My Montrose: Dr. Kheli Willetts, Art League Houston
Dr. Kheli Willetts was recently named the new Executive Director of Art League Houston. She previously worked as Professor of African American Studies and Executive Director of the Community Folk Art Center at Syracuse University.
Congratulations on the job! Why did you decide to take the position with Art League Houston?
They have a great affinity with the center I just left at Syracuse University. They do community work through their schools program and their healing art program, but they also have a strong exhibition program. They interrogate issues that matter to people, whether they’re active in the arts or not. And they have this wonderful school where people are able to take art classes with master artisans. It’s a real gem. There aren’t many institutions that started out as artist guilds that evolved into what Art League Houston is—maybe one or two in the country. So I saw it as a really exciting opportunity.
Where do you see opportunities for ALH to grow?
As with anything, it’s about expanding opportunities and enhancing what they already have. I mean, they’ve been around for about 70 years. So they’ve got something really, really right. What I feel I have is an opportunity to expand what they’re already offering, enhance what they’re doing, and finding a way to continue reflecting what’s going on around us in Houston, Texas, nationally, and internationally.
How does being in Montrose shape ALH’s mission and identity?
I think it’s wonderful reflection of Montrose, in terms of its diversity. What’s special about Montrose is that it has space for everyone. It feels a little like Greenwich Village in New York City—if you walk far enough and ask the right person, you’re going to find what you’re looking for, no matter how off-center or unusual it is. There’s something special about institutions and neighborhoods that give people the creative freedom to be exactly who they are. And I feel like the Montrose District is like this.
What are your favorite things to do in Montrose?
Eating! And I also love just walking around the neighborhood. I come from the East Coast, and we walk a lot. So although I haven’t been here long, and haven’t had an opportunity to fully engage with Montrose, I do find it really peaceful. Whether you’re looking for something trendy or off the beaten path, that’s the place to go. I know what community feels like, and this is a community.
Where does ALH fit into the Houston arts ecosystem?
It’s a place that fills a gap, that serves as an alternative space for people who might be interested in art but are new to it. It’s affordable and accessible. And it’s also a place where you get to see artists who in the next few years will be in major shows and collections. People forget that superstars start in regular neighborhoods. Genius comes from next door. And Art League Houston is one of those place where you can not only see it but be it.
Art League Houston. 1953 Montrose Blvd. 713-523-9530. artleaguehouston.org