Public Art in Motion
Local artist Dixie Friend Gay featured native butterflies in her art for the transit system.
With the light rail metro system in Houston, TX slated to triple in size in the next few months, Sara Kellner 89 PT is in exactly the right place at the right time. As director of the city’s Arts in Transit program, she is ensuring that all of the new lines slated to open and expand the system are set to feature permanent art installations that are both stunning and meaningful to the communities they serve.
“Studies by Americans for the Arts and other organizations show that taking the time to incorporate art and beautiful design into public spaces enhances the experience for members of the community and improves the city’s quality of life,” Kellner says. She has been working closely with the Houston community to plan the new installations, walking a fine line to find the right balance between artistic freedom and public opinion, which she has gathered via frequent meetings and public forums.
“We started by looking at station architecture and identifying the best opportunities for integrated artwork,” Kellner explains. The 14 artists and artist teams eventually selected to contribute to the project – including 11 from Houston and two from elsewhere in Texas – created large-scale images that are printed digitally and embedded in the station’s glass windscreens. Several of the projects also incorporate litho-mosaics into station platforms.
As an artist, Kellner is well aware of the challenges involved in translating studio practice into the public sphere. Before becoming director of Houston’s Art in Transit program in 2006, she worked as executive director at DiverseWorks, a local performing arts center. “I’ve always enjoyed working with other artists and helping them to realize their vision,” she says.
Soon after graduating from RISD in 1989, Kellner moved back to her hometown of Buffalo, NY, where she volunteered for local arts organizations such as the contemporary arts center Hallwalls. “A lot of my friends were moving to New York City,” she recalls. “Big metropolitan areas are fantastic for the arts, but there are great art scenes all around the country. Buffalo welcomed me with open arms and turned out to be a great place to start my career in the arts.”
Now that the art scene in Houston is booming, the Art in Transit program is an especially welcome addition to the city’s diverse communities. Several of the new light rail stations will focus on evoking local flora and fauna, incorporating images of magnolia trees along with vines and butterflies from the nearby bayou. The East End Line, which will cut through Houston’s Latino neighborhoods, will feature papelle picatos (Mexican paper cuttings) by Jesse and Josef Sifuentes depicting local landmarks. And Kellner describes the stations along the soon-to-be-opened Southeast Line, designed by Carroll Parrott Blue and Sharon Johnston, as “a visual lesson on Houston’s African-American history that unfolds as you move from station to station.”
, public engagement