Artists from all over build a community and careers in island’s downtown
The Galveston Artist Residency, 2521 Ship’s Mechanic Row, sits back from the street on the western edge of the island’s downtown behind a high iron fence, its brick walls unadorned. From the outside, what used to be two industrial buildings, one of them originally a cotton rebaling plant, still looks industrial but emanates a quiet repose and spare elegance.
Over the past several decades, this was the site of a rotating number of bars and clubs, eventually abandoned after Hurricane Ike, which struck in 2008.
Director Eric Schnell, a Houston artist, arrived in Galveston in 2002 after eight years in New York and stayed. Post-Ike, Schnell was determined to make something important for the community after the destructive storm. He partnered with West Texas scientist Bert Geary and architect-designer Rob Whalley of Los Angeles to envision, develop and build the residency, now a gem of the Texas art scene with its inviting interior spaces, two outdoor courtyards and a mission of community-building.
Schnell at the time said his post-hurricane restoration was a “social action” that he hoped would become an integral part of his adopted hometown, something not “too art-centric” but concerned with enlivening and enriching Galveston through the presence of artists, according to reports.
Nearly seven years after the residency opened in 2012, Schnell is well on his way to that goal.
Galveston Artist Residency has become a conduit between the Houston art world and the island, frequently bringing Houston artists down to show their work in the large gallery, open to the public from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and open during every Galveston ArtWalk.
New paintings and prints by Houston artist Robert Ruello, along with drawings of the moon, are on display through Feb. 16 in the current show, “The Moving Evening.”
This year, for the first time, the residency hosted its first short-term curator in residence, Leslie Moody Castro, who divides her time between Austin and Mexico City and found in Galveston a rich palette for ideas she cherishes.
Intrigued with Galveston’s cycle of catastrophes and reinvention, Castro curated a show by Mexico City artist Cristobal Gracia, “Revolving Catastrophes and Myths of a Beautiful World.”
“We looked at the mythology of the hurricane, at building and rebuilding,” Castro said. “We asked: What is the nature of a disaster and how do people cope with it.”
Three resident artists who arrived in September were chosen by a panel of art professionals for an 11-month residency that includes studio space, an apartment and a monthly stipend.
“We received about 300 applications for the three spots,” said Sallie Barbee, programs manager for the residency. Application is open to visual artists working in any medium, at any stage in their careers, from either the United States or abroad.
Phil Peters of Los Angeles, one of this year’s residents who’ll be here through August, said the residency is providing time and space for him to pursue a research-based sound project on the acoustics of the Earth at points of geologic activity.
Sitting at a computer, Peters turned up the volume on what could have been an amplified heartbeat but was instead the sound of a remote, underground corner of Yellowstone National Park, far from the invasive noises of automobiles and humans. During his time at Galveston Artist Residency, one of the things Peters plans to do is build large speakers from which to project his collected sounds.
Derick Whitson, a young artist from Brooklyn working primarily in photography and video, has set up photo shoots for subjects dressed in costume at historic island properties Bishop’s Palace and the Menard House. His photos of heavily made-up subjects explore the social constructs of race, gender and sexuality, counteracting the seriousness of those subjects with his perspective on the history and meaning of clowning.
The third resident, sculptor Katrina Moorhead, traveled to Galveston from Ireland via a 2016 show at the Inman Gallery in Houston.
Each year, artists in residence show their work in a summer exhibit, and in between the residency space hosts musical and film events, art shows and lectures, all open to the public.