Downtown District Infuses Main Street Square with “Art Blocks”
City Block Brightened With Public Art And Neighborhood Redevelopment Initiative
Main Street Square is getting a makeover. This pedestrian plaza bordered by Walker and Dallas streets is the recipient of the Downtown District’s year-long public art and neighborhood redevelopment initiative targeting the square. The program, Art Blocks, is bringing together artists from different backgrounds and disciplines to create an inviting, engaging streetscape. Four temporary art projects will be installed throughout the three-block stretch of Main Street. The first installations took place in late February 2016; the art works will remain on view through March 2017.
“Art Blocks aims to repurpose, redefine and reenergize a space through public art that is accessible to all, both physically and aesthetically,” said Bob Eury, executive director of the Downtown District. “With tens of thousands of visitors, workers and residents passing through Main Street Square on a daily basis, this project and its related programming has the potential to affect a real transformation along an underutilized corridor and create welcoming spaces for the enjoyment of Houstonians and visitors alike.”
Art Blocks at Main Street Square is the inaugural project of the Downtown District and the Downtown District Public Art Committee. It is curated jointly by the committee and project consultant Weingarten Art Group. In its first year, Art Blocks is focusing on Main Street Square, with the possibility to highlight other downtown zones in the future.
“Everyone on the committee quickly recognized the opportunity presented by Main Street Square as a site for a significant public art project, as the large pedestrian space has a captive audience of office workers, commuters and residents, and also serves as a gateway to the burgeoning east side of downtown,” said Doug Lawing, chair of the Downtown District Public Art Committee. “The artists the committee selected represent different backgrounds and approaches, and we hope their diverse installations will contribute to Houston’s dynamic cultural energy.”
Project selection for Art Blocks presented a unique challenge: selecting works that would activate a linear, urban landscape with approachable art that engages the viewer time and again. The committee curated a selection of local and international artists, working with directly with them to find proposed installations responsive to the space. Public art projects from artist Jessica Stockholder, artist collective YesYesNo, and Houston’s Patrick Renner and the Flying Carpet collective are among the selections slated for installation. A fourth project will feature a rotation of works by four Texas-based artists.
The public art committee wanted the selections to reflect Houston as international and diverse. “The projects chosen interact with the urban environment to emulate the spirit of vitality, animation and vigor that is Houston,” said Lea Weingarten, Weingarten Art Group principal.
International artist Jessica Stockholder will realize the most recent in her series of works dubbed Color Jam. Colorful paint and vinyl will overtake sidewalks, bleed across the roadway and scale building exteriors, light posts and other structures. Pedestrians passing through the intersection at Main and McKinney will be enveloped in a profusion of color. “The work treats the intersection as a single public ‘canvas’,” states Stockholder. “Viewed from the opposite side of the intersection a spectator can stand at the edge of the work, but outside of it, and view it as a picture or painting, against the background supplied by the city.”
In a recessed area between One City Centre and its garage in the 1000 block of Main Street, Houston artist Patrick Renner will install a follow-up piece to his popular Funnel Tunnel (2013). Trumpet Flower, produced by Flying Carpet, functions both as a public art piece and a canopy structure. Slats of brightly colored recycled wood, painted by members of the Houston community at a public painting party, will be woven together to form the skin of the sculpture, which rises up 60 feet to the roof of the adjacent parking garage. On the street level, tables and chairs will be placed under the resulting canopy; residents and visitors will be encouraged to use the space for meetings and lunches, and the Downtown District will have programming on an intimate scale.
YesYesNo, an interactive collective based in Brooklyn, will explore the intersection of technology and public play in más que la cara (more than the face). Taking over two windows in the Sakowitz garage at 1111 Main Street, this project will create a participatory experience by imposing digitally augmented masks on the reflections of passersby. Adults and children become performers, their faces transformed and obscured by the masks, which respond to facial movements and expressions.
The Main Street Marquee, installed at the corner of Main and Walker on the Just a 1.19 Food Store, will feature a quarterly rotation of works by Texas-based artists Armando Castelan, Jamal Cyrus and Ukranian-born Nataliya Schlieb, of Houston; and M. Giovanni Valderas, of Dallas.
Pop-up installations, interactive experiences and community programming will add to a schedule of events that complements the spirit of the major public art commissions.
Art Blocks is one component of a larger capital improvement project spearheaded by the Downtown Redevelopment Authority currently underway throughout the 19-block stretch of Main Street between Commerce and Pierce streets. The improvements include new street lighting and landscaping elements throughout, along with new sidewalk finishes and roadway drainage improvements in certain blocks. At the completion of the project, expect to see widened sidewalks and granite sidewalk pavers in some zones, new street trees and raised planters, improved lighting systems and wayfinding signage and other upgrades.
Visit artblockshouston.org for more information on this project.