by Sarah Stevens
Some of you may know me as the ex-Fiscal Sponsorship Manager of Fresh Arts. Earlier this year, I left Houston (and sadly Fresh Arts), to move back to my native England. Last Friday, I returned to Houston for a two-week visit, and you better believe that even after a 10 hour flight I headed straight to Winter Street Studios, and greeted WHAM like an old friend, with open arms.
Well over a decade ago, WHAM emerged as a pioneer in the art market scene, replacing the well-loved Glassell holiday market and bringing much-needed footfall to the fledgling Winter Street Studios. The first year, however, was not all smooth sailing. In 2015, we interviewed original WHAM artists to celebrate 10 years of the event. Print-maker David Webb described the first year as "not exactly a disaster", while ceramic artist Betsy Evans, who has participated in every one of the 13 markets, recalled year-one as being "SLOW". However, she continued: "the intentions were good, I think initially people didn’t know what Winter Street was, and they were really nervous about going there. Over the course of time Winter Street and the arts district has developed a phenomenal reputation and become such a major force in Houston. With the force of Fresh Arts behind it, more exposure, and better quality artists, WHAM has just continued to grow too".
Indeed, since its grassroots beginnings, WHAM has grown exponentially - generating over $1 million for the Houston arts community, and showcasing hundreds of local artists. For 13 years, a team of (at most) five Fresh Arts staff, along with amazing volunteers from the Houston community, have pulled off one of the largest and longest running art markets in Houston. We will be forever grateful to the 700 or so artists who have participated; our loyal volunteer-base who have donated their time to making paper snowflakes, untangling Christmas lights, and mixing our signature WHAM-O cocktail; the many sponsors, musicians, and food vendors; and of course the thousands of people who have walked through the doors year after year.
Looking back on the final iteration of WHAM, Fresh Arts' Programs and Services Manager Angela Carranza noted that the post-event breakdown this year was tinged with sadness, as the reality of "The Last WHAM" set in. However, although our ever-evolving WHAM family of artists will not be back at Winter Street Studios next November, their paths will I'm sure cross again at other markets. Fresh Arts can’t take all the credit, but WHAM certainly played a part in paving the way for other markets that now give Houston artisans almost unlimited opportunities to sell their work directly to the public throughout the year. It is for this reason, that after 13 years, this gentle giant can retire, happy in the knowledge that WHAM has done what it set out to do.
Like most, I am sad to say goodbye, but excited to see what comes next. Rest easy, old friend.