Nestled in the heart of the Houston arts community, UHD is home to a public art collection that highlights diversity, documents Houston’s history and underscores a rich academic student experience.
Featuring unique pieces created by talented and notable artists, the UHD collection can be found in the hallways, meeting rooms and public spaces in every building on campus.
Mark Cervenka, Associate Professor and Director of UHD’s O’Kane Gallery, noted that the collection “illustrates social history as well as individual perceptions of human experience. Art has the capacity to reflect upon a broad range of topics and one can find a dialogue between the art and many university disciplines. I imagine the diversity and scope of the art suggests to visitors messages of tolerance, community interaction, social awareness, empathy and curiosity.”
The collection is part of a larger University of Houston System (UHS) initiative established in 1969 dedicating one percent of the construction cost of all future building projects for art. UH became the first public university in Texas to formally adopt a percent for an art program.
More than 50 years after its establishment, the collection now spans the four component universities of the UH System—University of Houston, University of Houston- Downtown, University of Houston-Clear Lake, and University of Houston-Victoria—as well as additional instructional sites in Sugar Land, Pearland, and Katy, helping to make art accessible to millions of Texans.
Its collection has matured into one of the most impressive public art collections in the country, with nearly 700 objects on view. The scope of these projects has increased dramatically over time, and Public Art UHS continues to expand its collection through commissions, site-specific installations, temporary public art projects, purchases and gifts.
“UHD prides itself on connecting in different ways to the communities it serves from education to public service to art. The completion of ‘Confluence,’ just steps away from our campus, as well as the several public art installations owned by the University, demonstrate the symbiotic relationship between the University of Houston-Downtown and the namesake city it serves,” said Elisa Olsen, Executive Director of UHD’s Office of University Relations.
Commissioned by Houston Parks Board and Buffalo Bayou Partnership, this newly minted public art installation stands along the Bayou Greenway trail at the confluence of White Oak and Buffalo Bayous, located adjacent to the UHD campus. Created by artist Jane Kim, co-founder of Ink Dwell studio, the mural showcases the birds that call Houston’s bayous home.
The 223-foot-long mural “Confluence” tells a 12-month story of Houston’s migratory birds. Its name refers to the way in which many birds change color seasonally to attract mates. At the center are six species represented in both their spring breeding plumage and their non-breeding plumage. On the right are three species that winter in Houston; on the left are three species that arrive in the spring to breed. A map of Houston’s bayous serves as the backdrop to bring movement and energy to the work.
As with Houston Parks Board’s Bayou Greenways 2020 initiative, “Confluence” is a product of the public/ private partnership between the City of Houston and Harris County, along with voters and philanthropists with a particular thanks to Tom and Laura Bacon. The mural project also collaborated with Houston Audubon to provide ornithological expertise and programmatic direction.
A wall near UHD’s Willow Street Pump Station on historic Allen’s Landing, features a mural of the city’s most famous reptile. Created by artist and muralist Sebastien “MrD1987” Boileau and his Houston-based mural company Eyeful Art, the piece provides another pride-inspiring display on campus. Viewers will recall Boileau was the creative talent behind the original Gator Wall located on a storage building in the University’s Daly Street Lot. While that popular mural was conceived as a temporary addition to campus, the new Gator Wall is now a permanent installation.
Houstonians are well-versed with the colorful murals adorning the city’s utility boxes. UP Art Studio, co-founded by UHD Alumna Elia Quiles, initiated the award-winning Mini Murals Houston project that reimagines traffic signal control cabinets by converting them into works of art by local and visiting artists. At the intersection of North Main and Commerce stands a mini-Gator mural representing the four-legged mascot of UHD. The work, commissioned in collaboration with UHD’s Office of University Relations and UP Art Studio, was created by local artist Anat Ronen.
It was originally intended for a two-week run, but “Close to Home: Latinx Art and Identity” now has a permanent home at UHD. The collection is comprised of prints and paintings by several generations of U.S. Latinx artists that combine iconic images and up-to-the-minute works by important newcomers. Gifted by Drs. Harriett and Ricardo Romo, the more than 50-piece exclusive collection of Chicano Art is the largest art gift ever made to UHD—valued at more than $200,000.
“On view across five university campuses within the UH System, installed indoors and outside, the Public Art UHS’ collection represents more than half a century of creative expression in a variety of different media,” said Dr. Maria C. Gaztambide, Public Art UHS Director & Chief Curator. “Works such as Dr. John Biggers’ Salt Marsh (1997), Floyd Newsum’s Contemplating Success (2004), or Trenton Doyle Hancock’s LEGENDS (2015)—among the collection highlights at UHD—demonstrate a long-held commitment of working with major artists to develop significant site-specific projects for broad public enjoyment in and beyond our universities.
PHOTO: Contemplating Success / Floyd Newsum
University of Houston-Downtown
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