We had the good fortune of connecting with Pete Gershon and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Pete, why did you pursue a creative career?
I don’t think I ever had a choice. I turned to writing early on, and have always been drawn to artists, musicians, and creative people. I went to Hampshire College in Massachusetts, which is a grade-free, divisional program that led me to look at all of my successive efforts as a series of exciting projects: a quarterly print journal about creative music; a series of books about the social history of Houston’s art community; and now specifically the curation of a new program for a developing art center–The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art–reconciling the overlapping worlds of contemporary art practice and that of self-trained visionaries
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m currently the curator of programming at a place called The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art. We’re based around the preservation and programming of a portfolio of unusual sites in Houston constructed by artistic visionaries, also including the Beer Can House and the mosaic mural-filled Smither Park. The organization is now growing into an expanded property including a football-field sized poured concrete former truck depot that provides the opportunity to work with a wide range of musicians, visual and performing artists, and likeminded community groups to promote a vision that art is for everyone and not just for the privileged few. We favor artwork made with repurposed, commonly available materials and we believe anyone can participate in meaningful art experiences, regardless of background of experience level.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Houston is so huge and diverse that it’s really hard to narrow down a list of favorite spots. Most lists will mention places like the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Menil Collection, the Rothko Chapel, the Buffalo Bayou Cistern, Project Row Houses, and Discovery Green in the heart of downtown. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find distinctive art and performance spaces on a smaller scale, from longstanding institutions like Lawndale to DiverseWorks to real grassroots artist-run spaces like 14 Pews, Avant Garden, Notsuoh, and El Rincon Social. If you like dive bars, you are going to want to check out D&W Lounge, Big Star, Poison Girl, and the allegedly haunted La Carafe. Houston is a city of international flavors and I’d send you to Teotihuacan, Lucy’s Ethiopian Restaurant, Nidda Thai Cuisine, Govinda’s, Maharaja Bhog, and an amazing taco truck called El Cilantro. Try and plan your trip in April so you can catch the annual Art Car Parade, our city’s biggest free community event that draws hundreds of decorated cars and over 200,000 spectators to the area around City Hall. Screwed Up Records & Tapes–trafficking exclusively in the music of DJ Screw–is kind of a must, and Sound Exchange is our gold standard record store for music outside the mainstream. You are going to need more than a week here, though.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My work’s been supported by countless individuals, foundations, businesses, and perhaps most of all the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance. When i began a decade of research into the social history of our city’s art community, I was welcomed with open arms by an older generation of makers and thinkers and it changed the course of my life. One guy I’d particularly like to mention is the late multi-media artist Bert L. Long, Jr. I worked closely with Bert to organize his archives and document his work in the year and a half preceding his death and he taught me so much about art and about life in general. He’s not well-known outside of Texas, but readers should Google his name and learn about one of the country’s best undersung artists.
Other: Of course, please visit the Orange Show as well at orangeshow.org.
Pete’s B&W portrait photo by Erica Nix. Pete with John Alexander by David Berg. All other images by Pete Gershon.