Exhibit Opening: The Faces of Syrian Refugees

One day after World Refugee Day, Michael S. Cohen (who insists on the inclusion of his middle initial, not to be confused with the American attorney) spoke at the Holocaust Museum Houston about the inspiration and story behind his photography exhibit, The Faces of Syrian Refugees.
An impactful photo can change the rhetoric of political conversations, and Cohen recognized the power of the lens early in his photography career. During his speech, he flipped through a few iconic photos that sparked this sort of dialogue – the first, an image of smiling Holocaust refugees aboard the S.S. St. Louis, unaware that they were to be denied a place to stay in Cuba and forced back to Europe; the second, a three-year-old boy named Alan Kurdi, whose dead body lay alone on the beach after his family capsized in a boat escaping Syria. 
Cohen noticed a common thread among modern-day refugee photos. “[These images tend to be] tragic, gritty, sensational, and sad. If refugees could be introduced differently, we could create a connection,” Cohen said. He set out to create an exhibit that would balance the story Americans were being told about refugees – to humanize them and show they are just as unique and diverse as those not labeled as refugees. With a three-person team, he was put into contact with 20 Syrian refugees who were willing to share their stories of thriving after their escape.
The exhibit features one close-up image, one full length portrait, and a Proust-style questionnaire probing into who the subjects are as people with questions such as “What keeps you up at night?” and “What brings you joy?” The images are blown up on six-foot banners with many of the subjects turning out an open palm. Cohen’s hope is that exhibit visitors will be brave enough to approach these photos and stand eye-to-eye with them, perhaps even hand-to-hand. The interactive portion of the exhibit even extends past the physical portraits. The 20 refugees are following a specific hashtag - #tfosr – so if any visitor posts a selfie with the hashtag, they can interact with the portrait subjects via social media. 
Michael Cohen said the most rewarding part of the process in creating this exhibit is getting to see the reactions of the audience, especially in “target states” like Texas, where refugees may not be as openly welcomed. In the audience, a first-generation Syrian-American thanked Cohen for the exhibit and for portraying Syrians as normal people. Another visitor was a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and he encouraged other attendees to make #tfosr go viral. 
The portrait subjects are grateful for the exhibit as well. When asked what he would like to say to people who come to this exhibit, Ali, a refugee who fled Syria in 2014, said, “I would like to say, you did the right thing, because you have to break the ice between us. You have to come close to other people to see them.”
The Faces of Syrian Refugees exhibit can be visited at the Mincberg Gallery in the Holocaust Museum Houston until Sunday, August 26, 2018.
By Vox Blogger: Erin Philip


Summer Solstice in Houston: Making the time for Vibrancy and Appreciating Earth!

Have you ever taken the chance to experience the Summer Solstice? Not sure what it is? Well here is your chance to find out and experience it TOMORROW, 6/21!
The Summer Solstice is traditionally a pagan holiday, marking the longest, most sunlit day of the year and the start of the summer (Houston Press). But no matter your religious beliefs, the Summer Solstice gives us an opportunity to truly celebrate the gift of nature and all that surrounds us. With so many hectic and often stressful events occurring in our daily personal, professional, social and political lives, taking the time to unwind and recharge can be a huge source of comfort. The earth cares for us and provides us with essential resources that as human beings we cannot live without. Simply noticing and appreciating the life and abundance that is readily available in our natural environment reminds us to care for and show up for ourselves similarly. If you are able, take time this week to celebrate the start of a new season. Reflect on what the past season has brought us – the joys, triumphs, challenges and lessons. Let natural phenomena bring us greater awareness of what is truly important to us in life. 
What is the solstice all about? 
June 21, 2018 marks the moment when the Sun’s direct rays reach as far north as they ever get, appearing straight overhead along the Tropic of Cancer, at 23.5 degrees north latitude. As a result we see the sun take its highest and longest past through the sky” (Washington Post).  
Whether you celebrate the Summer Solstice as a pagan, or want to observe the holiday as a new tradition, summer is a season of excitement, adventure and creativity. As one of the greenest large cities in the U.S., there are numerous venues in Houston to absorb natural beauty and enjoy a day of celebration and summer relaxation. So mark your calendars for tomorrow, June 21 and bring your family and friends to one of Houston’s many scenic spots:
1. The Boardwalk Town Lake – Check out local musician, Adrian Michael at the lake’s Summer Solstice event from 7:30pm to 9:30 pm.

2. Residences at Kirby Collection – A great place to go for panoramic views of the entire city! Also featuring a pool, cabanas, outdoor kitchen and grills. 

