation about the piece at hand, but it doesn’t matter for this point i’m making. I love it though, and it brings me to my center. I can relate, and I can work all sorts of topics into its imagery as i stare and think about the next goal for my day or my life. This is what we need to find. The damage to this city is never going to be forgotten, and we still have a lot of work to do. Regardless of the Sarah Connor-esque roles we may have taken on in the past few weeks, we mustn’t forget our jobs we have as creatives and artistic community leaders. Throw out that water-logged portfolio and get that drywall replaced, it’s time to get rolling!