A View on the 5th Annual Vox Local Arts Mixer

Painters, photographers, poets, and dancers were just some of the incredible artists selected to be a part the fifth installment of the Vox Local Arts Mixer, better known as V+LAM. On August 23rd, Vox Culture and The Phoenix on Westheimer brought this eclectic experience to the Houston arts scene. Each year, V+LAM is an event that celebrates the contributions of local artists to Vox Culture’s advocacy projects.

The festivities began with a brief introduction of Vox Culture and the organization’s 2019 objectives. Next up, the honored guest presenter and First Daughter, Ashley P. Turner, spoke about her community initiatives as well as her dedication to supporting Vox Culture as a V+LAM Event Chair. Spoken word poet, The Outspoken Bean, was in attendance and wowed the audience with a vibrant, stellar performance.

The evening continued with several art showcases, salsa dancing, prize giveaways, and an assortment of chef-created dishes and pastries provided by featured food vendors. Art lovers from all over Houston came out for the celebration, and they were not disappointed. The full list of V+LAM 5 participants can be found on the Vox Culture Facebook page if you want to catch up with who you missed.

As a member of the Vox Culture team, I had the opportunity to help set up V+LAM 5 and participate in creating a diverse mixer with a group of new and established professional artists. Just as the event’s name describes, the “Local Arts” featured at this event consisted of original works crafted or curated by Houston-based contributors. I joined the other attendees during the evening to browse the exhibit booths and meet the talented artists.

This year’s ten thoughtfully selected artists have played a huge role in bringing awareness to Vox Culture’s advocacy campaigns. Each year the organization highlights a different theme, and this year’s theme is Mental Health. The art featured somehow incorporated or was inspired by the artists’ perceptions of mental health. It was spread across various types of media, including paintings, photographs, mixed media, sculptures, jewelry, ceramics, and live performance.

One young painter named Robyn Blodgett left a lasting impression on me because of her openness to share her personal journey with mental health. She channeled her past struggles with depression and thoughts of suicide into her abstract art, creating what she calls “emotion based” pieces that are full of color, depth, and complexity. I enjoyed hearing how her art has been a tool for her to overcome these struggles, allowing her to achieve a sense of peace and self-acceptance.

For even more art immersion, Vox Culture will be hosting an array of programs and panels in the coming months. Check out the Events page for upcoming dates!

By Aisha Savage-Shirley, Vox Blogger


Art Is An Escape 

If you’re like me, you vaguely remember art class in elementary school. We learned the very basic, rudimentary rules and concepts of art. We rolled up a piece of paper into a Pringles can, dipped some marbles in different colored paints, threw them in the can, closed it, and went crazy shaking it. Bam. Jackson Pollock. We made use the kiln to create a few pottery items that our parents may or may not still use. (My mom still has her jewelry holder.) The point is, unless we continue to take classes and explore on our own, we do not really hear much more about art. 
From sixth grade through college, I wasn’t really a fan. I never went out of my way to galleries or art museums. I thought it was boring and lame, especially if the pieces were from other parts of the world. My exposure was limited memories from childhood of old Mayan sculptures, that frankly, got old. 
It wasn’t until I started dating the son of a former art dealer that I would say I began to “get art.” The house was a gallery in and of itself. Hundreds of pieces, paintings and sculptures alike, it was a sight to see. I learned about modern art and all of the innovative ways artists today are creating magic. My appreciation grew. But again, I was exposed mainly to U.S. artists, with a few outsiders, Banksy, anyone? So when I had the opportunity to tour Art of the World Gallery I jumped on it.
I spoke with Pamela, who gave me inside information about the current exhibit Interspaces featuring Oscar Saborio. I was both surprised and impressed to learn that he uses his own hands, fingers, and nails to create his work. A quote from an interview with him:
My hands and fingernails are my best tools. This is the most direct passageway between the canvas and my soul.
And through his work I can see into his soul. As with some artists, if not most artists, he has a dark past. Oftentimes when we think of mental health, it’s easy to think of what you’re currently diagnosed with, or dealing with, but sometimes it goes back to things from your past. What did you suppress before that you’re coming to face with now? 
Oscar actually began drawing at a young age, to sort of get out his emotions. It was a way for him to escape. When asked “How have the places you’ve lived and struggles you’ve faced impacted your art in the long run?” His response was genuine:
Life's battles are constant and will always influence our immediate surroundings.
The beautiful tropical jungles of Costa Rica, the flavor and kind people of Puerto Rico, and without a doubt the impactful American culture, where I always found people who supported me. The American people are positively radiant and hardworking.
All of the places in which I have lived and all of the experiences I have endured impact my artistic purpose. 
I’m sure most artists would agree with that last part. Your life impacts your art. It certainly shows in Oscar’s work. I can appreciate it now, knowing I have my own struggles. Seeing someone else’s expression helps me escape.
While the exhibit is running (through the 20th), I strongly encourage you to go experience Oscar’s struggles and triumphs and everything in between. 
By: Victoria Hernandez, Vox Blogger



Vox Storytellers IV

In its fourth year since its inception, Vox Culture is hosting its annual storytelling event, aimed at raising awareness and giving a voice to social issues impacting the Houston community. Vox Storytellers IV will gather a representative group of Houstonians to share their stories, focusing on a conversation about diverse mental health challenges people face in their everyday lives.

