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Pink for a Passion

Mia Sharp’s personality is as bright as her cotton candy blue and electric neon pink hair. But even without the avant-garde wig she’s wearing, it wouldn’t be hard to spot the high school junior or feel the energy radiating from her when she smiles.

Mia Sharp, one of the models in the hair show, is also a bright teenager battling an inoperable brain tumor.

“It’s just motivational,” Mayra Sharp, Mia’s mother said. “She just reminds you that you can’t let this thing bring your life to a stop.”

That “thing” Sharp is talking about is cancer. 16-year-old Mia is battling pilocytic astrocytoma, or a brain tumor. It’s inoperable but that hasn’t broken her spirit or deterred her from playing tennis and managing to sing in a blues band through treatment.

“She’s not shy. She likes for girls to accept themselves for who they are and that’s part of her,” Sharp said.

That confidence was clear as Mia took the stage to model for the Visible Changes’ artistic team during the salon’s Fashion for a Passion gala October 15.

I was proud to be a part of the event as an emcee.  The gala, held at Momentum BMW Southwest, was the company’s first fundraiser aimed at expanding its Thair For You program – a free service that gives any woman fighting cancer, regardless of whether she’s a client, a custom wig that is styled to fit her. According to Visible Changes co-founder, Maryanne McCormack, the salon has given more than 2,000 wigs since it started in 2011 and last year alone helped more than 750 women.

McCormack with daughter Meagan, who not only owns the company, but is its Chief Happiness Officer
McCormack with daughter Meagan, who not only owns the company, but is its Chief Happiness Officer

McCormack knows first-hand the value of feeling beautiful inside and out. In 2009, McCormack was diagnosed with cancer. That’s when she got the idea for Thair For You.

McCormack is now cancer-free and so is long-time Visible Changes client, Olivia Kaufman, who found out she had stage 2 breast cancer last year when she was just 26-years-old.

“When you get diagnosed with cancer you feel as though you’ve lost control of everything that’s happening in your life,” Kaufman says. “You’ve got a disease in your body that you can’t control. There are things changing, things happening to your body that you can’t stop.”

But one day helped change that, putting her on the path to getting her power back. Kaufman says she was sitting in the chemo infusion chair when a Visible Changes logo caught her eye. It was part of a poster describing Thair For You.

The next day she called her stylist at the salon that cut off 16 inches of her hair, which was donated.

“I was really scared about being bald, but they made me feel beautiful when it felt impossible,” Kaufman says.

Olivia Kaufman found out she had breast cancer at 26. She’s now a survivor and raises awareness for early detection.

Kaufman told me she has the same genetic mutation, BRCA1, as Angelina Jolie Pitt, who had a preventive double mastectomy.

As a breast cancer survivor, Kaufman says she’s now raising awareness by encouraging people – especially those with a family history of cancer – to get tested for the disease earlier in life.

Kaufman shared her story at the inaugural gala, which raised a little over $19,000. All proceeds went to Thair For You. To find out more about the program, go here.

The fundraiser also included a fashion show with looks provided by Sloan/Hall, who was also a sponsor.

All photography is courtesy of Kristen Eide. Click here to learn more.




Demo: Deputy Darren Goforth Memorial

Deputy Darren Goforth’s death shook a community and I think you could really say — the nation. I’ve never seen complete strangers rally behind this man’s family the way the public has.

What was it that made everyone respond the way they did? Was it the way he was killed? The community’s outpouring of support has been stunning and it was clearly evidenced at the gas station the day this story was shot.

It was the first time that I’d been on a hard news assignment like this one. Even seeing the blue ribbons on the trees as we approached the gas station where the deputy was killed gave me chills. In that moment, everything that I’d heard about the story in the news (and written about it since I WORK in news) had become reality. The massive memorial was no longer just video or pictures used as broll for VO or SOTVO. It was live, right in front of me, with literally hundreds of people shuffling in and out, to pay their respects, take a picture, or just get a glimpse of it.

The ringing theme that stuck out to me from those interviewed was the deputy’s death was senseless. That was what the people we spoke to said repeatedly, bringing some of them to tears. It was difficult to watch them cry or feel that sadness. But it also gave me a taste of what I may experience as a reporter and further confirmed why I want to be in this profession – to do the stories that have value, give meaning and show we’re all in this together.

