Houston Grand Opera is proud to implement Home and Place, a community-focused program committed towards fostering pride and identity through arts-based programming and activities at six sites in three Houston communities – Gulfton/Sharpstown, Northside/Second Ward, and Greater Hobby area. The six locations are apart of our partnership with Houston Independent School District (Garden Villas, Kashmere Gardens, and Pat Neff Elementary Schools) and Neighborhood Centers Inc. (Baker Ripley, Harbach Ripley, and Ripley House Neighborhood Centers). This program is made possible through a $250,000 grant from ArtPlace.

Kiana Day, Home and Place Program Manager, writes about the Open Door Day celebrations, a key part of the progrm held at each of six partner locations in Houston:

DAY: The purpose of these celebrations was to commemorate the work, activities, and experiences of participants throughout the course of Home and Place. Each of our partner sites selected a different theme for their Open Door Day that expressed their abundant pride in the community that they call home.

From story sharing and performances to garden tours and neighborhood potluck, there was truly something for everyone at the Open Door Days. We began these celebrations on March 3, 2012 at Neff Elementary with their Hooray for Neff! Day, which served as one of the models in the creation of Home and Place. Parents and community partners flooded the Gulfton/Sharpstown area school as students performed skits, songs, and dances that reflected their theme of celebrating “Heroes, Legends, and Legacies”. On this day, the school doubled as a museum, showcasing a gallery of artwork and other outstanding exhibits that the teachers and students have worked on throughout the school year.

We remained in the Northside/Second Ward neighborhood for the Open Door Day at Kashmere Gardens on May 25, 2012, where May Day, a tradition rich and dear to this community, was resurrected and observed for the first time in ten years, and people from far and wide made their way to the campus to view the vegetable and prairie butterfly gardens that the students have cultivated and continue to maintain, as well as the heralded tradition of the wrapping of the May pole and coronation of the MayFair King & Queen. The event ended with a house-rocking performance of John L. Cornelius II’s “Kashmere Gardens”, a song cycle commissioned through Home and Place’s Houston Artists Respond project.

The final Open Door Day celebration was in the Greater Hobby area at Harbach Ripley on June 1-2, 2012. The teens at this center played a huge role in facilitating this celebration and even held a release party for the album that was recorded in their on-site recording studio. Houston Artists Respond artists performed beautiful songs that were inspired by the writings of senior adults at the center who participated in Home and Place. The event culminated with a potluck celebration where the “Taste of Harbach” displayed the rich food tradition that community members take great pride in at Harbach Ripley.

As we enter the final phase of this year’s Home and Place program, I’ve taken a moment to think about what will be different in our communities as a result of the work that we have done in Home and Place. There are some small differences, but a big difference is that now that our community members know that we are here, taking a vested interest in the empowerment and improvement of this place (Houston) that we call home, they have begun to really believe in themselves and that their voices do not rest on deaf ears. Their words sing, dance, paint, and have flavor that we embrace as apart of who we are. What will be different in each community as a result of our work is that we, Houston Grand Opera, are now just as much a part of the fabric that makes up Home and Place communities, and we have no intentions in leaving.

PHOTO: Harbach Ripley staff and community members embrace their Open Door Day theme of “Preserving Our Roots” by displaying items that have been in their families for generations.

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