From funding, organizing, outreach, research and more.
Sacred Voice of the Bayou was an interdisciplinary project that utilized conceptual art, social practice, music, dance, and sculpture to deliver an exciting and innovative arts experience in Houston’s Mason Park.
The project began when I was notified of the Bayou Trails grant by a former mentor…
I crafted an early draft of the proposal, suggesting a public installation in the park’s gazebo, which would be paired with a performance art exhibition. I had several potential collaborators in mind, and began reaching out to artists across Houston to bring on board. Eventually, I had a team, and together they met for multiple discussions and early practice sessions before submitting for the grant.
It took me about a month to finish the proposal and to submit. That was on August 3rd. Then, exactly two weeks later, on August 17, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston.
It devastated Houston, and is now on record as being tied with Katrina as the costliest tropical cyclone. Many homes surrounding the park had flooded, and many people lost their jobs. I was one of those many people who lost a job following the Hurricane, and I responded by taking a solo trip around the United States and Canada in my car.
It was early October and I was in New York City on the steps of the MOMA PS1 when I got the call: the project had been selected as a finalist. I was asked to further pitch the project and selected team. I devised a calendar, costume sketches, performance notes and a list of phone numbers for professional recommendations, and sent them along. The judges insisted that they would need to meet a representative from the team before agreeing to sign us. As I had already booked my housing in Montréal, I couldn't meet with them in their requested timeframe. Instead, Matt Fries and Julian Luna made the first in-person pitch. But the judges insisted on meeting me as I was the lead artist. I cut my trip short and booked a flight home. The day following my return I was in the offices of Houston Arts Alliance. We were signed.
Eventually the team received the first pay installment, which allowed us to begin the project activities of meetings, outreach, fabrication, research and rehearsals.
Artists met regularly to discuss the themes of the project, potential additional collaborators, liability, the budget, and materials. Meetings occurred monthly, typically at East End coffee shops.
I spearheaded all outreach efforts. I regularly visited Mason Park to host interviews with park goers, and to build a presence there. I managed the Facebook and Instagram pages, in addition to an e-newsletter. The pages maintained a 5.0 response rating for the whole duration of the project.
Working closely with project graphic & web designer Alexander Beraza, we created a project logo, website, unique flyers, brochures and business cards.
Furthermore, I fostered relationships by meeting with the offices of Councilman Gallegos, the Lawndale Neighborhood Association, the East End Foundation, Parks & Recreation department and several others. I successfully gained each office’s support for the project.
In the weeks leading up to events, I lead bilingual groups through the Mason Park neighborhoods to pass out flyers and campaign door-to-door.
Overall, the project hosted three outreach events prior to the grand unveiling on the 29th. One was a feedback event at my home with local arts-influencers. Another was an info-session at the Mason Park Clubhouse with area-residents. The last official event prior to the grand unveiling was a fundraiser at The White Swan Live, though the artists also appeared at other events and on local radio to promote the project.
I enlisted the help of Curator Rachel Cook and folklorist Dr. Carl Lindahl. Both were former mentors from her time as an undergraduate at The University of Houston. Dr. Lindahl advised me on interviewing ethics, waivers, and suggested relevant literature.
Cook gave her thoughts on the budget, and suggested artist agreements for the project's collaborators and subcontractors.
I purchased fifteen books from Half Price for the team’s disposal, which included Sacred Architecture + Design, Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art, and Group Dance improvisations, amongst others. These works helped provide guidance and inspiration as the process moved forward.
The most important development in the research process for me was the performance workshop & residency she attended in Mexico City. Hosted by Museo de Arte Moderno, classes were led by Guillermo Gomez Peña and the collective team La Pocha Nostra. Cardona-Billington applied for the residency after Sacred Voice of the Bayou’s initial choreographer and costume designer exited the project. Since I had theatrical, dance, and costuming experience—I decided to take on the role of dance director and costume designer myself, instead of hiring on a replacement collaborator. In order to prepare for the new role, I decided to apply for the residency with La Pocha Nostra, and was accepted. In the workshop classes, I learned new performance exercises.
While in Mexico, I visited the holy site of Teotihuacan for inspiration, as well as Sonora Market to purchase pieces for costumes. I purchased conchas, which are seashell anklets that are worn traditionally in folkloric dance, as well as Huichol jewelry for Yvette to wear the day of the show.
Roughly 30% of the projects budget paid for the labor costs of the participating artists—including subcontractors such as the project's graphic designer, photographer and projectionists. Another 25% went towards materials fees, which included both rentals and purchases. 10% was used for marketing, for which social media, printed flyers, and brochures were utilized. Space rentals accounted for another 10% of costs. Consultations and research fees added up to about 15%. Additional performance fees made up the final 10%.
Paperwork & Bureaucracy
I filled out vendor request forms, filed 1099s, negotiated contracts, developed Artist Agreements between myself and my collaborators, handled the insurance quotes, and requested invoices. I kept documentation of receipts, managed the project bank account, and filed progress reports. I communicated in e-mail chains with parks staff, city staff, and other networks which had invested in the project.
I organized tabling appearances from local vendors, and set up a project booth where we provided free water, candy, and project T-shirts. I also set up a variety of children's games and activities so that families would be comfortable in remaining on-site for the duration of the event. This included booking a face painter. Additionally, I ensured the presence of two port-a-potties on site in addition to disability seating so that elders would be comfortable at the show. Finally, I booked a food truck and a local elotero and paletero to sell food on site to attendees.
Attendance & Reception
400 people attended the grand unveiling.
50 people attended the White Swan Live fundraiser.
34 people were present at the Mason Park Clubhouse Meeting.
22 people were present at the artist "influencer" feedback session at my home.