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Orange Show Center for Visionary Art’s Houston Art Car Parade

The History | Origins of the Parade | The Main Street Drag | Art Car Parade Today

The Houston Art Car Weekend is one the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art’s programs designed to make art an integral part of everyone’s everyday life. Its mission is to preserve works of extraordinary imagination and celebrate the artist in everyone.

Origins of the Parade
The Art Car Parade experienced its genesis in the Houston art community in the early ’80s. The 1984 Lawndale Art Annex exhibition “Collision” – curated by Ann Harithas, who went on to found the Art Car Museum in 1998 – contained two works of art made from automobiles. This ignited a wave of interest in the car as an art material. Also in 1984, a 1967 Ford station wagon was donated to The Orange Show to be auctioned off at the non-profit’s annual Gala benefit. The Orange Show commissioned Houston artist Jackie Harris to transform the car into a work of art. The resulting Fruitmobile joined a number of other decorated automobiles in March 1986 for what was called the New Music America Parade.
On June 29, 1986, the Orange Show organized a “Road Show” exhibit to spotlight the decorated automobiles, with Lowrider demonstrations and children’s art bike workshops. More than 1,400 Houstonians came, along with WFAA-TV (ABC) and National Public Radio. Two years later, the Houston International Festival asked the Orange Show to organize an artists’ parade and the Orange Show suggested a parade of Art Cars. First held in 1988, it was originally called Roadside Attractions: The Artists’ Parade, and it has grown ever since. In 1999, the parade became known as the Art Car Parade: Powered by Pennzoil, in 2004, it was renamed Everyones Art Car Parade and now in 2007, it is makes a return to its roots and is known as the Houston Art Car Parade.

The Main Street Drag
In 1991, the Orange Show brought nationally acclaimed Art Car artist David Best to Houston to collaborate with a University of Houston sculpture class to create an art car. After it was completed, Best and Houston artist Paul Kittelson staged an impromptu procession of art cars around Houston’s 610 Loop freeway the day before the official parade.
The “around town” parade was a huge success and the following year, the Orange Show decided to do it again, this time taking the caravan the length of Main Street, from South Main at the Astrodome to the North Main neighborhoods – calling it the Main Street Drag. In years to follow, the Drag proceeded to the Medical Center and then to area schools.
Today, the Main Street Drag consists of multiple mini Art Car parades fanning out all over the city. Each varies from eight to 20 cars and makes a half-dozen stops, bringing a snapshot of the parade to people who otherwise would not be able to see it. In 2007, the Drag expanded to eight caravans, adding 13 new schools and a total of 20,000 school children who can participate in art car excitement.

Art Car Parade Today
Today, the Art Car Parade is the highlight of a three-day celebration of the drive to create, called the Art Car Weekend. In 2007 the Art Car parade attracted participants from 15 states plus Canada and Mexico, a live audience of more than 250,000 spectators and a television audience of more than 245,000 households. Parade entries, including anything on wheels, from unicycles to lawnmowers to cars, are as likely to be made by members of the general public as by recognized artists. Community groups, public and private schools – from elementary to university – and professional organizations have become regular participants. Spectators, inspired by what they see, create art cars of their own and often become future participants.

The Houston Art Car Parade is a true public art event, created by the people and for the people. Best of all, the event is free of charge for parade watchers. There is no pre-selection process, no juried selection of entries – everyone who makes a decorated, augmented or otherwise decked-out, wheeled vehicle can be a participant. As the parade grows and attracts more and more participants, the complexity and quality of the entries increases, as does the enjoyment of parade-goers.


Houston Art Car Weekend, produced by the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art:
The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art exists to preserve works of extraordinary imagination and celebrate the artist in everyone. The Orange Show is supported by major grants from the City of Houston through the Cultural Arts Council of Houston/Harris County and the Texas Commission on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Brown Foundation, the Cullen Foundation, Houston Endowment, the Wortham Foundation, Inc., private contributions, in-kind support and volunteer assistance.

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