Vox Storytellers IV will take place on Friday, June 15th, 2:45PM-5:45PM @ CafezaSeats are free but limited, therefore RSVP is strongly suggested. Please select your ticket within the following Eventbrite link to reserve your spot: 
Vox Storytellers IV 2

Seven thoughtfully curated speakers will be sharing their stories on mental health including a local artist, a U.S. Army veteran, a medical professional, a high school student, a refugee, and two community advocates - respectively sharing their experiences with the prison system and homelessness. The event will be emceed by Vox Culture’s Media Coordinator and the radio host of Action One Media Group’s SG2 on SpaceShen Ge

Sharing stories goes back to the most fundamental ways of building human connections. Vox Culture feels that it pays to sometimes dig back through our layers of modernity and embrace the calm poise of storytelling; all in an attempt to know each other better. The goal of this event is to connect Houstonians together in a deeper, more thoughtful way through the lens of mental health, build a better understanding of what it means to live with mental health issues, and we as a community can do to fight associated stigmas. 

Furthermore, Vox Storytellers IV seeks to lend human voices and faces to thread a narrative on Houston's mental health dilemma – opening a creative discussion addressing stigmas that exist in our community and the wider public. This event is hosted in partnership with Vox Culture's primary collaborators on its Rise Above mental health initiativeDoctors for ChangeWhat It's Like ProjectThis Is My BraveMental Health America of Greater Houston, and Houston Grand Opera. The stories curated by the speakers will provide context on the subject of mental health in Houston providing a holistic picture. Ultimately, Vox Storytellers IVhopes to probe the question – how do we change perceptions on mental health stigmas?

The storytelling session will be followed by a panel discussion on mental health and a audience Q&A.


Back Pew Brewery - Interview with Bobby Harl

As much as I appreciate performing artists, painters, and all of the typical types of “artists” one thinks of when hearing the word “art,” I couldn’t help but think there are other forms. And there are! Wood makers. Glassblowers. People who create jewelry… I thought to myself, “Brew masters are artists.” People don’t really think about making beer as an art form, but it is. Whether it’s sticking with the original ingredients and playing around with different ratios, or going out on a limb and adding things, it’s art. 


I want to support local small businesses. I easily could have gone to Saint Arnold or Karbach, the big names in Houston. I didn’t want to do that. When I was at Spec’s, I stumbled upon something spectacular. 


I was contemplating between 8thWonder and Saint Arnold when a new colored can caught my eye. Blue Testament. I picked up a can. I observed it carefully. It was clearly a church-themed brewery. As a lifelong Lutheran, I appreciated it. I quickly did a Google search and read more. I loved it all. I HAD to meet the owner and interview him. It was too perfect. I think I sent off an email that afternoon. Within a few weeks I was driving up to Porter, Texas.




I pull up to the brewery and it looks like what used to be an old church. I adored it already. I walked inside and patiently waited for Bobby to finish up some work. I’m sitting inside taking it all in and observing people. It felt like I was at a church. You know how after church, there are people participating in “fellowship?” Talking and drinking coffee? Laughing and catching up? Just all around enjoying each other’s company? That’s what it was. Just trade coffee for beer. It reminded me of my old church from when I was young. The nostalgia was strong. 


I never really come up with too many questions for interviews. I prefer to lead with open-ended questions and let things take their own course. Meet Bobby Harl, founder of Back Pew Brewing.


Question: How did you get into brewing?                           


Response: I was an engineering student. I’m a huge nerd. One part of bioengineering is yeast growth. I thought it was an application of the science…I had a cousin buy this kit and we got together. We brewed the kit and it was good. We thought, “We got this.” Then we tried it on our own. It was not good. 


I was homebrewing at school and started hanging out with the guys at Little Harpeth Brewing Company.I thoughtitwould be a good time to do this back home. I got experience with everything hands-on. I won an entrepreneur contest, and I had some investors. 


Came back in December 2014. Got the space in 2015. We had beer out the door in November. 


Question: How do you choose the types of beers you make, and where did you get the idea for saints/sinners?