Take a look at my demo below. This did not air. I wrote the script.


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Demo: Juneteenth Parade

Covering Juneteenth in Houston this year was a particularly emotional time because it was only a few days after alleged gunman Dylann Roof opened fire at an historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine of its members. While the Juneteenth Parade I went to featured the traditional sights such as marching bands and floats, groups also came through to use it as a platform for their own messages surrounding violence, the hope for peace, and the unrest between communities and law enforcement in the wake of the officer-involved shootings in places such as Ferguson.

I was really grateful for the opportunity to talk to the people involved in this story and get their perspective. Below is the package, which did not air, but could be used for my demo reel. I did write the script.

The event happened near Texas Southern University and ended at Project Row Houses.


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A Houston Homecoming

Getting back to the University of Houston was as much of a homecoming for me as it was for the person I was doing a story about that day. I hadn’t been back there since I graduated in 2013. The part that I went to, the Athletics/Alumni Center, was much like how I remembered it. The youth football camp hosted by Oakland Raiders cornerback and NFL star D.J. Hayden was held on the practice football field. That was just as fresh as I’d left it, too, having last been there for an actual practice when I was a production intern at CSN Houston. The new turf laid down there probably helps, but I digress.

Hayden came back to host his second annual camp and launch his foundation to see to it that kids who might not otherwise have the chance get to learn from a pro athlete.

If the atmosphere at the camp could be described in one word, I’d say it’s “family.” Well, maybe also “hot” because the sun was blazing even though the camp started early in the morning.

The full story is posted here on CultureMap. Or as always, you can get the scoop below. Enjoy! And are you ready for some football?


“Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go! I know we aren’t walking!” The commands blaring through the bullhorn are being well-received by the football players running onto the field at the University of Houston’s Athletics/Alumni Center.

The aspiring athletes quickly fall into formation, warming up with lunges, sprints and back pedal exercises. It’s only 8 in the morning, but it doesn’t take long for beads of sweat to start bubbling across the foreheads of this ambitious group of athletes.

But are they really listening to that voice coming through the bullhorn?

“Of course. They don’t have a choice. I’m very convincing,” Zachary McMillian says, with a smile.

It turns out McMillian is a close friend and former teammate of the man these 100 or so players are here to see – Oakland Raiders cornerback and former UH standout D.J. Hayden.

A few minutes later, they’re huddled around him as the NFL star opens the activities with a simple demand, “Work hard.  Make plays.”

It’s a theme summed up in a few words that would set the tone for the rest of the day at Hayden’s Second Annual Play Your Heart Out Football Camp.

The free camp gives kids ages 10-14 the opportunity to learn techniques and sharpen their skills on both sides of the ball, whether their dream is to be a starting quarterback or a linebacker.

“When I was younger, I didn’t really go to camps like this and I wasn’t a part of them,” Hayden says. “For me, to have it at the University of Houston, it’s just giving back.  For them to see me doing what I’m doing lets them know that they can do it, too.”

No doubt, boys like 13-year-old D.J. Pena have taken notice.

“It’s the first time I could see an NFL player up close. It’s good that he came from Oakland down to Houston to teach us kids how to play football,” Pena says.

The connection to Hayden could be closer than Pena and the other middle-school students at the camp might think.

The offensive and defensive drills they’re running on the practice football field are similar to what Hayden and his teammates were doing on the nearby Carl Lewis Field almost three years ago. The field was also the place of a serious accident where one moment could have been Hayden’s last.

“He went down and we didn’t think anything was wrong,” McMillian says. “We moved the drill up, we kept going and he was out there on the floor.”

On November 6, 2012, Hayden had suffered a life-threatening injury.  During a passing drill, a teammate had crashed into Hayden, accidentally hitting him in the chest with his knee. That collision would result in a torn inferior vena cava – the main vein that pumps blood from the lower half of the body to the heart.

The injury is typically 95 percent fatal and one that is often seen in high-speed car crashes. However, Hayden went on to make a full recovery, becoming a first round draft pick, selected by the Oakland Raiders in 2013.

Now two years later, Hayden is healthy and looking ahead to the start of the football season.

