IIt’s a Lilliputian masterpiece that surprises you a bit as you stroll down Heights Boulevard. There are two small galleries that appear as you make your way between Dish Society and Lululemon. These eye-catching treasures are a testament to the mesmerizing beauty of public art in unexpected Houston spaces.
Beyond murals and street art, the Little Galleries now illuminate the expression of public art in Houston.
Just outside of The Heights’ popular sandwich sandwich, Ike’s Love and Sandwiches, you’ll come across a small gallery that looks like a dollhouse perched on a turquoise stand with a small sculpture by the Houston-based artist who is originally from from Argentina, Karen Navarro. The untitled piece is part of Navarro’s series “The Constructed Self” (2019 to 2022). Navarro’s work is deeply influenced by her immigrant background.
âThese miniature models – it’s a wonderful idea produced in such a thoughtful way,â says Navarro. âI thought it was so much fun. It’s a way of having art in the world for people who might not go to the museum.
Little Galleries is the brainchild of Tra ‘and Amber Slaughter, co-creators of the non-profit organization Artists for Artists.
“Tra introduced me to the Miniature Show,” says Amber Slaughter PaperCity. âThe whole family has become obsessed. I thought, ‘This is so fantastic. I can work in miniatures and potentially develop a public art program, if we do that. So that’s where the idea was born.
The goal of the Little Galleries program is twofold – to engage the community and also to help support local artists through these miniature installations, according to Slaughter.
âWhat a great place to engage the community and have free access to fine art where there would be no access otherwise,â says Slaughter. âA lot of people are afraid to go into a gallery. It is perceived as being pretentious or very intimidating.
âBesides a museum, they don’t have the funds to pay a high price to enter some of them.â
Beyond the aesthetic charm of the tiny galleries in little boxes that pop up along your stroll through The Heights, the essence of Little Galleries is to delve deeper into the meaningful stories conveyed by Houston artists and activists.
âWhen I look at these galleries, I see them as places to have these conversations – and for artists to make these statements, so we can learn,â Slaughter notes. âSo we can evolve and have a memory of our past. These stories need to be told. They must be honored and we must learn from them.
âAnd we need to teach future generations the mistakes we made. And if that makes you uncomfortable, great. These stories need to be told. If you follow Artists for Artists Instagram, you’ll find the heart and soul behind the tiny paintings and installations, as well as the overall vision for the project.
âWe are planning to install them all over Houston, in parks, also in the Houston Botanical Gardens and even in the Texas Med Center. It’s good to go out and engage with public art and your community.
The goal is to start small and see what comes out of it, potentially an art gallery of 10 small galleries.
âThe idea was to spawn them in The Heights, so that we could test them in beta,â says Slaughter. âWe want to develop the program, a large series of these, so that we can do these artistic walks. An art walk would involve around 10 sites, in the same area, where people can walk around and interact with each of the small galleries and experience them all.
Near Axelrad is a small gallery created by Houston-born artist and Filipino native Matt Manalo.
âWhen they asked me to participate, I was really excited,â says Manolo. âI thought it would be a great opportunity to showcase my work because my work is sort of biographical.
“It’s about me being an immigrant here in the United States that I love that (Little Galleries) makes the story more accessible to the public.”
Manalo’s work is founded on sustainability. Inside the small gallery is Manalo’s installation which carries an esoteric message borrowed from Rudyard Kipling: âThe people who were sitting in the dark saw a great light. “
âThe miniature is created from durable materials to have the same feel and aesthetic,â Manalo explains. âThere are two parts of the message in the gallery. The words are actually borrowed from Rudyard Kipling The burden of a white man. Then, Mark Twain’s satirical response.
âThese two works literally really spoke to me, and I wanted to highlight them, to make them the center of the installation. He talks about my immigrant experience and the root that drives me to be here
The prospect of creating a thoughtful, small-scale work of art ignited Manalo’s creativity.
âOne thing that really excites me about it is its magnitude,â Manalo said. âWe were taught in art school to always go big. So imagine a smaller job and you only have that little box of space – how do you go about organizing that? It was almost a challenge. I was really excited about it.
Small galleries mean more accessible art
For the artists involved in the Little Galleries project, this is a creative opportunity to have their work on a less intrusive and broader platform.
âIt’s the opportunity to be seen by tons of people who otherwise wouldn’t have seen my work,â says Navarro. âIt’s a good way to support the arts in different ways, giving them visibility, paying artists to do it. The Heights is very artistic – and the Little Galleries provide the perfect setting.
Navarro’s multimedia work weaves thoughtful portraits and still life images, exploring the intersections of identity.
âI started to think about the identity of social cultural construction,â says Navarro. âThe latest body of work deals with the deconstruction of identity. How we contain multiple identities at the same time. From photography, I launched into collage.
âSometimes the pieces take up to two months to create. . . I enter a meditative state that makes me reflect on my own identity.
There is a bigger mission behind the concept of pop-up galleries – one that helps support the mental health initiative supported by Artists for Artists.
The income we donate to the organization is used for our creative wellness program, âSlaughter said. âThis is a program that we have been cultivating since the start of the pandemic. It is our initiative to address the health care emergencies that artists and musicians face.
âRather than writing a check when something hit a critical level, I wanted to help more. There had to be a bridge between health care providers and creators.
What attracts artists like Navarro to the Little Galleries project is simply the freedom to see his works in a different space open to all Houstonians.
âI think it’s very exciting to see your work in a different setting,â says Navarro. âI think having art that is free and open to the public is good for everyone. It’s like a gift for the city.