Art and About
Houston's new art park gets a quirky Orange groundbreaking: Ready for theslither tunnel?
Editor's note: CultureMap broke the news that Houston is getting a new green space called Smither Park back on Dec. 10. A groundbreaking for the project was held this week and Joel Luks brings this exclusive video report.
Orange is the new green.
Wearing orange colored construction hats decorated with recycled materials — broken pottery shards, wine corks and random colorful objects — and surrounded by orange trees, a group Houstonians, children included, happily broke ceramic pots, plates and ornaments with equally decorated shovels. Rather than breaking the ground, literally, the joyous scene de-virginized an open area on Munger Street just west of the Orange Show's main monument.
Nothing at the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art is traditional, and that includes the groundbreaking ceremony for Smither Park, a new outdoor venture in memory of John H. Smither, a former partner and management committee member of Vinson & Elkins law firm, board member of The Orange Show Foundation and president of the Houston Ballet.
"My husband was involved in the Orange Show since 1988," Stephanie Smither said. "I wanted to do something in memory of him and the city of Houston. We collect self-taught art and this park is the vision of one person, Dan Phillips. It embodies much that (my husband) cherished: Family, fun and creative endeavors, while being mindful of our responsibilities as humans. Where art flourishes, culture flourishes."
Phillips is no stranger in the Houston and international creative scene. His visionary approach matches the mission of the Orange Show seamlessly. A speaker at Houston's first TEDx Conference, his accolades include the 2010 Edison Green Award Gold Medal (sponsored by Rutgers University), the Environmental Excellence First Place Award from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the 2003 award for the Most Innovate Houston Worldwide from the Institute for Social Invention (London, England).
"The materials in the park are going to be primarily very sustainable materials," Phillips said. "They have to be materials that will last in Houston weather. They will be everything from bones, mirror, tile, broken china, sea shells and lots of things, fashioned into designs that will be a smorgasbord to the eye."
At the project's conclusion, about 100,000 square feet of artistic canvass will be covered with recycled objects, Stephanie Smither noted.
The collective vision of those involved is clear. On one side of the half-acre park, an amphitheater decorated with mirror shards and colorful mosaics will provide a backdrop for art and social events, including performances, weddings and quinceañeras. A water feature capturing rainwater will anchor the Meditation Garden, a place of quiet introspective reflection. A slithering Serpentine Tunnel will span through the center of the design, also accommodating an area for tables and benches to encourage small intimate gatherings.
Filled with childlike energy, creativity and sophisticated innocence, Phillips lightheartedly shared the purpose of some of the park's amenities.
"Maybe the bride will come out of the tunnel," Phillips joked thinking of a wedding. "At the end of the half-tunnel, we will have a tower with a coin roll. It's very similar to a marble roll but we will do that with a quarter. Each will trip a gate making each quarter follow a different path so that we get $1.25 out of everyone. We are hoping this will be a small revenue stream for all the wonderful projects of the Orange Show."
Phillips also promised that there will be riddles embedded in the mosaics that would confound even the most devout puzzle lovers.
A 400-foot memory wall will span the length of the garden. Crafted also from broken china, it will provide a space for the community to commemorate loved ones.
"We will be using community members, friends and family to help build the park.," Barbara Hinton, emcee and Orange Show board member, explained. "There will be art workshops conducted by Dan Phillips to help build the park and help embellish it. It's going to be a world class visionary art park and a great contribution to the city of Houston."
The ceremony also served as a call-to-action. To realize this project, the Orange Show hopes to secure sponsorships ranging from $100 for a small hand-painted tile embedded in the Memory Wall to $25,000 for a fora 40-foot long section with 20 percent of the funds raised to benefit its sustainability and maintenance fund.
Scheduled for completion in 2012, Steve Goodchild of Goodchild Builders, Ed Eubanks Group of Architects, planning expert Mary Lou Henry and Wayne Gross of TreeSource Wholesale Nursery will be donating their time and expertise.
Representatives from Council Members James Rodriguez, Jolanda Jones and Melissa Noriega, were in attendance.
Joel Luks goes "Art and About" and investigates the groundbreaking ceremony of Smither Park