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Houston's Flourishing Mural Art Scene

Published Nov 03, 2022 by Brina Morales

I love Hou mural at Houston's graffiti park

Mural at Houston's graffiti park on Leeland Street

Mural of Houston rappers at graffiti park

Mural of Houston rappers at graffiti park

Houston mural at graffiti park

Houston mural at graffiti park

Mural celebrating Houston Zoo's centennial in East End

Mural celebrating Houston Zoo's centennial in East End

Houston's graffiti park located on Leeland Street

Houston's graffiti park located on Leeland Street

If you walk through any Houston neighborhood, you’ll find walls covered in murals. And it isn’t by coincidence. Over the past decade, cities around the country, including Houston, have embraced the once-illegal art form to promote tourism, transform and connect neighborhoods, provide public spaces for artists, build civic pride and provoke conversation. Houston’s support of street art is evident in the upcoming citywide mural painting festival that will draw artists from around the world to the city, including Houston’s own.

Big Walls Big Dreams festival Nov. 5-21


Big Walls Big Dreams: Houston will kick off on Nov. 5. The festival is produced by UP Art Studio, a public art consultant and facilitator, which has been instrumental in facilitating hundreds of murals and art installations around Houston, including the Mini Murals project. Co-founders Noah and Elia Quiles initially started UP Art Studio 10 years ago to respond to a gap.

“We saw that street artists needed walls, space, funding sources, and an organization behind them to help them get paid opportunities,” Elia said. The firm also uses murals as a tool to improve communities and helps graffiti artists build careers as internationally known artists.

Elia credits partnerships with the City of Houston, management districts and other organizations for the growth of Houston’s mural art scene over the past decade. More than 500 local artworks have been created through those partnerships, according to Elia.

“With their project funding, and willingness to say ‘yes’ to some crazy creative projects, none of this would have happened,” Elia said. “Through them, we’ve been able to pay our local artists hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years for their work.  That has made a huge difference, in allowing our local artists to earn a modern living wage.”

Daniel Anguilu is another name that is central to Houston’s street art scene. You can find his art around town, including at Bcycle stations and Bush Intercontinental airport, but his work has also previously been featured in galleries. Businesses, cities, management districts and others now commission artists like Anguilu to beautify their buildings or create spaces where communities can gather. 

In 2013, the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau commissioned Mario E. Figuerora, Jr., or GONZO247, to paint the now-historic “Houston is Inspired” mural, which has become a magnet for Houstonians and tourists around the world. Houston is now home to more than 1,000 murals and art installations, according to the Houston Mural Map. 

Houston is Inspired Mural in Downtown
Iconic mural in Downtown Houston (Credit: Bryan Malloch)

“The civic and business community today understands that well-done murals provide economic benefits, like attracting more investment, new jobs and increased tourism,” Elia said. “Murals can create a visual representation of stories, neighborhood history, culture and identity.  It shows that places are loved – which also makes them safer and more inviting for business investment and just hanging out.”

Recently, Central Houston Inc., Houston Downtown Management District and Street Art for Mankind launched “Big Art. Bigger Change.” Muralists from around the world, including three from Houston, painted a series of murals on nine downtown buildings focusing on inspiring social and environmental change. 

“I hope they inspire the next generation to have meaningful conversations and to believe in themselves and their society,” Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis wrote about the murals in a Facebook post.

The Quiles also hope Big Walls Big Dreams, which originally launched in Miami during Art Basel, inspires Houston and young artists. The festival runs from Nov. 5-21 and will include public programming, community mural tours, art shows, workshops and more as artists paint about 60 large-scale murals in different pockets throughout the city.

Learn more about Houston's thriving arts and culture scene.

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Museum Exhibitions to Check Out This Spring

