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Cozy up to the culture crusaders! In a provocative new photo portfolio, some of H-Town’s most popular artists meet the men and women behind the scenes, whose means—and moxie—give Houston its creative muscle.

Aaron Robison and Becca Cason Thrash

David Brown and Marita Fairbanks

Regina Agu

Company You Keep
It’s not surprising that hunky Brit Aaron Robison, 26, who joined the Houston Ballet this summer after runs with companies in England and Spain, approaches dance like an athlete would approach a new season, with remarks like, “Every day is a challenge to be the best you can be, to jump higher, to turn more.” As a teen he was torn between soccer—er, “football”—and dance. Ultimately, fate picked. “I ended up sitting on the bench a lot,” laughs Robison, now dancing as the prince in The Nutcracker, recalling his last days as a jock. “I thought I should just stick with the ballet.” Meanwhile, the Ballet’s most high-profile supporter, couture queen Becca Cason Thrash, who chaired the company’s 2012 ball and hauled in a record-shattering $1.4 million, and who has been knighted by France for her work at The Louvre, is also sticking with what she does best—raising money. And she’s doing it her way, with sass and style, as in her annual “Dancing With the Houston Stars” dance-off event for the Ballet, which finds society swells like Lynn Wyatt shaking their groove things on a floor installed over Becca and hubby John’s rather infamous indoor pool. “If it’s not sexy, fashionable and fun, I’m not doing it,” says Becca, noting that this April’s installment will make the total till for the three “Stars” events thus far more than $1 million. “That might sound superficial, but I’ve made peace with it.”

Deep Grassroots
With the merging this year of Spacetaker, which was founded by photographer David Brown as a web-savvy nonprofit to teach emerging artists how to run their careers as profitable businesses, and the Fresh Arts Coalition, which was founded by former New York marketing exec Marita Fairbanks (with Brown, opposite page) to pool marketing resources for small arts groups like Stages Repertory Theatre, the Orange Show and DiverseWorks, the twice-as-powerful artists-support group, now called simply Fresh Arts, was born. Brown, 40, has returned to the ranks of working artists, as mom-of-four Fairbanks, 46, continues as a board member, citing the group’s mission “to raise the profile of the arts scene in Houston… for the artists struggling to break through.” As a case study, consider Regina Agu, 31, who recently mounted a Fresh Arts show of her collaged pieces incorporating old medical textbooks and ink drawings. “They didn’t just provide an exhibition space,” says the Houston-born Cornell grad who works by day as a data analyst, and who spent her childhood traveling Africa with her public-health specialist dad. “They taught me everything I needed to know about putting up an exhibition.” Agu has mounted other shows in New York and Dallas, and, with a Houston Arts Alliance grant, plans a new H-Town show for spring.

Two for the Show
“I had no idea there was so much music in Houston,” says Zahira Gutierrez, 23, frontwoman and co-songwriter of local indie pop-rock band Wild Moccasins, which often draws comparisons to Blondie and The Smiths. “But venues keep opening, and young people are feeling like it’s a good time to start bands.” The fashion-savvy Gutierrez, whose dad is Peruvian and whose mom is Puerto Rican, and who’s currently hard at work on a part-Spanish new record, goes on: “A lot of people think that you have to move to Austin or New York or L.A. to make it, but Houston has been very supportive. It’s a good base.” Much of the credit for H-Town’s quantum leap forward as a viable HQ for indie acts goes
to computer-scientist-turned-promoter Jagi Katial, 35, whose 4-year-old Free Press Summer Festival has provided an invaluable platform for the Moccasins and many other local performers. It takes up 1.3 miles of Allen Parkway every June, having increased its audience from 20,000 in 2009 to 90,000 this year. “There weren’t enough venues in Houston for artists who were a little left of center,” says Katial, a Houston-born Indian-American who, along with “Summer Fest” co-founder Omar Afra, also bought the Heights’ hot live-music spot Fitzgerald’s as an everyday extension of their mission. “Our goal is to give these artists a home.”

Click here to read the full article in the digital edition of Houston!