Written by Michael Alan Basham, Photographed by Sharis DeJaynes
Forty years ago when things were just starting to coalesce on the Strand and in Galveston for working artists, there were only a couple dozen of us. We attempted to unite under one organization, or identity, and we had some success in networking and developing exhibits. I was a Designer at The University of Texas Medical Branch in those days, and I took it upon myself to be the organizer. We achieved a number of goals, and one of them was to adopt or create a permanent venue for socializing, hosting exhibits, live art, guest speakers, demonstrations, and poetry readings. In short, a “home” for us working stiffs, for people who actually earn their living daily in one of the arts. The best we could do was to bounce around from place to place, and the group eventually disbanded.
Fast forward to 2015, and enter one Becky Major, a member of The Commission for The Arts for the City of Galveston. Major has been Creative Director for Artspace’s National Hotel Artist’s Lofts, 2221 Market St., since 2008. Artspace is a nonprofit corporation based in Minneapolis, MN, which owns many similar structures around the nation, including Houston’s old Jefferson Davis Hospital where working artists can live affordably and network with others of like mind in promoting all facets of the arts. Major, originally property manager for the building, is a force of nature. As such, she has been involved in many an art effort. She is very pragmatic, approaching every exhibit, or gathering, with an optimistic eye upon what could be. A detailed organizer and motivator, she was recently awarded the appellation of “Visionary” as the Bronze Award recipient of Galveston.com’s Best of Awards.
Some may remember Quizno’s, the sandwich shop that once occupied the 1896 E.S. Levy Building, known also as the original opera house, but known even more so as “The Weather Building,” where Galveston Meteorologist Isaac Cline’s national weather bureau was located at the time of The 1900 Storm and Disaster. The former sandwich shop has been slowly and painstakingly redeveloped into one of the Arts Community’s new haunts, The Proletariat, heralding in a new age for this generation of Galveston artists.
Major, who grew up close by in Santa Fe, is quick to note that continuing to develop the Artspace and The Proletariat “have become her heart and soul.” Her hard work and tireless energy are paying off in a big way. Not just for Major and her partners in The Proletariat, but for the entire Galveston Arts community. “There was an open lofts tour scheduled for January 16th, 2016 and we had 8 studios so far by the residents of The National Hotel Artist’s Lofts,” said Major. Becky Major’s contagious enthusiasm for Galveston, its history, and its arts community is the first impression many newcomers to the local art scene encounter. Her tireless volunteer efforts continue to connect a diverse range of artists and patrons, Galvestonians, and tourists, plus regional and international art organizations.
So far The Proletariat has hosted a very well attended “Open Mic” poetry reading and several live art shows, where local artist Catherine Stroud was featured painting her impressions of the patrons at the event. A very impressive 103 different beers and ales, wine and 3rd Coast Kombucha are offered in the spacious artist’s venue as well.
For those unfamiliar with the name, The Proletariat is a term for the class of wage-earners (especially industrial workers), in a capitalist society, whose only possession of significant material value is their labor-power (their ability to work); a member of such a class is a proletarian.
Finally, there is a home – an epicenter for the diverse talent that comprises The Galveston Artists Community – The Proletariat…a place for serious artists, and a great place for enjoying the rewards of being an artists and living the dream. It’s a special place and a boon for the arts on Galveston Island.
The Proletariat is located at 2221 Market St., downtown Galveston, www.proletariatgallery.com.