Former Mayor Annise Parker once said that Houston’s East End has “more history than the city of Houston itself.” Filled with historic structures, home to one of Houston’s first master-planned neighborhoods, and the backbone of the city’s early industry, the East End has been at the center of Houston’s development since its founding. In fact, Harrisburg, the town after which one of the East End’s primary transit corridors is named, was the seat of government for the Republic of Texas in 1836. Cultural traditions run deep in this community and family ties span generations. In a city not known for embracing its history, the East End truly stands out.
Against this backdrop of deep-seeded history and tradition, an exciting cultural resurgence is taking place. At just over a year old, The East End Cultural District, Houston’s newest cultural district rooted in one of the city’s oldest communities, is gathering steam. One of five cultural districts in Houston and one of only 28 districts statewide, the East End was officially awarded cultural district designation by Texas Commission on the Arts in 2014. Geographically situated between downtown to the west, Wayside to the east, Buffalo Bayou to the north, and Lawndale to the south, the East End Cultural District is home to an impressive and ever-growing collection of visual and performing arts venues, artist studios, makerspaces, cultural institutions, urban farms, iconic restaurants, outdoor murals, and reimagined parks and public spaces that serve as hubs for cultural activity.
Industrial warehouses, which have dotted the landscape of the East End for the past century, are giving way to a new sort of “industrial revolution” rooted in creativity and imagination as vacant buildings are repurposed to function as galleries and theaters, fabrication shops, production facilities, and creative workspaces. Over the past year, The East End Cultural District has established itself as a vibrant component of Houston’s cultural life offering immersive experiences that connect residents and visitors with the tastes, sights, and sounds that make the East End unique. The East End Foundation is the organizing force behind the East End Cultural District and is actively working with cultural partners in the area to support the creation and presentation of art and related cultural programs that serve to celebrate cultural heritage and foster an appreciation for creative expression.
Houston residents might be surprised to learn that the East End has the largest concentration of outdoor murals in the city including the much beloved and soon-to-be-restored Rebirth of our Nationality by Leo Tanguma. This epic painting, which spans an entire block, is considered the grandfather of East End murals and has inspired a new generation of artists who are carrying on the painterly tradition by creating new works that solidify mural-making as an enduring form of cultural expression in the community. In the fall of 2015 the East End figured prominently in Houston’s first-ever mural festival. Organized by prolific Houston artist GONZO247, this festival resulted in the creation of more than ten new public murals east of downtown. In the coming years, the East End Foundation will work to preserve, document, and add to the East End’s vast public art collection with a mural commissioning program that will reinforce the area’s reputation as the mural capital of Houston. The Foundation will also make it easier for residents and visitors to access and enjoy the area’s cultural amenities by developing maps and wayfinding systems that will direct attention to the locations of the cultural assets that exist throughout the East End Cultural District. In addition, the Foundation will forge partnerships with a wide range of community organizations to develop events and activities such as bike tours, open houses, and community celebrations that promote cultural participation.
The cornerstone of this effort is the newly established East End Market, a weekly farmers and artisans market held every Sunday from 10AM-2PM on the Esplanade at Navigation. The Esplanade, located at 2800 Navigation Boulevard directly in front of the iconic Original Ninfa’s restaurant, is a public plaza created by the Greater East End Management District in 2013 in response to community aspirations articulated as part of a Livable Centers plan. The Esplanade is in the heart of the East End Cultural District and the East End Market, which was created specifically to address the lack of access to fresh and healthy food in one of Houston’s “food deserts,” has quickly become a Sunday tradition for many East Enders. In addition to providing a platform for local farmers, producers, and vendors to connect with community residents, the East End Market is gaining momentum as a showcase for the community’s creative talent. Live music is a regular component of the market and will continue to play a key role in advancing the East End Foundation’s commitment to the preservation and celebration of cultural traditions. Beginning on January 31, the East End Foundation will launch a recurring Mariachi Market to take place on the last Sunday of every month. These monthly celebrations will showcase a rotating line-up of live mariachi performance companies that continue to be a vital component of cultural life of the East End.
In February, the East End Cultural District rolls out the red carpet for a weekend of activities organized under the theme Fall in Love with the East End. Events kick off on Friday, February 12 from 6-10PM at The Esplanade with Opera on the Esplanade, a special night market that is part of the ongoing Evenings on the Esplanade program, a series of specially themed night markets showcasing local artisans and handcrafted wares. Opera on the Esplanade will feature live opera performed by musical artists from University of Houston’s Moores Opera Center under the direction of accomplished pianist and East End resident Ana Maria Otamendi. On February 13 from 1-5PM, arts and culture venues throughout the East End Cultural District will be open for a cultural district open house that offers the public behind-the-scenes access to exhibit venues, creative factories, performance houses, and music production studios where great art is made. Houston Makerspace at 3605 Texas serves as headquarters for the Cultural District Open House where guests can pick up a map and information on all the day’s activities.