One of the best-kept “secrets” about Houston Airports is secret no longer. More than 350 diverse works of art are displayed across the airport system, ranging from tiny, jeweled sculptures to a 28-foot-tall bronze tree with its own soundtrack to three towering structures with a built-in light show on JFK Blvd.
Under the masterful guidance of Alton DuLaney, Houston Airports’ Director and Curator of the Public Art Program, the art program has been ever-present in recent news cycles. The program has received favorable press from local publications including the Houston Chronicle and The Houston Press as well as from The Points Guy, a lifestyle media brand which has 10 million unique visitors a month and a social media audience of over 3 million across all platforms.
“It has been an extremely productive time for us,” DuLaney said. “This past December, we announced the first of several calls for art to enhance the new international terminal currently in development at Bush Airport. The artwork that will flank the 6 new gates will be exclusively from Houston-area artists. Houston has some unbelievable talent and we want to give them an opportunity to be seen and to be recognized by travelers from all over the world.”
DuLaney said that the impact of art in an airport is often overlooked but art can be a great calling card for a city.
“Artwork is very often the first thing passengers see when arriving in a city,” he said, “and it can very often be the last thing they see as they depart. And as many of our passengers are connecting to other flights, they never leave the airport, so the art they see inside our terminals might be their only exposure the city and its arts community. Public art can help a traveler witness the soul of a city.”
“The goal is to establish a ‘sense of place’ with the artworks,” DuLaney continued. “We are very deliberate in showcasing pieces that exemplify the richness of what Houston has to offer. Our culture is truly a melting pot, and our art pieces are representative of talent and diversity and resiliency that is abundant here in Houston.”
Even Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner agrees! “Art helps to define a city, and this is an important investment in our creative community,” Mayor Turner said in a recent interview.
Plus, the exposure for the artists is unparalleled!
Pre-pandemic in 2019, more than 59 million passengers were served by Houston Airports, making for a potential viewing audience of well over one million visitors each week. As a direct effect of the pandemic, those numbers were 24.7 million in 2020 and 45 million in 2021.
“Contrast those numbers with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York,” DuLaney said, “which is considered to be one of the greatest museums in the United States. They received a grand total of 1.1 million visitors in all of 2020.”
But wait - there’s more! Much more! In August 2021, Houston Airports and the Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA) announced the purchase of 74 additional pieces for the airport system. Most have already been installed, and 10 larger artworks have been commissioned and are currently being created, with installations to begin later this spring.
“As we continue to expand and improve the art collection, we simultaneously improve the passengers’ experience, contributing to a more inspiring and pleasant 5-star travel experience.” DuLaney concludes. “The art community wins, the city wins and the passenger wins. It’s a win-win-win situation!”