Public Media Arts Hub

How Houston has transformed its airports into hubs for art


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Hari Sreenivasan: When you think of public art, you might think of a mural at the local library, a sculpture in a park or in a plaza downtown. But what about at the airport? NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Karla Murthy traveled to Houston Texas to get a tour of the city's extensive public art collection - one of the largest collections in the state.

Karla Murthy: When travelers arrive at the main terminal of Hobby Airport in Houston, Texas, they're greeted by a work of art.

Alton DuLaney: This is one of my favorite pieces, this really beautiful multi-panel mural. It's by local artist Libby Masterson. Libby comes from a family of jewelry makers. You can see there's a lot of jewel tone qualities going on here. But she's also a great traveler and loves to travel and explore new places. So this is from one of her travels, and it's kind of her view out the window of the airplane. Passengers really love this piece, as do I. Really makes me want to get on a plane and go somewhere

Karla Murthy: This mural is one of nearly 350 artworks owned by the city's airport system.

Alton DuLaney: We've got video textile, art, paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography, a little bit of everything

Karla Murthy: Alton DuLaney is the curator for Houston's three airports - which include Bush Intercontinental and Ellington Field.

Alton DuLaney: For many of our passengers, they're connecting passengers so they never actually leave the airport doors. So it is their one chance to see the great art community that is Houston, Texas.

Karla Murthy: DuLaney takes me to what he calls the west concourse gallery.

Alton DuLaney: Before we started displaying art and this, this was really just a dark hall. People were just passing through, not spending any time here at all. And now it's something really beautiful. We have about 20 works of art here, mostly from Houston or Texas-based artists. And the quality of artwork here would rival any gallery in town. I love that there's a moving sidewalk. It's kind of like a drive by gallery that you could just stand here and enjoy the art as you roll by.

Karla Murthy: Since DuLaney began as curator three years ago he's doubled the collection at Hobby Airport which is funded by a city ordinance that earmarks 1.75 percent of eligible construction project budgets towards acquiring public art and commissioning new work from artists like Cruz Ortiz.

Cruz Ortiz: And behind me is going to be a really large painting. So I'm really excited.

Karla Murthy: Ortiz is one of 10 Texas-based artists selected this year to create work for the city's airports, a $1.7 million investment. Ortiz's previous work has been exhibited at The Louvre in Paris, The National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC…. and soon at gate 1.

Cruz Ortiz: This little group is going to Puerto Vallarta right now. This is a community of people… For me, that's what public art is all about. It's the process of being among people, being in a community.

Cruz Ortiz: So these are drawings that I've been doing.

Karla Murthy: Ortiz brought along sketches he made documenting the Texas landscape. He says these drawings are the inspiration for his painting, which will pay tribute to the land and the native people of the area.

Cruz Ortiz: Honestly this big painting is literally just - it's a symbol. It's a symbol of who we are and how we interact with this land.

Liliana Rambo: So we're very proud of the collection. When I tell people we have over 350 pieces of art, they're like, no way and I'm like, yes way!

Karla Murthy: Liliana Rambo is the chief terminal management officer for the Houston Airport System. She says all that art doesn't just benefit the passengers.

Liliana Rambo: In 2019, we had over 56 million passengers that came to these airports. So for an artist that's give or take on an annual basis over 40, 50 million people that get to take a look at that piece of art. So it brings a lot of value to that artist as well.

Karla Murthy: Conceptual artist Alicia Eggert is installing her own work, which has been exhibited nationally and internationally - from the Smithsonian to Beijing and Milan. She primarily uses text to address concepts of time. This piece is called "This present moment used to be the unimaginable future."

Alicia Eggert: So I think people in the airport can experience it in different ways. It can be a really personal sort of reflection on the current present moment where they are at that really specific point in time. Or it could encourage them to reflect on like bigger things that are happening out in the world right now. I never really thought about my work being in an airport, but I love that it is. And I love when airports have great public art collections because we spend so much time in airports and it can make that time a lot more meaningful.

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