Houston Airports celebrates a year of its Artist in Residence Program

The interactive award-winning program supports local creatives as the only program of its kind in the U.S. 

September 26, 2023

An airport is a competition for attention. From touchscreens at ticketing counters to meticulous instructions at TSA security and the neon call of restaurants and retail, when it comes to grabbing attention, passengers have options. Over the last 12 months, local artists have succeeded in creating genuine connections. 

“I really like the studio artists set up in Terminal A,” wrote James Rees on a comment card during a recent visit to George Bush Intercontinental Airport. “A great addition to an experience while traveling.”

Rees crossed paths with professional artist Brian Zievert. His painting style is plein-air. It dates back to 19th century France when artists took to painting outdoors with the artist’s subject in full view. While the painting style is specific, the concept of plein-air is the essence of the Houston Airports Artist in Residence Program.

The interactive visual arts program, which launched in September 2022, encourages engagement between local artists and airport guests. One artist works inside Terminal A at Bush Airport, and a second artist works just past TSA security at Hobby Airport. During their three-month-long residency, Houston Airports provides each artist with an easel, workstation, and a monthly stipend to cover art supplies. The artists will own what they create. However, in support of the program, each artist shares one of their finished works for temporary display by Houston Airports. 

The engaging experience has become wildly popular with passengers. 

“Spectators will witness the metamorphosis of an idea into a work of art while having the unique ability of actually engaging with the artist as the work comes to life,” said Liliana Rambo, Chief Terminal Management Officer for Houston Airports. “We hope the moment is as impressive as it is inspiring.”  

The unique opportunity, which is the only program of its kind in the U.S., is a collaboration between Rambo and Alton DuLaney, Curator of Public Art for Houston Airports. Local creatives are selected by Houston Airports to participate, and the artists are responsible for creating art during a set weekly schedule. 

“It’s not every day that travelers get to see an artist creating art right before their eyes,” said Edgar Medina who painted at Hobby Airport this summer. “I always made time to chat with them and share my art story.”  

Houston Airports Artist In Residence program is borne out of the curiosity and appreciation passengers showed during the previous installation of art now on display. Travelers often stopped to admire muralists at work. Houston Airports saw an opportunity to create an intentional connection.  

“On average, more than one million passengers per week visited Houston’s airports in 2022,” said DuLaney. “The exposure and crowds we’re cultivating for these local creatives in our airports is tremendous! We get the number of guests in a week than some of the most famous museums in the U.S. will welcome in an entire year.”

As the primary gateway to Latin America and a gateway to the South-Central region of the U.S., Houston Airports welcomes a diverse group of travelers. “The hope,” Dulaney said, “is that our program is as impressive as it is inspiring.”  

With more than 350 permanent pieces valued at $28 million, Houston Airports has one of the largest public art collections in the aviation industry The program is part of the airport system’s award-winning arts program. In March 2023, Houston Airports was named as having the ‘World’s Best Art in Airport’ by the Skytrax World Airport Awards. 

“The next generation of creators could be among the crowd watching these acclaimed artists' work,” said DuLaney of the Houston Airports Artist in Residence Program. “The innovative program is an example of our vibrant and thriving arts program which is becoming a signature experience of Houston Airports.” 

These professional artists participated In the inaugural year of the program: Mark Francis, Jean Baptiste, Edgar Medina, Thedra Culler-Ledford, Brian Zievert and Rachelle LeBlanc. The unparalleled exposure and a collaborative exchange of ideas between artist and traveler are propelling the program forward.  

“Our travelers will have an extraordinary experience to enjoy Houston’s art and culture without ever having to leave the airport,” said DuLaney.