Houston is usually thought of as a land of oil rigs, cowboy hats, and livestock shows to people outside its city limits. But inside the Inner Loop, there are innovative, savvy entrepreneurs and influencers who are helping define the city’s arts and culture community.
We teamed up with Budweiser to spotlight three such people in the worlds of art, fashion, and music -- all of whom are making sure that striking, diverse art, entertainment, and creativity flows within the Lone Star State’s largest city.
Mark Austin: The Band Manager
A decade ago, Louisiana-born Mark C. Austin was just a pale, red-headed accountant and aspiring photographer, living in Houston. One night, he went to a record-release party thrown by local indie-rock group The Tontons. “I started asking them if I could take their picture, and then I started offering to help on things and yada-yada…” Austin recalls. “Next thing you know, I’m managing them. It was never intentional.”
The long-bearded Austin, now 40, has since upgraded his life from a 9-to-5 numbers-cruncher to owner of the Convoy Group, a music management and promotions company. Along with The Tontons, he also manages The Suffers (who had a memorable performance on David Letterman’s show right before he retired in 2015), Wrestlers, Say Girl Say, Romina Von Mohr, and other Houston-based artists. Austin also works with breweries, festivals, and media outlets to put on events -- booking up to 150 shows a month -- for his bands and others. “All around, we’re looking to be the conduit between opportunities and the musicians who deserve them,” he says. “It’s kind of a bang-for-the-buck business.”
With Convoy, Austin is looking to build an empire that’ll hopefully inspire others to take the same risky, but ultimately fulfilling, career leap that he did. “The intention is to foster the community, and not necessarily the music scene,” he says. “I want more people to quit working meaningless day jobs if they’re talented musicians. So empowering them with opportunities -- the right opportunities -- is one of our biggest goals.”
GONZO247: The Graffiti Artist
Graffiti artist Mario Figueroa (better known as GONZO247) calls himself “the last man holding down the fort” over at Aerosol Warfare, the downtown Houston alternative-arts organization that’s been around since the ’90s.
Warfare began as a collective of graffiti and street artists, working “to give the average person the opportunity to experience what this art form has to offer,” as Figueroa, a native Houstonian, says. But as other artists moved on to greener pastures, Figueroa, now 45, kept the doors open for spray-painting hopefuls to come in and create. “A lot of them had their first show at Aerosol Warfare,” he says. “A lot of them cut their teeth through our gallery walls and figured out, you know, how that whole system worked.”
Thanks to Warfare, the once-renegade world of street art is now just another part of the Houston cultural scene. “I feel great that Aerosol Warfare was able to forge that path to allow what’s happening today [to] happen,” Figueroa says. The collective’s typical projects focus on making and spotlighting vibrant urban art through installations, video productions, and collaborative events such as the Houston Urban Experience (HUE) Mural Festival this November, which will feature murals from artists locally and around the world. “The goal is to be able to bring more art to the city streets, bring more color to the visual landscape, or to create that visual tapestry for the city through murals and mural production,” he says.
But Figueroa has also been taking time out to work on more GONZO247 productions, using Warfare’s downtown space as his personal studio. “My art always took a backseat, because I was promoting someone else or selling other people’s art,” he says. “So now, I’m giving attention to myself at the same rate I was giving [it to] other people.”
Josh Robertson: The Fashion Designer/Stylist
“I love fashion,” says Josh Robertson, 27, a self-proclaimed “lifestyle ambassador” who is making major moves in Space City. For Robertson, his love affair with fashion started when he was a kid growing up in Port Arthur, Texas, going on shopping trips with his mom. “I’m the youngest of five, so she would do all the shopping for all five of the kids at one time,” he recalls. “[Since] I was the youngest... I always had to go.” While he hated it at first, he soon began to enjoy the outings, especially once he started picking out clothes for himself.
In 2005, his family moved to Houston when Hurricane Rita forced them to evacuate their home. He eventually enrolled in the Art Institute of Houston with dreams of becoming a fashion designer, but he dropped out after a semester. (“I couldn’t cut it,” he says.) Despite not earning a degree, today Robertson boasts his own line of leather jackets for men called Rebel Wishes, inspired by his search to find jackets in colors other than black. “I really liked the challenge of me pulling off a pink leather jacket,” he says.
Robertson is always working on matters of style, whether it’s blogging, updating his website, collaborating and consulting with clothing brands, or picking out duds for people like Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas. Even though Houston is more about the oil and gas industries than fashion, Robertson is out to inspire locals to get into the sartorial groove. “There’s nothing like having yourself put together, whether your clothes are from Wal-Mart or your clothes are from Tom Ford. It doesn’t matter,” he says. “As long as you have a presence or confidence about what you’re wearing, it just carries you over.”