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Doing Things Differently

Doing Things Differently

Installation view of Emily Peacock, Soft Diet, at Hello Project Gallery.

Jon Hopson, the owner of Houston gallery Hello Project on the Houston arts scene, busting through silos and his new kind of art gallery.

A+C:  Tell us a little about you, specifically your background in the Houston scene and what else you’re involved in.

JON HOPSON:  I have been in the scene in Houston for several years and in several different capacities and each of those capacities, I feel, have prepared me for the work and responsibility of opening Hello Project Gallery.

I started with a then small, private art installation company here in Houston. I moved on to working in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston for a couple years before moving on to the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston, where I helped facilitate national and international artist exhibitions. After my time there I was approached to manage a private art collection in town, which I still maintain today.

In addition to my professional experience, I am married to an amazing artist, whose day job is as the Assistant Director of a Houston art gallery. Her career provides a unique insight on working with artists and her job allows me to see how galleries are run and what not to do.

Hello Project is new on the Houston scene. What made you want to open a space of your own?

I saw an opportunity to do things differently – to try and do them better than they had been done in the past; to break free of tired models of what a gallery should be; and what gallery-artist relationships look like.

Hello Project came from a moment of aligned stars. About 9 months ago, I was speaking with Roni McMurtrey (McMurtrey Gallery) about her gallery and the state of Houston galleries in general. Within a week that conversation evolved into rearranging her storage space to free up the room that is now Hello Project Gallery. Next thing I knew I was getting a DBA and the gallery was born.

What differentiates Hello Project from everyone else? What do Houston audiences and collectors expect from you that they don’t see/get elsewhere?  Give us the pitch.

I want everyone to be awesome: artist, writers, other galleries, museums, publications – everyone! Really.

Hello Project comes from a place where things in Houston felt tired and not fresh nor particularly engaging. Everything felt rather closed off, guarded, self-centered – niched.

I feel like closed circles limit everyone. I view no other gallery or institution as competition. I want to open the circles of our community both in Texas and beyond and work to join them together. I wanted to start a gallery that was not limited by a specific curatorial theme or mission statement that constrained my vision as a gallerist. I simply want to do one thing and do it well and that is to find artists I believe in and create amazing exhibitions with their work. I want my space to be a thoughtful mixture where commercial white cube meets controversial alternative programming. I want to show great artists who may not be known or may not feel that they belong yet. I want them and the community around them to feel welcomed. That is Hello Project Gallery.

I also wanted to show everyone what a gallery can be when you give it your all. That’s it. Give it your all. “Just do it.” No excuses. Just work. Let’s all work. Let’s all be better.

Do you function like a traditional gallery? Or does Hello Project represent artists more informally?

Hello Project Gallery does not represent artists, rather it seeks to foster artists. Take for example our January exhibition with Emily Peacock. I asked her to have an exhibition last March, before the space was even renovated. She was in the middle of a residence and had an upcoming show on her plate. I saw the opportunity to really build something together so we set the date for January of this year. I gave her space to finish what she was working on. Then through correspondence and serial studio visits, we worked to develop a strong, cohesive body of new work specifically for exhibition in the space.

The idea is to help artists put their best foot forward and shine a light on that effort – a name in lights moment where, with that best foot forward, someone sees them who might otherwise not, and hopefully they move forward to bigger and better things.

How do you decide who you’re going to show? What do you personally look for in a young artist?

Part of my effort for the gallery is to go to as many events and openings as possible – repping the gallery but also just engaging with as much as possible. Some weeks I am at something every night. In doing so I meet a lot of artists and people in the art community. Some of those, I see their work and ask for a studio visit. Some artists that I visit I will also ask them to have a show.

From this, people are learning who I am and what I am doing. There is nothing more reassuring than going somewhere and meeting someone I have never met who has heard of Hello Project.

Plans for the future? I know you’re more or less sharing space, do youplan on growing or do you see Hello Project as more temporary or fluid?

To be clear, I do not share a space.

I sublet a room in a long-standing gallery and it is that low overhead that allows me take bigger risks and have more fun. From the beginning Hello Project Gallery has been about creating a needed space in the community and will continue to grow to be what it needs to be.

I have found what I love and it seems that others love what I am doing!

Finally, tell us about the name. Why Hello Project?

The name is lifted from a Japanese idol project, the umbrella name for a collective of female pop singers who are all vying for stardom, and yet, work creatively together.  I thought the name spoke well to what I wanted the space to be – a fun introduction, a new hello.