TRANSIT-FRIENDLY ART Metro deserves recognition for its efforts to help create a sense of community through the art installations it commissioned at various stations throughout the city. More than 20 artists participated in the creation of the art installations, which earned Metro the Proud Partner Award in 2013. The Metro Arts In Transit program began in 2006 and has involved dozens of local and national art experts as well as hundreds of community residents to determine the content of the artwork. As a result, the artwork really reflects the character of each neighborhood. For example, at the Fulton/North Central Station, nationally acclaimed artist Dixie Friend Gay researched the type of butterflies native to that neighborhood and then incorporated them into her artwork.
ORANGE BEGINNINGS The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art (OSCVA) has become Houston’s hub of folk art activity with nationally respected programs. The Orange Show site is at the center of these programs, a living example of how individual vision can dramatically enrich community and culture. Jeff McKissack created The Orange Show in honor of his favorite fruit and to illustrate his belief that longevity results from hard work and good nutrition. Working from 1956 until his death in 1980, McKissack used common building materials and found objects to transform an East End lot into an architectural maze of walkways, balconies, arenas and exhibits decorated with mosaics and brightly painted iron figures. When he died, Houston arts patron Marilyn Oshman formed a nonprofit foundation to preserve The Orange Show. In 1982, the restored site opened, and newly hired staff began to integrate The Orange Show into Houston’s cultural life through a wide variety of programs which focus on The Orange Show’s ability to make basic elements of art tangible and accessible. Among the most successful of its programs is Art Car Weekend. In 1984, The Orange Show Foundation commissioned the Fruitmobile (pictured), recognizing that the art car, a medium of self-expression, is a mobile visionary art site. This led to the first annual Houston Art Car Parade which has since grown into Art Car Weekend. Smither Park, a project of the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art in collaboration with renowned architect and designer Dan Phillips, is a work of art in progress — providing a unique opportunity to see artists in action and the evolution of an international artistic destination. The park is a creative urban space that has developed with the help of artists and friends. Phillips worked with Stephanie Smither to design the park in memory of her late husband, John H. Smither. John and Stephanie were longtime supporters and collectors of self-taught art, as well as board members of the OSCVA. Inspired by the OSCVA’s philosophy of promoting and sustaining self-taught art, the park which boasts a mosaic covered memory wall (a portion of which is pictured) serves as a testimony to the vibrancy and creativity of the city of Houston. For more information on the OSCVA and Smither park, visit www.orangeshow.org. OSCVA acquired Houston’s well-known Beer Can House after creator John Milkovisch and his wife passed away. Diligent documentation and planning over the next few years determined a comprehensive plan to restore the site to its former glory.
CELEBRATION OF HISTORY AND CULTURE Rick Lowe, a native of Alabama and 2014 MacArthur “Genius” grant winner, founded Project Row Houses (PRH) in Houston’s northern Third Ward. In 1990, a group of high school students asked Lowe to create solutions to problems instead of creating works that tell the community about issues it is already aware of. Lowe and a coalition of artists purchased a group of 22 shotgun houses (pictured) across two blocks that were built in 1930 and, by the 1990s, were in poor condition. Today, seven row houses serve as installation spaces for visiting artists. The installations are often related to themes connected to the community that surrounds PRH and broader themes of African-American culture. A row next to the art houses is reserved for single mothers. The mission of PRH is to be the catalyst for transforming community through the celebration of art and African-American history and culture. For more information, visit www.projectrowhouses.org.
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION DiverseWorks produces a steady array of stimulating installations, unlikely collaborations and inventive happenings that honor each artist’s vision without constraint. Exhibitions are often comprised of a variety of works across many mediums – drawings, paintings, sculptures, video animations and performance. DiverseWorks and Rice Public Art recently collaborated to present Astrology Orchestra by artist Katie Grinnan at the James Turrell Twilight Epiphany Skyspace. Astrology Orchestra is an ongoing symphonic performance project. Each instrument represents a planetary position and maps the artist’s astrological birth chart as seen from the perspective of each planet. The chart is translated into the strings of handmade instruments that are tuned accordingly. Echoing Turrell’s pyramidal structure, for the live performance in Houston, ancient astrology, which relies solely on planets that can be seen with the naked eye, was referenced. Be it metal, yarn or another medium, Houston’s public art has positioned itself within the framework of the city by way of its parks, universities, transportation system and more. And, fortunately, Houston is truly the better for it.