A Pageant of the Automotively Weird: The 25th Anniversary of the Houston Art Car Parade
Betwixt the early afternoon hours of 1pm and 3pm on May 12 of this year, Allen Parkway will be crawling with vehicles affectionately referred to as… art cars. But that’s the end of this story and not the beginning.
Even if you’re not asking yourself, “What in the hell is an ‘art car’?”, I’m going to answer that question for you anyway. An art car is any vehicle (lawnmower, golf cart, go-cart, unicycle, full-size motor vehicle, etc.) that has been physically modified to reflect the personal artistic expressions of the vehicle’s owner or the cartist. That’s right– an art car artist is often referred to as a “cartist.” To be a cartist, there is no formal training necessary; just a desire to express oneself artistically… and some gas money.
So the origin of this artistic and comical parade is found in the year 1984 with the donation of a 1967 Ford station wagon to The Orange Show Foundation for their annual Gala benefit. Houston artist, Jackie Harris, transformed the station wagon into the “Fruitmobile” with $800 of paint and plastic fruit. Following this act of artsy altruism, art cars began to be added to various events and parades in and around town. The quirky presence of these movable art pieces was so endearing that in 1986 Susanne Demchak fashioned together a “Road Show” at The Orange Show featuring eleven art cars, of course the flagship “Fruitmobile” (still alive and kickin’ to this day mind you), children’s art bike workshops and Lowrider demonstrations. Some 1,400 Houstonians attended the event along with WFAA-TV and National Public Radio. The following year, the Houston International Festival, at the time the City’s official celebration of the arts, beseeched The Orange Show to produce a parade for the festival. The Orange Show agreed and picked its muse… the art cars. And in April of 1988, the Art Car Parade was born. The maiden voyage of the Art Car Parade was 40 art cars deep and witnessed by an estimated 2,000 Houstonians.
Now, closing in on its 25th Birthday, the Houston Art Car Parade powered by The Orange Show is the climax of the Art Car Weekend, “a three-day celebration of the drive to create.” The Art Car Weekend begins with The Legendary Art Car Ball on Thursday, May 10th featuring live music, food and the building excitement for the parade. It takes place at the art monument known as The Orange Show. Following that, there’s a Sneak Peek at Discovery Green early friday evening; and then the parade begins the next day at 1pm. Here’s the Route: the parade runs up and down Allen Parkway (east and west, if you’re privy to cardinal directions) starting at Taft heading towards Downtown (east); then the parade makes a left at Heritage Park, and then travels back down (west) Allen Parkway the other way. This year, prior to the start of the parade, everyone is invited to converge on the parade starting line at 9am to meet and mingle with the cartists and enjoy a wide array of various activities, including but not limited to The Tontons and Portal Walker performing on the Free Press Summer Fest stage. There will also be other live music, children’s crafts, food and beverages (especially the adult variety).
The magnitude of Houston’s Art Car Parade has exploded since it’s humble beginning of 2,000 Houstonians. Today, hundreds of thousands of attendees (close to 300,000) from 23 states and Canada and Mexico travel to the southern shore of Buffalo Bayou to witness the parade of over 250 art cars. It is the largest festival in Houston and the city’s premier art event, dwarfing the super sexy FPSF and the iFest.
The largest Art Car Parade on the planet belongs to our beloved city, Houston, Texas… that is until Mayor Annise Parker passes an ordinance banning the event on account of it not being “Wealthy Land Owner” enough. Cheers.