Charles Washington is a Houston artist, mover and shaker. He calls himself an upcycled artist and has carved his own niche in the local arts community for many years. Giving back is as much a part of Washington’s life as his art.
Washington and I are not strangers. We’ve known each other for many years, though neither of us can recall when or how we met. Washington is an entrepreneur in the arts, and we were both creating something from nothing when we crossed paths, and in our own way, we’ve kept tabs on each other.
Washington invited me to revisit a space he began transforming several years ago in his Third Ward Cultural District neighborhood called “The Pop Up Place,” 4302 Almeda Rd.
The space, which was clearly a building at some point in the past as evidenced by three concrete-over-brick walls and walled-over window and door frames. That space is colorful and inviting now with picnic tables covered by umbrellas, benches throughout and, of course, Washington’s art is everywhere.
The Pop Up Place was created for art exhibitions and activities, live performances, spoken word and music. It’s also available to lease as an event space.
Washington told me this is not the first empty lot he’s turned his creativity attention toward. Growing up in a big city on the east coast, he and his friends used empty spaces much like this one to break dance and listen to music.
He’s definitely upped his game here. Much of the concrete flooring is covered in artificial grass that can easily be reconfigured as well as all the outdoor seating and furniture. Washington’s paintings on glass doors liven up the gray walls from which they hang. In fact, I never stopped finding things that Washington either recycled into art or painted. He explains his philosophy in his bio on his website, where he states: “I see my life as a large canvas of opportunity, so each day I create a masterpiece. My art expresses my feelings about my life and the world around me.”
Washington co-founded Harambee Art Gallery in 2011 and serves as its executive director. Through the gallery, he has established several artistic mentor programs, projects and exhibitions including The Pop Up Place.
The Harambee Art Gallery is located inside The Shape Community Center, 3903 Almeda Rd. The gallery houses a full array of original paintings, sculptures, multimedia artwork and art furniture. The gallery has many off-site spaces, including HTV Studios at Houston City Hall.
If you are wondering what "harambee" means like I was, it is Swahili, Kenya’s national language, and means, "Let us all pull together.” That is quite literally what Washington has done.
With a veritable small army of team members, the Harambee Art Gallery and Washington’s goal has been to create a platform for artists to discover their full potential, creativity and the joy of environment-conscious artistic practices.
This year Harambee Art Gallery created Harambee KONNECT. Its mission is to collaborate with local and international artists, promote the awareness and appreciation for arts and culture and create economic stimulation in the communities.
Follow The Pop Up Place on Instagram, www.instagram.com/thepopupplace, to see the current public events. Harambee Art Gallery has information on its website, https://www.harambeeartgalleryhtx.com, with all the other projects.
Cohen is an artist and founder of the First Saturday Arts Market and the Market at Sawyer Yards. Find him at ArtValet.com for additional highlights and artist’s stories.