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Zine Fest Houston Empowers UH Alumni and Local Independent Creatives

Co-organized by arts Leadership alumna María-Elisa Heg, the festival highlighted food as a vehicle for collaboration and connectivity.

This year’s Zine Fest Houston (ZFH), a creative event that promotes zines and other forms of DIY art, was all about food. And for good reason. Houston is known for its impressive culinary scene — one that, dare we say, rivals that of New York — where you can try dishes from practically every corner of the world.  

UH M.A. in Arts Leadership (MAAL) alumna and ZFH co-organizer María-Elisa Heg says the theme of “Zine Cuisine” felt like a natural fit for Houston because of the city’s culinary diversity. It also sets the table for programming opportunities before, during and even after the festival. 

“We knew food would be an exciting theme for many in our creative community,” says Heg, who leads ZFH’s marketing and grant writing efforts. “We have an upcoming pop-up fundraiser on September 21, which features hand-pulled noodles and a special zine. This is a creative collaboration that came to be thanks to our theme.” The event, dubbed Noodles & Zines, will run from 2 – 7 p.m. at Decatur Bar & Pop-Up Factory.  

Like food, community and engagement was central to this year’s festival. Drawing in almost 1,400 attendees and over 90 vendors, ZFH offered participants the chance to take part in in collaborative zine-making workshops and compelling food-related panels. The annual celebration also gave nearly 100 emerging independent zinesters, many of whom were either local artists or UH alumni, the chance to interact with and showcase their work to the Houston creative community. This exchange exemplified this year’s theme of food — a vehicle for collaboration, connectivity and commerce.

Inside Lawndale Art Center’s 2019 ZFH event, attendees came across booths featuring zines, mini-comics and other alternative DIY media by many artists like Emily Halbardier and Erik Sultze. The two, who’ve been a part of ZFH for five years now and were this year’s featured artists, said the festival is one of the biggest events they sell their works at. 

“Over the last three to four years, we’ve become recognizable people for our works at Zine Fest Houston,” said Halbardier, a UH alumna who majored in painting and minored in art history. “They’ll come back for more of the works we exhibited here, which opens up more opportunities for our work.”

Halbardier and Sultze, who head The Center for Imaginative Cartography & Research (CICR), a creative studio, agree that food has such a strong connection to Houston’s community and commerce. This is why the two say this year’s festival theme meshed well with ZFH’s mission: to connect independent artists to the greater community and, in turn, fund the artists’ creative visions and career.

Heg’s time in the MAAL program gave her the tools she needed to further ZFH’s mission. Before MAAL, ZFH never earned a grant beyond gallery Homeland’s Sunday Soup micro grant, which relied on a lightning pitch, or a short presentation, instead of a grant writing proposal. As a MAAL student, she put her skills to the test and was awarded the Houston Arts Alliance Festival Grant in 2018.

“Knowing how to approach writing grants on a professional level, which I learned during my first year in the MAAL program, really gave us the ability to convey to the world the value and importance of our organization,” Heg says.

The festival will return in 2020 with new artists. In the meantime, the organization will promote upcoming events in November like Comix Gauntlet, a seven-hour comic creating venue on November 16 at Alabama Song where participants will have seven hours to make a seven-paged comic and ultimately showcase their original works in an art exhibition. ZFH will also be a part of the Cornu-COPIUS Recipe Zine Potluck on November 10 at the Montrose Center, demonstrating community, creativity and opportunity. 

“We’ll continue to work on making our festivals as comfortable and accessible as possible for our community,” Heg says. “We can’t wait to see what the future brings!”