Lawndale Art Center develops local contemporary artists and the audience for their art.
Lawndale is one of the only institutions in Houston that is dedicated to the presentation of contemporary art with an emphasis on work by regional artists. Located at the edge of Downtown in the Museum District the organization utilizes its accessible location to present exhibitions, performances, lectures, film screenings and events, and offers an annual residency program to further the creative exchange of ideas among Houston's diverse communities. In all programming and activities, Lawndale strives to extend the center's outreach.
Lawndale includes four museum-quality galleries, three artist studios and an outdoor sculpture garden that facilitate its role as a vital cultural resource for Houston. A board Programming Committee made up of area artists and arts professionals meet twice per year to consider proposals and select artists and exhibitions for presentation.
There is no fee to submit proposal for an exhibition at Lawndale. A balance is sought among emerging, mid-career and established artists, as well as a wide range of two and three dimensional media and content. The committee gives special consideration to work that would not be shown in commercial or other museum venues due to its scale, ephemeral nature, or difficulty of installation. The schedule is intentionally flexible to allow for work to be shown within six months of its completion; accordingly, nothing is scheduled more than one year in advance. The committee also considers works from around the region that inform area artists and audiences about the most current themes and concepts in contemporary art, while remaining focused on Houston area artists.
Every year Lawndale Art Center hosts an area-wide open call juried survey show, called The Big Show, which provides exhibition access to area artists. Approximately 400 artists who live and work within a 100-mile radius of Houston, bring over 950 works of art to the Lawndale galleries for jurying over three days. A nationally known curator from outside of the region selects The Big Show from these entries presenting an annual snap shot of contemporary art in Houston.
Lawndale Art Center's most recent programming initiative was to launch the Artist Studio Program that provides studio space for three local artists along with a materials budget and a monthly stipend for a nine month period.
One of Lawndale Art Center's most anticipated events is the annual festival celebrating, Día de Los
Muertos, featuring an open-call exhibition of over 250 contemporary interpretations of the Mexican folk
art tradition, the retablo, created by area artists and enthusiasts. During this time Lawndale also works closely with area schools, focusing on at risk and low income schools, to educate students about the Mexican tradition using contemporary art as a context and features artworks from the students during the retablo exhibition. This program provides a critical bridge to Houston's Latino community and helps build awareness within the Mexican-American community for our other programming.
In addition, Lawndale also provides educational opportunities to area elementary, middle and high school-age children and to local college and university students through its teacher orientation program, internship program and guided tours and activities.
Lawndale Art Center was founded in 1979 by artist James Surls, an instructor at the University of Houston, in a 100,000 square-foot warehouse, and provided studio spaces for MFA students. Surls created an exhibition area within the warehouse and programming soon expanded to explore experimental, alternative works and performances by other artists in the community and beyond.
Through the early 1980s, Lawndale operated as a university-sponsored space. Performance art and music shows drew audiences that loved the club-scene atmosphere. By 1989 the university was no longer able to support the space and the organization was suddenly homeless. A small team of hard-working individuals, committed to keeping the entity alive, formed a board of directors, obtained non-profit status and borrowed spaces in which the newly independent Lawndale could continue to program.
In 1992 Lawndale rented a three-story 1930 Art Deco building at its current location in Houston's Museum District. Its layout and location were well-suited to Lawndale's vision for program and audience expansion. In 1993 the organization purchased the building and hired an Executive Director.
By the mid-1990s Lawndale was beginning to stabilize. The board structure was modified but continued the artist-run Programming Committee, charged with the curatorial duties of the organization and dedicated to presenting experimental art works from area artists.
By the year 2000 the facility was in poor condition. The building required major repairs and renovations in order to have adequate exhibition and office space and to realize the goal of beginning an artist residency program. In 2003 Lawndale launched a $1.4M capital campaign to fund the project; most of the funds were raised within two years.
During construction in 2004, staff moved out of the building, but was able to continue programming: producing an artist-designed billboard series and presenting annual exhibitions in other area art spaces. Renovations were completed in 2005 and Lawndale moved back into a first-rate, fully ADA compliant facility. In 2006 Lawndale launched the Artist Studio Program offering financial support and space for three artists annually.
From the beginning, all programming has been artist driven. Lawndale Art Center became the premiere center for artists in Houston and the region to show work, experiment, perform and meet other artists. Early projects included works by Luis Jimenez, Sue Coe, The Art Guys, Nam June Paik and Rev. Johnnie Swearingen. Performance art and music were an important part of the early years, including varied performances from Allen Ginsberg and Spaulding Gray to Black Flag and the Meat Puppets.