Houston’s Third Ward carries some of the city’s richest history. But in recent years, the historically Black neighborhood is also the site of extensive gentrification. Now, Third Ward’s Black community faces a wave of displacement. Yet voices have emerged to shine a light on the history being erased in the name of forward expansion.
Enter multi-disciplinary artist Marc Newsome, aka Marc Furi, who grew up and lives in Third Ward. His work depicts the neighborhood with acuity and authenticity like a documentary about the life of the late Dr. Thomas F. Freeman, the esteemed head coach of the Texas Southern University Debate Team. And the TréPhonos project captured the neighborhoods sounds, oral histories, and music which can be heard via decommissioned public pay phones in Third Ward.
We talk with Newsome about his local inspiration, the preservation of Houston’s Black history, and his call to action for Texas arts organizations.
Describe the city of Houston in three words.
Food. Sprawling. Flat.
How would you describe the Houston arts community?
It’s an interesting community in that there are no systemic limits imposed on what artists can create. Arts organizations like Houston Arts Alliance, Art League Houston, DiverseWorks, FreshArts have been great with taking risks on artists via distributing and providing arts funding opportunities, free education opportunities, and providing spaces where artists can show their work.
What do you think is the biggest asset of the Houston arts community?
The creativity of artists is the biggest asset for without us there would be no arts infrastructure. We make the work. We create the energy and character of the arts. Many of artists know each other and are encouraged by each other’s work development.
Who are your favorite local artists? Who should we be following and supporting?
Some of my favorite local artists are: Angelbert Metoyer, Israel McCloud, Trenton Doyle Hancock and his wife JooYoung Choi, Mich(ael) Stevenson, Robert Hodge, Tierney Malone, Delita Pinchback-Martin, Dominic Clay, Rabea Ballin, Ann ‘Sole Sister’ Johnson, Brian Ellison, and Lovie Olivia. I never miss their Houston shows. They are all profound, amazing, and innovative in their approaches to their crafts.
Describing what I love about each’s work would be a hefty addition to this article. Therefore, I have listed the names and encourage everyone reading to look them up and follow their careers.
What do you value most about your current work?
I’m fascinated by the authentic history and culture of an area. My focus has been Third Ward, Houston. I feel it’s the cultural epicenter of Houston. As a youth, I lived here; as a college student I was here. As an adult, I became a homeowner here.
Currently going through the socio-economic changes due to gentrification, I’ve witnessed firsthand the old cultural and historic ways dissolve with the passing of elders in the community. A lot of the historic businesses are being demolished or have been altered completely. Townhomes are spreading in place of the traditional homes. So, I take an aesthetic approach to documenting places which have gone or will be gone in the near future. I’ve recorded the stories of community elders; I’ve made short-form documentaries. I’ve taken landscape images and used satire in public art projects as an emotional translation of the dissolving culture.
What do you consider the greatest career achievement, so far?
My efforts with the I Love 3rd Ward Project. What started as an art installation at Project Row Houses for Round 47, ultimately did what no other Project Rowhouse art installation had accomplished prior — I created an entire brand from it.
It was a big hit with the community and on social media. The initial installation had a hand-painted mural I designed of a satirized monopoly board with motifs transposed to represent the gentrification of Third Ward. Inspired by Barkley Hendricks’ 2010 show at the CAMH, where he sold t-shirts based on his Superman piece, I created t-shirts based on the motifs of the installation.
I went on to do pop-up shops, selling all sorts of items based on the installation including shirts, beach towels, buttons, hats, mugs etc.
In front of the installation I recorded stories of community members and asked the question: what did they love about Third Ward? I posted these short-form documentaries on social media and had them playing at my I Love 3rd Ward art exhibit Art League Houston where I also showed my Third Ward landscape photography printed on metal sheets to offer a sense of permanence. I sold half my show. College students were writing their papers about me including a University of Houston PhD candidates’ dissertation. I am proud of what I accomplished and it felt good that the public embraced it like it did.
How do you want to see the statewide Texas arts community evolve?
The artist community is fine. The arts community infrastructure needs to continue to evolve though. Local artists work should be valued and taken seriously as much as any other artists around the globe. Houston artists should not have to leave Houston to be successful.
Houston is still pretty celebrity and popularity driven. Artists should be promoted in media like any other popular creative industry. Artists making profound art should be just as valid as anything else newsworthy. Artists should be household names.
What do you do on a day off?
When I’m not working, I cook, meditate, practice self-care, reconnect with good friends and occasionally I’ll watch a TV show. During prolonged shelter in place times. I had the most authentic conversations with friends I hadn’t talked to enough before the pandemic. I did a lot of Face Timing; something I never did before.
We would talk about our emotional states and how events were affecting us. We would discuss our hopes and fears. It was freeing to have those conversations. Before COVID-19, we were all mostly trying to uphold images of ourselves. It allowed us to become more authentic.
Despite it all, the quarantine became a healthy reset for us.
Israel McCloud I Love 3rd Ward from marc furi on Vimeo.