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My Top 5: Artist Matt Manalo – 365 Things to Do in Houston

In our My Top 5 series, we turn to the Houstonians who create and shape Houston’s character and ask them to share their own favorite things that make H-Town home. This week, we’re delighted to feature artist Matt Manalo, who also founded alternative art space, Alief Art House.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
“I’ve lived here for 19 years; my family and I moved here [from Manila, Philippines],” says artist Matt Manalo, founder of Alief Art House and Filipinx Artists of Houston. “I was already in college when I left, pursuing computer engineering and then when I came here, I felt like it wasn’t a thing I wanted to pursue anymore. At that time, people were really hiring nurses at a fast rate and so I thought that was something I would be doing for the rest of my life, and it turned out it wasn’t [laughs]. I quickly realized that I can’t really imagine spending the rest of my life working at a hospital and that’s when I did some self-searching…I’ve always been interested in art growing up and that’s when I realized that art is something I wanted to do full-time for the rest of my life.”
With two decades as a Houstonian, Matt considers what he loves about the city and a couple things quickly spring to mind.
“Number one, Houston actually has a really great arts scene,” he says. “What I always say about the Houston arts scene is that we’re trying to create our own movement here—we’re not really trying to be like New York or LA or anything like that. We have pretty unique artists and work and movements going on here that I’m really proud of. What keeps me in Houston is really the people, and…food [laughs].
“We have an amazing food scene and we’re pretty spoiled out here, I think. You can go for Texas barbecue, then go get some pho on a rainy day, then you can even go get Ethiopian food, which is pretty amazing.”
Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, Matt Manalo’s artistic practice is rooted in environmentally-conscious process, incorporating raw materials and found objects to tackle ideas surrounding his own immigrant identity, displacement, and how “home” is defined. Most recently, his work was exhibited at Asia Society Texas’ Artists on Site: Series 3, and he has an upcoming solo show at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft in early 2023.
Matt is founder of Filipinx Artists of Houston, and the alternative art space, Alief Art House on the grounds of Alief SPARK Park and Nature Center, which serves as a hub for creativity that highlights the cultural richness of the multiple communities within a unique Houston neighborhood. Recently, it has expanded to include the Alief Art Garden, whose main goal is to grow plants that can withstand the Houston climate while serving multiple purposes, such as providing colors, pigments and fibers from nature as well as community-based produce.
Follow him on: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

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