The Sun Never Sets on Aurora Picture Show

Thea Liberty Nichols: On my first trip to Houston several years ago, I was able to visit Aurora Picture Show in its previous converted-church location. There was a palpable sense of community amongst the viewers gathered in the room that night, and I know since then your microcinema’s appeal has only grown. Can you tell us a little more about how Aurora Picture Show has embraced its present nomad-ism and translated it into the opportunity for successful collaborations with a number of host sites around Houston and beyond?

"Aurora Picture Show was originally based out of a former church building in the Heights, but now programs in unique settings all over Houston."

Delicia Harvey: Yes, as you may remember, our original location was also the home of our founder, Andrea Grover, and when she decided to retire and move her family to the East Coast, there was a mutual decision by the Board and staff to embrace our new library location (which is located across the street from the Menil Collection) and begin to program nomadically around the city.  Taking programming out of the church and into the community allowed us to reach audiences we had not before, create unmatched events at locations that were completely site-specific to a performance or screening (such as Luke Savisky’s E/X), and improve and expand our collaborations with all the other arts organizations in the city.  It has really improved our attendance and we have found that audiences seek out and enjoy the events that match a site to the screening content.

Screening from the backyard of Aurora Picture Show's library location, 1524 Sul Ross, Houston, TX.

TLN: Since its inception, Aurora Picture Show has focused on screening documentaries, shorts, and avant-garde artist-made films. As artists’ usage of available technology has expanded, so has your programming, which now encompasses other moving image technologies and multimedia events. Can you tell us more about the impact of this media on your programming and how you use tools like the Internet and streaming video to further Aurora Picture Show’s mission?

DH: For the past eight years, Aurora has presented a festival entitled Media Archeology, which focuses on artists using electronic media of the past and present in live performance.  Past artists have included Cory Archangel, Yacht, My Robot Friend, Shana Moulton, Tara Mateik, Brent Green, Negativland, and many others.  Recent versions of the festival include a number of live cinema performances, which we would like to do more of year-round, however, costs are usually prohibitive so we find ways to partner with other organizations to bring in artists we would like to work with.  For instance, we are working with a Houston Cinema Arts Society to bring in Braden King’s performance of Here this November.  In terms of how we use the Internet, we have just begun live streaming of our video salon discussions and recording workshops so we reach people who cannot attend. We hope to exhibit/distribute more work online in the future and this year have applied for funding for two projects in 2012 that use audience participation through the Internet as a large part of their project. So, we hope to use it more that way should funding allow.

TLN: I admire how Aurora Picture Show incorporates artistic output into every element of its being– from logo design, to creation of its film festival trailers, to being mindful of artists honorariums and rights to reproduce, to opportunities for visiting artists to interact with local viewers and makers. Alongside these activities for emerging and established artists, how do you foster the creation of new work and engage the audiences who view it?

DH: Aurora’s mission from the beginning was to provide a place for emerging film and video artists to show their work and to pay them for it when there were few existing places to do so (no YouTube back then).  This is still the core of the mission in terms of supporting artists by providing a place for exhibition and providing honorariums.  We have expanded in a number of ways —  through partnering with DiverseWorks ArtSpace, which has allowed us a small installation gallery for a program called Flickerlounge in addition to our screenings, as well as through a re-granting program in partnership with DiverseWorks and Project Row Houses called The Idea Fund, which is funded by the Warhol Foundation.  We also work with local artists to pay them for teaching some of the media literacy workshops that we do in schools, libraries, and other community centers. Our Extremely Shorts Film Festival, entering its fifteenth year, has been an important avenue for emerging filmmakers and video artists to get their work seen in front of a noted curator, and it is open to artists of all ranges of experience.  One of the prize winners this year was in middle school.  Also, our youth education initiatives expose a new generation to experimental film and hopefully help foster future film and video makers at the same time.

Screening at Discovery Green Park in downtown Houston.

Delicia Harvey is the Executive Director of Aurora Picture Show. The product of a South African and a Texan, Delicia Harvey balances BBQ with high tea just fine. So, she was naturally a good fit for the sequin-wearing founder of Aurora, Andrea Grover, when she came to the microcinema three years ago as Associate Director. Appointed Executive Director in December 2007, Harvey has over ten years experience in the non-profit art field, and previously served as Public Relations Manager for the Alley Theatre for seven years. She also worked with the independent film theatre chain Landmark Theatre Corporation, and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s film department. She has an MA in Public Communications from Fordham University and a BA from University of California, San Diego. She lives with her husband John, their beautiful son Wynn (spoken like a mom), and their cairn terrier Margot (think Toto) in the Houston Heights.

All images courtesy of Aurora Picture Show.