“OTAs (organized team activities) were great with the whole new coaching staff,” Hayden says. “With head coach Jack del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr., I feel like we’re going to do some special things this year.”

But before Hayden rejoins Raider Nation for training camp, he has some unfinished business to tend to at the home of the Cougars.

That’s because his camp also serves as the kickoff of his DJ Hayden Foundation.

“Whether it’s helping kids with clothes or anything they need, we’re just giving back to them,” Hayden says. “My foundation will be giving back to underprivileged kids, kids in the hospital with heart problems. We want to give them a solid foundation with everything.”

Current UH linebacker and camp volunteer Rasheed Tynes says he wouldn’t expect anything less from Hayden. And like many of the young men there to help, he also echoes a common sentiment.

“This is great. It’s what’s supposed to get done. Nobody helped me when I was younger. I always had to struggle and fight for everything I ever had, so it’s always good to find somebody and help them out,” Tynes said. “You’re never supposed to forget where you came from.”

The friends, relatives, UH players and staff surrounding the practice field probably wouldn’t let Hayden forget even if he tried.

That includes Andre Johnson, a family friend who says he watched the star cornerback grow up. He’s known Hayden since he was about 3 years old and says he was also the ring boy in his wedding. Johnson brought his son out to the camp, hoping he could pick up a thing or two from Hayden.

“It’s a good feeling knowing that he got this far, and God blessed him even during his injury,” Johnson said. “Every time he’s hurt or had difficulties, he’s still out there making it happen.”

Even though Johnson’s 13-year-old son, Avante, normally plays defensive back, he’s mixing it up at the camp, running fade routes as a wide receiver.

“I want to say thanks. It’s a good opportunity for me to get better and for players around me to get better,” Avante says.

He offers this advice to future players looking to join the camp next year.

“Do your best. Whatever you’re capable in, just play hard.”

Sound familiar?

“Just go out there and play your heart out,” Hayden says. “I see a lot of kids second-guess themselves because they don’t feel as athletic as some of the other ones.  But if they go out and give it their all, the sky is the limit.”


Project Runway Meets Chopped

My third story on CultureMap has finally made its debut. This time, I covered the designing duo behind Magpies and Peacocks, Sarah-Jayne Smith and Ahshia Berry. They take materials that would otherwise be headed to landfill and turn it into upcycled gold. Through a series of strategic moves, their goal is to transform and grow the fashion industry by giving emerging designers the raw tools they need to create and make a name for themselves.

Learn how they do it by checking out the article below.

You can also read it in its original format here.

Stay stylish!


Sarah-Jayne Smith and Ahshia Berry are running out of room in their Midtown warehouse. It’s like a fashion Candyland, stocked with clothing, jewelry, bags and furniture. “We have Salvatore Ferragamo handbags, Forever 21 handbags, vintage Dior cuff links, wedding gowns, costumes,” Smith says.

But pulling back the layers of glamour will show you the big names are just a small part of Magpies and Peacocks: An organization branded as the non-profit that helps other non-profits.

“It’s always charity, community, business. That’s the roadway,” Berry says.

“We get a huge kick out of people stepping up to the plate, reaching across the aisle and helping each other out,” Smith adds.

Launched in 2012, Magpies and Peacocks works with local designers to upcycle, or increase the value of, items that would otherwise be headed to the trash pile. The new products are then donated to non-profits and sold at their events to help them raise money. So far, M&P has helped over 50 charities.

“If it’s not good enough, it gets remade,” Smith says. “We want it to be human. We don’t want it to be machine-made because that’s not our journey, but at the same time it has to be worth something.”

Partners with Peacocks

Another method happens each quarter, where organizations are nominated and two are selected to become partners with Magpies and Peacocks. This year, it’s Career Gear Houston and Houston PetSet. Collections are based on the organizations and sold online through the Magpies and Peacocks website. The chosen non-profits each get a percentage of the sales from their collections.

It’s part of a strategy that turns belts and ties into dog collars or tweed jackets into iPad covers and laptop cases. Each year, the charity diverts over 500 pounds of materials to be upcycled.

The push to make even a small dent in how much waste is created is why they collect everything from accessories and furniture to light fixtures and shoes.

Berry says you can get your item and monetary donations to Magpies and Peacocks simply by calling or emailing to let them know you have something to give.