Houston is home to a diverse, vibrant collection of museums celebrating everything from art and culture to history and science. While these distinguished institutions are open to natives and tourists year-round with a wide collection of permanent displays, temporary exhibitions offer limited-time, unique experiences that are not to be missed. Check out a select number of exhibitions coming to Houston this spring, and be sure to visit each museum’s website to learn about events and exhibitions coming later this year.    Contemporary Arts Museum Houston  Where do we go from here? That’s the question that over 100 teen artists across Houston sought to answer in this upcoming exhibition of the same name from the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Encompassing a variety of mediums, from painted collage to abstract sculpture, the works displayed as part of CAMH’s Teen Council’s 13th biennial exhibition reflect the diverse life experiences of its artists and seek to explore the idea that identity is neither stagnant nor singular, but rather is influenced by our responses to varying catalysts in our lives. February 17 through July 2. Learn more    Museum of Fine Arts, Houston  As part of their national tour, Artemisia Gentileschi’s 17th-century Judith and Holofernes and Kehinde Wiley’s 21st-century Judith and Holofernes are placed in dialogue with one another at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s Portrait of Courage exhibition. Spanning time and culture, both works are a depiction of the Old Testament Book of Judith, in which a local Jewish widow saves her town from an approaching Assyrian attack led by General Holofernes. This thought-provoking display will invite visitors to examine their own feelings and experiences with the timeless issues of gender, race, violence, oppression, and social power through this powerful shared narrative. January 25 through April 16. Learn more  Click to expand Portrait of Courage: Gentileschi, Wiley, and the Story of Judith at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Coming soon to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, None Whatsoever is a celebration of one of the world’s most fascinating religious and artistic traditions, exploring the origins of Zen Buddhism in Japanese painting through ink paintings and calligraphies done by painter-monks. Curated by New Orleans-based collectors Kurt Gitter and Alice Yelen, this exhibition also includes a careful selection of modern and contemporary art influenced by Zen Buddhism features and is equal parts playful and profound. February 19 through May 14. Learn more  A new gallery opening in March at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston will highlight the full extent of the MFAH’s holdings in Islamic art, including a selection from the exquisite collection of Hossein Afshar. Art of the Islamic Worlds will contain hundreds of artworks spanning over 1,000 years from historic Islamic lands, including present-day Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Morocco, Pakistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Spain, Syria, and Uzbekistan. With nearly 6,000 square feet of new gallery space, the MFAH has nearly doubled the amount of permanent display space for Islamic art and will feature paintings, ceramics, precious inlaid metal ware, and silk fabrics and carpets that all convey the rich artistic traditions of the Islamic worlds. Opens March 5. Learn more    Houston Center for Contemporary Craft  Houston-based multidisciplinary artist Matt Manalo captures his experience living in the United States after immigrating from his home country of the Philippines through a new exhibition at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft: Philippine-Made: The Work of Matt Manalo. Through a display of sculptures made from air-dry clay, bamboo, and plant materials, Manalo takes us on an autobiographical, self-reflective journey that brings visibility and awareness to the Filipinx community while also addressing the racism and colonialism that has persisted following America’s occupation of the Philippines. February 11 through May 13. Learn more    Holocaust Museum Houston  Woman, the Spirit of the Universe is an exhibition at the Holocaust Museum Houston featuring the work of Carolyn Marks Johnson, a lawyer and former Harris County senior district judge who has crafted a stunning collection of bronze collars all representing American heroines across multiple generations who have fought for equality. Stitched by hand and later cast in bronze, Johnson has memorialized the likes of Dolores Huerta, Chief Wilma Mankiller, Harriet Tubman, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg and will debut her two newest collars honoring former Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Houston’s first librarian Julia B. Ideson. Johnson’s art is a symbol of the persisting struggle for women’s rights, with the name for the exhibition stemming from the belief that a woman’s spirit is what holds the universe together. January 13 through April 2. Learn more  Click to expand Woman, the Spirit of the Universe at Holocaust Museum Houston. Photo credit: Sonya Cuellar Hungarian-Jewish artist Alice Lok Cahana was transported with her family to Auschwitz at the age of 15, before being transferred to the Bergen-Belsen camp. While Cahana was one of the few fortunate enough to be liberated in 1945, her family was not so lucky and joined the thousands of Jews killed during the Holocaust. Believing that her work had to be about the transcendence of the human spirit and a triumph over evil, Cahana’s extensive portfolio of abstract artwork that began after her immigration to Houston in 1957 is an illustration of her experiences during the Holocaust and a tribute to the lives that were lost. The Life and Art of Alice Lok Cahana exhibition at the Holocaust Museum Houston features over a dozen multi-media works and includes a video component showcasing the personal stories and memories of her friends and family. February 3 through April 9. Learn more    Moody Center for the Arts  Featuring the work of 22 international artists, Narrative Threads: Fiber Art Today explores the practice of fiber art - fine art that focuses on the manual labor of the artist and the materials, usually natural or synthetic fibers, as part of the works’ significance – and how the next generation of artists is using the medium to initiate important conversations. Textile collages, thread drawings, and outdoor installations, among other works, are utilized as autobiographies and social critiques from the artists, encompassing topics such as identity, gender, race, sexuality, repression, and power. Several of the artists featured at this Moody Center exhibition identify as women, LGBTQ+, and persons of color and are using the fiber art medium to communicate many of these personal and political issues. January 13 through May 13. Learn more    Menil Collection  More than twenty works will be on display at the Menil Collection as part of the Art of the Cameroon Grassfields, A Living Heritage in Houston exhibition – a celebration of the Grassfields region of Cameroon that has gained international recognition for its innovative artists. More than 200 independent monarchies (called chefferies) support these artists through their patronage, and intense competition between these rulers has led to the creation of increasingly elaborate, monumental artworks. Blending the historical with the contemporary, this exhibition will include headdresses, prestige hats, masks, royal stools, figural sculptures, and palace architectural elements from various kingdoms, as well as two installations by Douala-based artist Hervé Youmbi - Celestial Thrones (Les trônes célestes) and Bamiléké-Duala Nyatti Ku’ngang Mask. February 17 through July 9. Learn more    Houston Museum of Natural Science  Now open at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, King Tut’s Tomb Discovery Experience is a unique event that promises to take visitors back to 1922 with Egyptologist Howard Carter as he discovers and explores King Tut’s Tomb. Covering Tutankhamen’s life, death, and the concept of ancient Egyptian afterlife, this immersive exhibition features the dark tunnels of Tutankhamen’s burial chambers, floor-to-ceiling hieroglyphics, and the golden treasures that he took with him into the afterlife. What makes this latest exhibition truly unique is the forced perspective hallway that creates the illusion of descending deeper into the heart of King Tut’s tomb. Now open. Learn more 
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