Response: The Houston palate typically likes lighter-body, not super malty IPAs, or they want really big imperial stouts, porters, things like that. However, a lot of the IPAs taste similar. There are enough of those.


When I have the opportunity, I like to sit and drink a few beers. When a beer is made right, and has a certain profile, you can do that…It’s a marathon. I don’t drink to get hammered. I like the flavors.


German style lagers. A lot of what we do is around that heritage. It’s malt-forward not hop-forward. It’s a refinement. You have to want to do it. It’s worth the time and energy to make those products the right way. 


What do I want a beer to go back to? Drawing, not my forte…I had an aha moment when I was coming up with my market plan. I was doing market research, aka, I was watching people buy beer.


People will spend time looking at beer…But then they go back and get Coors. There are all of these craft beers, but there’s a higher price point. And these cans and bottles, you can’t tell what’s in them. You’ll have to do extra research. The decision matrix is really big. You need a tool to help fix that. 


I want something light and easy to drink. Or I want something that is going to kick my ass.


Saints and sinners. Unoriginally, I called the brewery the Saints and Sinners Brewing Company. There were some cool spaces in Eado, but the properties weren’t worth it for renting. 


We found this property that had been here for two years. Old church. There was a name that we inquired. Long story short we got rejected. 


A few marketers were looking to do a side project. That’s where Back Pew thing came from. That’s where the saints and the sinners sit. The saints sing the loudest, you put them in the back so you can hear the preacher. And the sinners are usually the ones still drunk from the night before. A lot of our beers are in line with that theme. Sometimes if you have a cool name or idea, you don’t have to stick with it. We might be getting a little further away from that. 


Question: Mental health. Let’s talk about it. 


Response: Mental health is very important. You’ve seen my background. I’m a huge nerd. When I was at Vanderbilt, I met a lot of researchers. Asperger’s interested me. It used to be clinically a separate disease. The amount of debate around it intrigued me. It is spectral, and it needs attention. People are somewhat ashamed of it. I understand that it’s very difficult. But the worst thing you can do is to just do nothing, ignore it, or try to put it in a box. It becomes difficult to see. Additionally, there are so many things. My brother suffers from ADHD. And he’s trying to find the right dosage. There’s no one small conversation about mental health. It’s a large conversation. 


Question: Anything else?



A few things Back Pew has been supporting – 



If you like trying new beer and supporting local businesses, I highly recommend you take a trip up to Porter during one of Back Pew’s many events. 








Coffee, Art, and Mental Health Interview with Robert Avila

I walked into AHH, Coffee! for the first time and was immediately taken back by the art on the walls. I would come back every week at the same time for a cold brew and some art. There was one in piece in particular that really caught my eye. I had to meet the artist who created it. I reached out to Robert Avila, the artist, and was fortunate enough to schedule some time with him.


Crystal Method by Robert Avila


I’m sitting in the shop when the door opens and in walks in a tall gentleman. He’s wearing a checkered button-down shirt with an exuberant tie. Robert had just come from his full-time job. A corporate man with an artistic edge, he manages both elegantly. Pushing the boundaries at work and pushing his boundaries in his art. He takes a drink of his coffee and we begin. 



Robert Avila


Q: Let’s start with the background. How did you get started? How long have you been working? Who inspires you? 

A: “I’ve done everything backwards,” he laughs. Robert went to school for art history and during a break he got a job in web design. What began as a job blossomed into a career. A few years ago, he was gifted a trust for school after his grandfather’s unfortunate passing. Robert attended the art institute. He started from scratch. 

He tried to color white paper black. Then he learned he could just use black paper. He likes strong colors and pastels, as they really pop on the black. 

His inspirations are pop culture, television, movies, and life. He has a great appreciation for French impressionism. 


Q: Have you had any rough patches, or difficulty with your work?

A: All of my friends and family are supportive. They’re the ones populating the shows! It’s been great. 


Q: What’s your take on mental health?

A: Everyone struggles with something. I have anxiety. A lot of family members and friends have anxiety, depression, etc. So, I always try to check in. I can sense when something’s off, and I try to be supportive.

Robert mentioned Warriors in Art, a nonprofit who helps veterans transition back to the civilian life. I look forward to learning more about the organization. 


Q: Is there anything in particular you advocate for?

A: I was planning a show in 2017 and Harvey happened two weeks before the show. I donated half of the proceeds to a family affected by the storm. The other half went to Friends for Life.  

He loves animals. He is owned by two cats, one male and one female. 


Q: Last question. Any advice for new artists?

A: Keep at it. Getting started and starting to paint scared the crap out of me. I didn’t think I could do it…All that was keeping me back was getting started. If it scares you, do it. You never know what you’re capable of until you get started.