But they also have a more social aspect to donating, where they partner with a local business to host a Closet Deposit event. You can drop off items, shop and mingle —usually with champagne and light bites to boot.

“We’re not replacing your Goodwill run or your Purple Heart pick-up. We’re not taking stuff from those charities,” Berry says. “We want to be able to curate stuff and make better use of it.”

Concept beginning

The organization’s concept really began to take shape when Smith worked as an interior designer. She noticed her clients all shared common habits when it came to clinging to personal belongings.

“We all kind of vet our stuff, but we don’t do it very honestly or openly,” Smith says. “There’s anything you’ve ever been gifted, anything you’ve inherited but it’s going to stay in that box until you figure out what to do with it. And I won’t even get into that category of stuff with swing tags on them because it makes you happy to look at it, but you’re never going to wear it.”

The good, the bad and the broken in those piles can easily clutter a closet. But Magpies and Peacocks says, give it to them anyway. If nothing else, it could offer the hidden treasure needed to continue growing “Artist in Nesting” – their program aimed at nurturing emerging designers. Smith and Berry describe it as “Project Runway meets Chopped.”

Designers are given a task and the donated raw materials to create pieces that will turn into a collection. A percentage of the sales from that collection will then benefit a local charity. Part of the program is also teaching designers about the fashion business and connecting them to the retailers where some of their products are eventually sold.

“They get the branding and marketing side such as being featured on the website down to the packaging,” Berry says. “Then each order is shipped with a handwritten note that mentions who made the collection.”

Artist in Nesting

Smith says the Artist in Nesting program (also known as the Designer Incubator) takes the guesswork out of it for stores partnering with up-and-coming designers who might initially be seen as a risk if they don’t have experience with pricing, packaging or quality control.

Since 2012, Magpies and Peacocks has helped 30 young designers. The latest is painter and art teacher Karen Roberts. She owns the company Zelda & LUCY, which features her collection of 1920s-style cloche hats made from men’s suiting and brooches. They range in price from $60-75.

Roberts’ collection was recently highlighted at an Artist in Nesting event at Langford Market in the Heights.

“We’re saying there’s a place for young designers here, and we can showcase them,” Smith says. “We don’t want to lose our graduates to New York. We need to show them that they can be successful here.”

That’s also why Magpies and Peacocks will host their signature event, “Catwalks and Classrooms” in September. The design competition will have 25 students create two to three upcycled looks from donated materials. Students as young as 14 taking fashion design courses can participate. Scholarships are among the top prizes awarded to the winners.

“We’re talking about building relationships with people,” Smith says. “Getting designers to collaborate with schools, getting schools to collaborate with charities. We’re trying to build bridges so that Houston’s a better place to incubate designers.”

You can find collections made for Magpies and Peacocks at CarrieAnn in Uptown Park and Impromptu and Olivine in the West University/Rice Village area. Wardrobe Boutique in Montrose will carry a Magpies and Peacocks accessory collection beginning in mid-July.

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In the Booth

The last month and a half or so, I’ve been looking at television from another angle – the producer’s chair. Around the end of March/beginning of April, I started filling in as the 4:30 a.m. producer for KHOU’s morning newscast.  Up until that point, I’d only produced the show in emergency situations. Thankfully, I was given the opportunity to produce it on a regular basis, and it’s been quite the ride!
In the short time, (although sometimes it feels long!) that I’ve been producing the first half-hour of the newscast, I’ve taken live reporters, put together my first hour-long show for extended weather coverage and handled breaking news events.
I had experience producing in my previous position at Houston Community College in terms of writing the scripts, booking guests and putting together segments — similar to what I do now only this time the show is live and typically has to be turned around and ready for air within a few hours. Of course, even though the rundown is all set, anyone in news will tell you it can get thrown out very quickly.
For the time being, I’ll be producing the 4:30 a.m. every Monday but other days might be added on an as-needed basis.
If you’re up that early, tune in! Just make sure you stick around until 7 a.m. when the newscast ends — or even better keep it on Ch.11 all day! 😉 Yes, I just put a plug in there!
You can see a short clip from the show below. I look forward to adding this and many more to my demo reel!

