Client: City of Houston, Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs and the Houston Health Department
Location: Houston, TX, United States
Completion date: 2023
Artwork budget: $118,000
Civic Art Program Manager / Commissioner
Houston Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs
Irene Antonia Diane Reece
Project Management + Administration
Civic Art + Design Division
Houston Arts Alliance
Zainob Amaro and Mathew Usoro
“That Sunnyside Pride” is a multi-media archival and photographic installation, commissioned by the Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA), created through direct engagement with residents of Houston’s Sunnyside community. This site-specific, permanent artwork was created for the City of Houston’s new Sunnyside Health and Multi-Service Center, which is operated by the Houston Health Department. Artist Irene Reece has made a concerted and earnest effort to address the cultural erasure the Sunnyside community has experienced for generations, the lack of recorded or documented history about the neighborhood in local press and archives, and to otherwise celebrate the rich cultural heritage found in Sunnyside – one of Houston’s most under-resourced and underserved communities.
In the artist’s words: “It’s important that this body of work showcases every aspect of Sunnyside’s authenticity. I want to include and uplift the significance of the community’s multi-generational voices by featuring the families, community leaders, and historical sites that make up Sunnyside.”
With life-long ties to Sunnyside, the artist prioritized the sensibilities of community members, who voted to select the original portraits of community members that are central to the artwork.
The new Sunnyside Multi-Service Center — a center for improved well-being — has been decades in the making and is the result of earnest advocacy from community members and leaders. This advocacy was met by Houston’s Complete Communities Initiative — a collaborative and transformative effort whose mission is to build one complete city from recovery to resilience by championing the voices of residents that have been ignored for far too long, offering the foundational resources needed to thrive and to collectively overcome economic, environmental, and equity challenges.
The intent of this commission was to mine the community for evidence of its rich and impactful history and to preserve that history from cultural erasure by showcasing it in the central corridor of the healthcare center.
In researching the context of this neighborhood, both MOCA and the proposing artists encountered a lack of documented history of the Sunnyside neighborhood in local archives.
“That Sunnyside Pride” recognizes that void and works to address it through the generation of contemporary images through analog photography, and through the inclusion of digitized artifacts and personal mementos from community members shared with the artist for incorporation into the artwork’s design.
In 2020, the Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA) announced its search for artists to develop two permanent, site-specific civic art commissions for then-forthcoming Sunnyside Health and Multi-Service Center.
Through Houston Arts Alliance, MOCA released the opportunity to artists residing in the Greater Houston Area and oversaw a selection process which prioritized community representation, deep community engagement, and storytelling.
During the design development phase of the project, with support from MOCA and community partners from within the Sunnyside community, the artist engaged directly with the community through her creative process. She employed different methods such as social media, one-on-one contact, and footprint of flyers and posters in public places. Community engagement was ongoing for this project for over a year, as the installed artwork is a collaborative effort with community that will generate the images which were installed for this commission.
A central effort to this commission has also been the video documentation by artists Zainob Amao and Mathew Usoro, who have created short films following the evolution of the commissioned works to expand upon storytelling from Sunnyside community members.
MOCA’s announcement of artists awarded contracts to develop art commissions for the Sunnyside Multi-Service Center was among the first to take place after the public release its first-ever Equity Review of Houston’s Civic Art Collection in 2020. The results of this collection survey showed devastating inequities in the history of Houston’s art-commissioning practices and for the lifetime of its Civic Art Program until 2020. Women of color especially proved to be the most underrepresented group in Houston’s collection per the city’s population demographics and at the time, had together created less than 2.5% of the artworks in Houston’s Civic Art Collection. Out of 677 objects in the Civic Art Collection in 2020, only 17 artworks were the work of BIPOC women. Through new leadership for its Civic Art Program, MOCA has since been able to establish a community-centric vision for commissioning artworks for Houston’s neighborhoods and has underscored new standards for equity and artist-support within the artist-selection processes for art commissions. The completion of Irene Antonia-Diane Reece’s “That Sunnyside Pride” marks the addition of a significant artwork created by a BIPOC woman for Houston’s now 809-object Civic Art Collection.