Michelle Barnes

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Michelle Barnes
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Michelle Anita Swain Vincent Barnes

(1948-03-09) March 9, 1948 (age 75)
Austin, Texas
CitizenshipUnited States of America
Alma materUniversity of Houston
  • Artist
  • Educator
OrganizationCommunity Artists’ Collective

A long-time resident of Third Ward, Houston, artist and educator[1] Michelle Barnes co-founded the Community Artists’ Collective, a Houston non-profit arts organization with Dr. Sarah Trotty and serves its executive director.[2] Barnes and Trotty created the collective to fill a need for arts education in underserved neighborhoods during a time when public schools were eliminating arts programs.[3]

Early life and education

Michelle Anita Swain Vincent Barnes grew up in the Third Ward, a historically African-American neighborhood.[4] Barnes was born in Austin, Texas in 1948, and in the early fifties she and her family moved to a rental home that still stands at 3206 East Alabama, Houston, Texas. In interviews, Barnes describes “the social, cultural, and economic vibrancy of Third Ward” when she was growing up. Her neighbors across the street were doctors, and Alvia Wardlaw, a professor at Texas Southern University, lived around the corner.[5][6]

Barnes's father grew up in a poor rural environment in Dale, Texas, attended and finished Huston-Tillotson University, and in the 1950s, went on to the first African American to graduate in the School of Social Work at the University of Texas.[6] Barnes grew up in a creative family with her father teaching her mosaics and furniture building, and her mother teaching her to sew at the age of 6. Barnes explains: "Art was a part of my upbringing. Creative making was what I experienced long before I went to school."[3] Barnes excelled at sewing and won awards at the age of 13.[3] Barnes attended elementary school at Blackshear and then Turner; junior high school at and then William E. Miller; and high school at Yates High School where she graduated in 1966.[3][6] She took dressmaking and participated in fashion shows in high school.[3]

In the fall of 1966, Barnes started her freshman year at the University of Houston (UH); she graduated in December of 1970.[6] There, she took her first formal art class and enjoyed working with sculptural materials, including paper mache and fiber arts.[3] Barnes appreciated the smaller community she found in UH’s Art Program—especially at this time when UH was growing rapidly, with substantial new building construction, and many other changes on campus.[6] Her love of sewing, fabrics, and fashion initiated in childhood, continued in college. Her work, then and now, includes fashion and textiles, and reflects her strong sense of color and design, blurring the traditional divisions of art and craft.[3]

Living so close to UH, Barnes continuing living at home, choosing to use her scholarship to pay for tuition and books instead of housing.[6] Barnes has described the climate on campus, during integration and the Vietnam War, as tense.[6] And while she did not think of herself as politically active during the beginning of her college years, the drowning of a child in Sunnyside inspired her to become more socially active and protest the child’s death.[6][5] Barnes become involved in the Committee for Better Race Relations, African-Americans for Black Liberation (AABL), and the fight for the UH African American Studies Program.

In 1968, Barnes married, and soon after, her husband was shipped out (June of 1968) to his first tour in Vietnam. Before this, she did not know much about the Vietnam War, but after, she paid closer attention "to the news and the horrific stories about the deaths and atrocities of war.” When her husband returned from the war, he had changed, and eventually, he and Barnes divorced.[6]


After college, Barnes worked in education, first at Sharpstown High School, then at The Kinkaid School.[7] For 30 years, Barnes volunteered as an art instructor at Shape Community Center, working predominantly with youth programming.[5][3]

In 1983, Barnes collaborated with the Ensemble Theatre on a novel concept to open the Barnes-Blackman Galleries in the lobby of the theater.[3] And in 1985, Barnes co-founded the Community Artists' Collective with Dr. Sarah Trotty.[8] The Collective originally focused on providing "a cooperative space for female, African American artists and continues to be a major hub for African American art"[5] and seeks to help develop self-sustaining African American artists.[9] Barnes participated in the Project Row Houses Round 39, titled Looking Back, Moving Forward[10], where she created a hands-on arts education space in collaboration with artist Anthony Suber in 2013 and 2014.[11]

In 2019 and 2020, Barnes served on the artist advisory and planning group of the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation master plan to establish the Lyons Avenue Cultural Arts District and sees the plan as a model for “historic communities which value their unsung heroes/heroines.” [12]

As an artist, educator, and administrator, Barnes's mission is to “empower the underserved.” Her work supports African-American artists, especially families, women, and children. Art was a part of her own family and upbringing.[3] At the Houston Fine Art Fair Barnes was awarded an Illumination Award for Achievement in Arts Education in 2015[13] and in 2019, she was honored by the Houston Arts Alliance for Community Work.[14]

In the media



  1. The International Review of African American Art. Vol. 14. Museum of African American Art. 1997. p. 62.
  2. "Excited to see what unfolds along Lyons Avenue next". HoustonChronicle.com. 2020-01-29. Retrieved 2020-05-25.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 Sewing, Joy (2015-10-02). "Artist Michelle Barnes blends art and style". HoustonChronicle.com. Retrieved 2020-05-25.
  4. Barnes, Michelle; Enriquez, Sandra; Rodriguez, Samantha (2016-06-17). "Oral History Interview with Michelle Barnes, June 17, 2016". crbb.tcu.edu/interviews/interview-with-michelle-barnes. Retrieved 2020-05-25.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Barnes, Michelle; Enriquez, Sandra; Rodriguez, Samantha (2016-06-17). "Oral History Interview with Michelle Barnes, June 17, 2016". crbb.tcu.edu/interviews/interview-with-michelle-barnes. Retrieved 2020-05-25.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 "Interview with Mrs. Michelle Barnes". www.uh.edu. Retrieved 2020-05-25.
  7. "Black History: Art in Houston". Visit Houston. 2020-02-11. Retrieved 2020-05-25.
  8. "An Eclectic Celebration Brings Art Community and City Leaders Together at the Glasscock School". Houstonia Magazine. Retrieved 2020-05-25.
  9. Intern, Daniela Benites, HPM (2020-02-11). "7 Places To See African American Art In Houston". Houston Public Media. Retrieved 2020-05-25.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. Collective creative actions : Project Row Houses at 25. Dennis, Ryan N.,, Jackson-Dumont, Sandra. Houston, TX: Duke University Press. November 2018. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-692-12642-4. OCLC 1060194912.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  11. "Round 39 — Past Artist Rounds". Project Row Houses. Retrieved 2020-05-26.
  12. "Interview with Mrs. Michelle Barnes". www.uh.edu. Retrieved 2020-05-25.
  13. "Let the art partying begin". HoustonChronicle.com. 2015-09-09. Retrieved 2020-05-25.
  14. "Houston Artists, 16-Year-Old Voice Star and Civic Leaders Come Together for Powerful Night". PaperCity Magazine. 2019-10-23. Retrieved 2020-05-25.

External links

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