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Beauty Collaboration

I’m working with beauty blogger Nicole Kestenbaum to produce beauty videos for her lifestyle blog Lipstick and Brunch. We just finished her first video featuring a beauty recap of Nicole meeting celebrity make-up artist Charlotte Tilbury, a look at her favorite lip color picks for spring and her review of the jewelry loan program, Rocksbox.

I’m excited to be part of this opportunity as an editor and videographer! We plan on producing more videos that include interviews, beauty event coverage, tutorials and product reviews.

Check out the first one below. I’m always open to feedback!

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Girl Power Reigns at Cirque du Soleil

The next opportunity I had to write for CultureMap actually turned out to be a dream come true. I wrote a piece previewing  the Cirque du Soleil show, Amaluna. The production was making a stop in Houston before heading overseas for the European leg of its’ tour. At the time of this post, it’s still here and will be through March 22nd. So why the dream come true? I have always wanted to see a Cirque du Soleil show, but it was never the right time. Now, I’ve not only had the chance to write about it, but also see those words come to life on stage.

Amaluna is loosely based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and follows the coming-of-age story of a young girl named Miranda. She lives on the island “Amaluna” (hence the name of the show), which means “Mother Moon.” Several themes run throughout the show but the strongest just might be the strength, intelligence and grace of women.

This is all detailed in the article, which you can find here. Or just scroll down to read the full piece in its’ entirety.

Women power soars: New sexy Cirque du Soleil boasts supermodel drummer, goddesses in the air & more

The iconic blue-and-yellow swirl tent can be seen from a mile away, signaling one thing: Cirque du Soleil is back in town. The big top touring show has taken over Sam Houston Race Park with its’ 33rd production, “Amaluna.”

Underneath all the flair and whimsy of “Amaluna” lies a coming-of-age narrative that promises an attack on the senses. “We see people laughing. We see people crying. We see people taking so many different emotions from this particular show,” Rowenna Dunn, Cirque du Soleil publicist, says.

“Amaluna” also marks a number of history-making moments for Cirque du Soleil, which just celebrated its 30th anniversary. It’s enlisted a real heavy hitter to guide the show in Tony-award winning director of theater and opera, Diane Paulus. Houston is the final city on the United States tour before the acrobats swing overseas to start the European leg of the tour in Madrid.

CultureMap talked to Dunn to find out how this blend of magic all comes together and how Cirque managed to breathe life into an unexpected byproduct — inspiring a generation of women.

CultureMap: What’s Amaluna about?

Rowenna Dunn: It’s essentially a love story very loosely based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” When the show begins, everyone is celebrating a young girl named Miranda and her transition into womanhood on the island Amaluna, which means Mother Moon. Meanwhile, her mother Queen Prospera is whipping up a storm that brings in a shipwrecked, boatload of boys.

It’s love at first sight between Miranda and one of the boys Romeo, who both must find the balance between love for each other, love within a community and love between families.

CM: Women play a strong role in this show. What was the idea behind that theme?

RD: Traditionally in Cirque shows, the cast is about 70-80 percent male. That was never a conscious effort but that was just sort of the way the candidate pool had fallen. In this particular show, our founder and owner Guy Laliberté had said, “You know what? It’s really time we just focus on the amazing female performers out there.

“Let’s bring them in and create a show that focuses on the strength and beauty of women.”

CM: Director Diane Paulus (Pippin, The Magic Flute) was brought in to help execute that vision. What’s it like working with her?

RD: Part of Diane’s theatrical element is she loves to break down that barrier between the audience and her performers. When you come to the show, you’ll see performers running into the crowd messing with people here and there, and you won’t even expect it because you’re so enthralled with what’s happening on the stage.

Diane also brought in her set and props designer Scott Pask. Together, they made a deliberate choice to have relatively few moving parts in the set design. That was intended to add a certain elegance to the performances by concentrating the audience’s attention on the human aspect.

CM: For the first time in Cirque du Soleil history, there’s an all-female band. How does the band enhance the show?

RD: The music with this show is a bit of a departure from the ethereal-type sounds that we’re used to hearing at Cirque shows. This is more rock, more punk and the girls get out on the stage a lot, and they’re in the audience as well. We wanted to integrate them into more of the acts to be more of a focal point.