Make your day beautiful at any of these popular Houston venues, or make your way to any one of the Texas State parks residing in Houston! Join with your community and those you love and have fun. Happy summer! 

BY: Kelly Beecher


For Revolutionary Environmental Change, Houston needs a Culture Shift

Every country around the world can take a lesson from Sweden, a country with a recycling program so far ahead it runs out of waste for its recycling program and has had to import it from other countries. A shocking less than 1 percent of household waste in Sweden was sent to landfills since 2011. Taking that concept even further, Swedish municipalities are investing in futuristic waste collection techniques. These include a type of automated vacuum system for use on residential blocks, and underground container systems, said Hazel Sheffield from The Atlantic. The country’s waste goes into a nation-wide heating network in an efficient over-arching energy recycling system.
“Swedish people are quite keen on being out in nature and they are aware of what we need to do on nature and environmental issues,” says Anna-Carin Gripwall, Director of Communications for the Swedish Waste Management’s Recycling Association. 
As the most foliage-dense large city in the United States, Houston could stand to be more conscious about its waste to honor the beautiful greenery we have at our fingertips. Residents who spend time in city parks and other outdoor areas want to see less waste left behind.
What can Houston learn from Sweden?

If we want to see our recycling and energy systems begin to shift toward zero-waste as Sweden has exemplified, a massive culture change will need to take place. Currently, there are several organizations such as the Texas Campaign for the Environment, Go Green Community and Green Houston that are actively working to increase recycling programs in the city. Though most large businesses in the area have recycling systems set up, we have a long way to go before recycling is seen as a major practice in Houston. 
A culture shift would require consistent communications from city officials and an applied recycling practice all Houston neighborhoods can follow regularly. Houston residents say that the city’s recycling could be more streamlined. Building regulations should require that all businesses have designated bins for recycling, composting and waste materials. If resident are encouraged to recycle in business places, there would be a collective consciousness for recycling in homes, schools and all across the city. What is your experience with recycling in public and in private?
Share your thoughts with us on how Houston can improve!
- By: Kelly Beecher, Vox Culture Blogger



Houston Art Community: A Challenge

Public art projects located in metropolitan areas can revitalize areas that were once neglected by traditional re-development efforts. The City of Houston is home to an abundance of commissioned public art projects, including Anthony Shumate’s Monumental Moments – located in Buffalo Bayou Park and Margo Sawyer’s Synchronicity of Color located in Discovery Green.
Murals, installations and interactive pieces encourage community gathering and engagement in the public arenas that attract large numbers of people. Community is important because it gives us a sense of belonging and values to grasp firmly to. From community strength and effort, the most notable social action is born and re-generated through continuous efforts to keep community spaces alive and prospering. My challenge to the Houston art community is to create a wider platform for artists using their work to send a message about their community’s concerns. By amplifying artists of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities, we can give Houston’s civic art and engagement initiatives a broader meaning. 

- By: Kelly Beecher, Vox Culture Blogger


Public Art for Community Strength & Resilience

Artwork in all mediums captures the expansiveness of human existence – mind, body and soul. It demonstrates our feelings, values and beliefs, our attitudes and reactions to the world. Producing art gives us a unique space to amplify our voices against oppression and injustice – one that is born out of an urgent desire for change. In art spaces, individual and shared experiences collide to uncover truth and tell stories that have long been suppressed. Art also makes us softer. It gives us tools to be courageous in our vulnerability and create paths for collective strength and resilience. In a world where great suffering occurs everyday, art pulls us together and brings us back to love. Creative expression provides a foundation. A community immersed in the art of its people has the energy to endure obstacles and keep moving forward.  
Art has an enormous capacity to influence, mobilize and heighten awareness of social injustice and community issues. By bringing the locus of social problems into the community center, public artists create a powerful force to facilitate community discussions and drive action. Traditionally, artistic expression has been one of the most predominant ways marginalized populations have chosen to engage with the political and social issues. 
Black feminist artists such as Carrie Mae Weems and Mikalene Thomas use their mediums to engage viewers with topics such as: violence, black femininity, mourning and strength. Weems’ 2011 public art project, Carrie Mae Weems & Social Studies 101, Operation: Activate used striking imagery and bold language to activate a campaign to stop violence and reckless police murder of young black men in Syracuse. The project culminated as a strong example of how art can be used as a potent tactic in social campaigns. Similarly, in her 2012 project, Origin of the Universe, Mikalene Thomas converts examples of female objectification into feminine agency and power. 
While providing spaces for community reflection and congregation, art also prods our imagination for future possibilities. It gives us visuals of what our world would look like without having to fight against society’s own destabilization. 

- By: Kelly Beecher, Vox Culture Blogger