I get a lot of weird looks from my friends who live in other states when I proudly declare that I love living in Houston. They simply can't fathom it. The concrete? The traffic? The pollution?
I know, I know.
But I live in The Heights. I live in a neighborhood chock-full of inspiring, amazing, creative, and innovative people like Andrea Grover (and that pithy list doesn't even do her justice).
Andrea is the "curator, artist, writer, etc." behind Aurora Picture Show. When I try to tell people that H-town is quirky, I cite the Art Car Museum, The Orange Show, and Aurora Picture Show (and the presidential busts, even though I have no idea what those are all about).
Andrea didn't start with the vision to spearhead the microcinema movement in Houston. It just sort of happened that way.
She was born in Oceanside, New York, and studied art at Syracuse University. She continued her studies in Chicago and then in New York. After graduating, she applied to the Core Program at the Museum of Fine Arts for a two-year residency.
During that time, her "fondness for Houston" grew, and she couldn't ignore the incredibly priced real estate that her artist friends were gobbling up. They were buying homes and studios, something that would have been nearly impossible back in her home state.
A friend of hers showed her an old church that was for sale in The Heights for a whopping $49,000. At the time, it was still an operating Church of Christ. Andrea and her boyfriend "fell in love" with the history and obvious personalization of the church. For example, knitted afghans graced the backs of pews and two lazy boy chairs were available at the back of the church for older members.
Simultaneously, she and her boyfriend started creating short films. It was the beginning of the digital video and desktop editing boom. Suddenly, making your own videos was very affordable. However, in the pre-YouTube days, there weren't a lot of venues open to filmmakers. They realized that their new home would be the perfect theater, and Aurora Picture Show was born.
When it came time to promote their first show, they had no mailing list and "no sense of how to market." They sent out 50 zeroxed postcards and hoped for the best. To their delight, a 100 people came. Apparently, the microcinema movement was gaining momentum, and they were a part of it.
Andrea explains that being part of the microcinema movement in the late '90s was like a "return to the early days of cinema." She describes "an audible response to what people saw on the screen" and explains that it was "much more social."
Over the years, Aurora had a couple big media moments, like being featured on national PBS and the Sundance Channel. After ten years of ongoing success, it became apparent that Aurora had staying power.
However, Andrea says that "Houston loves novelty," and the Aurora road shows started showing better attendance. Since then, the theater has moved out of the old church and now screenings take place at the Menil or Discovery Green or at truly offbeat locations like junkyards and breweries.
Currently, Andrea no longer runs Aurora Picture Show, but she still plays an honorary role and helps "a little behind the scenes." She still lives in The Heights and says she likes the way "the culture...spills out onto the streets." She finds the neighborhood to be "very cooperative" and helpful. She explains, "I grew up on Long Island, where we didn't make eye contact with our neighbors, even though the houses are closer than they are here."
She frequents 19th Street and Shade for happy hours and went through a period where she tried to do all her shopping within a mile of her home.
Spending an hour with Andrea reaffirmed that I love living in The Heights. Andrea cites this quote from Jonas Mekas as the reason why she founded Aurora Picture Show:
I am so thankful to have neighbors with interesting passions and the courage to follow them.
In the times of bigness, spectaculars, one hundred million dollar movie productions, I want to speak for the small, invisible acts of human spirit: so subtle, so small, that they die when brought out under the clean lights. I want to celebrate the small forms of cinema: the lyrical form, the poem, the watercolor, etude, sketch, portrait, arabesque, and bagatelle, and little 8mm songs. In the times when everybody wants to succeed and sell, I want to celebrate those who embrace social and daily failure to pursue the invisible, the personal things that bring no money and no bread and make no contemporary history, art history or any other history. I am for art which we do for each other, as friends.