I feel like some of the other shows that I’ve worked on people never realize that we have live music. So, there was definitely a conscious effort to showcase that strength. It’s something where we see admiration from our audience members who say, “Wow, you have a female drummer, and she kicks butt!” You see that all these powerful women are really giving a good show.

CM: What kind of feedback have you received from having a dominant female presence in the show?

RD: We’ve had audience members, we’ve had people who have sent us comments either on social media or through other channels saying, “I have a daughter, and I want her to know that she can do anything. I want her to not be limited.” Going back to our female drummer, people say, “I kind of thought that was a boy job.”

But when you see the girl — she’s gorgeous; she’s very supermodel-gorgeous and people, are like “Wow, she’s a drummer I would never have thought that.”

It’s breaking stereotypes and also letting people know you can do that as well. It’s very achievable. This is just something we can do to empower young women and girls out there who have dreams and who want to see them come to fruition. We can speak to that, and in doing so, we speak to a lot of people.

CM: How is “Amaluna” different from other Cirque shows?

RD: Particularly with “Amaluna,” there’s such a human silhouette that’s being celebrated. That means most of our characters, with the exception of one is portraying, a human-type character. With a lot of other Cirque shows, there are performers playing mythical creatures or bugs in a forest, for example.

But in this case, you see warrior women on stage and people that are flying out 30 feet in the air, so you get to see and experience the facial expressions a lot more. You get to recognize them as being human. We also wear a lot of denim in the show from jeans and jackets to dreadlocked head pieces. Girls are even wearing corsets and gorgeous heels. It’s a very different look.

CM: Without giving too much away, describe some of the acts.

RD: We have the uneven bars, which we’ve never had at Cirque before. A lot of research and development went into building the apparatus. Initially, we asked, how many girls can we get spinning at one time? The artists are the specialists and they were brought in because they know whether it’s going to work, whether it’s going to look good and whether it’s going to be safe.

Then, the creative team comes in and says, “Wear this five-point headpiece, this corset, these shoes, this tail!” It’s a very big learning curve but definitely one of the high-energy acts in the show.

We also have the water bowl, which is featured in one of our shows in Las Vegas. This is the first time we’ve toured with it, and it weighs about 6,000 pounds. Once it’s full, it takes four hours to fill. We keep it heated at 98 degrees at all times because we have a girl who’s doing a hand-balancing contortion act on top. This thing is so huge that it’s one of the first things to go into the big top as we’re setting it up and it’s one of the last things to come out.

The balance goddess is a very quiet, intimate act in the second part of the show. It’s not something that is high risk to the point that’s it death-defying, but it’ll keep people holding their breaths. Without fail, we have a standing ovation after that act every single night in every single city that we perform it in.

It’s definitely something that people will not have seen or experienced before.

Cirque du Soleil: Amaluna runs through March 22 at Sam Houston Race Park. Tickets start at $35. VIP and behind-the-scenes packages are also available for $275 and $500 respectively.


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Out of the Kitchen, Into the Boutique

Chef Roble Ali has lent his culinary skills to a new venture: his perfume, Clique by Roble. The Bravo TV star built up his brand by starring in his own show, Chef Roble and Co, which chronicles the chef’s journey in growing his own catering business in Brookyln, New York.  Roble and his team have cooked for some pretty big names, including John Legend, Leonardo DiCaprio, and oh yeah, President Obama!  But he took a break from serving high-end clientele to show H-town some love because he doesn’t forget where he came from —  or at least where he was raised!  He debuted Clique by Roble at Carrie Ann, a boutique in Houston’s Uptown Park.

Check out my look live interview with Chef Roble, below.

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Demo: Houston Fine Art Fair Preview

As a journalist, it’s important that I bring the freshest information to audiences. That rule is always applied when it comes to delivering the news and I’m pretty sure it goes for demo reels, too (because who wants to look at stale stories?)

I’m working on updating my reel with some new material now that I work at a different TV station. Below is one of the stories I’m thinking about adding.

This one was on the Houston Fine Art Fair. The event brought together artists from 14 countries and according to the website, showcased a record 85 galleries.

Diversity was a huge theme in this show and it’s also an element I tried to weave into my story, given the multicultural flair of Houston. I had also hoped to capture the idea that Houston does have a vibrant art scene despite being better known as a mecca for oil and gas.

Check out my take on the Houston Fine Art Fair below.