District invests in public art to alter the everyday into the exceptional
Westchase District is looking a little more colorful lately and not just because of the changing seasons. Several public art projects funded by the District are giving the area added flair, transforming ordinary objects into welcoming scenes of visual interest and creating a sense of place.
Muralitos, murals and mosaics
While not a new concept (government has funded public art since the days of the New Deal in the 1930s), public art is relatively new to Westchase District. Last year, the District commissioned mural artists to convert eight traffic signal control boxes into “muralitos.” Also last year, mural artist Larry Crawford painted two larger-scale murals along the District’s Library Loop Trail: one on a box culvert showcasing area wildlife; and a 80-feet wide by 30-foot tall mural on a concrete slope depicting six butterflies.
This year, Crawford painted two retaining walls along Rogerdale Road near Richmond Avenue. Local artist Reginald Adams created four tile mosaics that adorn the entrance to Harwin Park, which now links to the District’s Brays Bayou Connector Trail. Adams also led students from Elsik High School to design tile mosaic squares that decorate two seat wall benches along the trail.
Monuments, shelters and spikes
Westchase District also sports more functional pieces as well. For years, 41 monument signs – 10-feet tall obelisks which are lit at night – have marked the boundaries of the District at various intersections. This year, 15 METRO bus shelters in the District received solar lighting kits, along with colorful, semi-transparent photographs wrapping the glass panels of the shelters. Another 15 shelters are planned to receive the same treatment next year.
Along the District’s trail system, 10-feet tall signs are positioned at each of the 18 entry points to the trails. The signs feature etchings of animals along with area maps. Positioned at intervals along the trails are 21 “trail spikes,” special wayfinding signs that inform users about the history, ecology and transportation aspects of Westchase District.
“Any one of these projects is pretty nifty in its own right, but taken together, these pieces help create a look and feel to the District that is unique and difficult to replicate,” said Jim Murphy, Westchase District’s general manager. “It makes the District more dynamic and it creates a cultural energy that sparks conversation and improves our quality of life.”
Public art can even have a positive health impact. Maggie Thomas with the Boston University School of Social Work wrote earlier this year in Public Health Post that public art installed in community spaces can increase “community members’ sense of identity and belonging, reducing isolation and negative mental health and emotional health outcomes. As such, the public sector has an essential role to play in supporting public art for the well-being of all citizens.”
In the works
So what’s next? Crawford is scheduled to paint another muralito this winter on a signal box at the intersection of Wilcrest and Briar Forest Drives. He also is preparing for what will be his largest work yet, a 100-feet wide by 20-feet tall mural designed as a tribute to Hurricane Harvey rescuers that will be painted on a concrete slope where the Brays Bayou Connector Trail intersects with the Wilcrest Connector Trail. “It seems appropriate to pay tribute to these heroes with art along a flood control channel,” Crawford said. “I’m excited to get started.”
This winter, Adams is expected to paint a mural on the eastern wall of Westchase Auto Repair at 10611 Westheimer. “The concept entails a series of interlocking gears, signifying the interconnectedness of the community,” Adams said. “The gears also pay reference to the nature of the auto repair business. The color elements will include ethnic textile patterns and motifs that reflect the cultural diversity of the Westchase community.”
“We’re looking to partner with District businesses on more murals and are open to other ideas,” said Louis Jullien, Westchase District projects director. “The more opportunities we can create for the public to engage with art, the better.” If you’re interested in having public art installed on your property, contact Jullien at 713-780-9434.