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Evolution of UH’s Public Art program

Dorothy Hood exhibit in the University’s special collections. | James Schillinger/The Cougar

Dorothy Hood exhibit in the University’s special collections. | James Schillinger/The Cougar

Students are exposed to a variety of artwork, but behind the creativity is a complex process of bringing the sketch to life.

Public Art UHS houses various artwork styles from renowned artists as well as provides opportunities to understand the behind the scenes of each exhibit and piece. 

Public Art program manager Ileana Yordan shared insight into the process of displaying the exhibits as well as a brief history of how UH System’s public art process was established.

“In 1969 UH made its first official acquisition which is Orbit One and Orbit Two by the Japanese American artist, Masaru Takiguchi,” Yordan said. “So that was a really interesting acquisition and then we acquired our first outdoor sculpture, Albertus Magnus in 1970.” 

Since then, multiple acquisitions were made transforming the campus into its own outdoor museum, Yordan said. The UH System has also worked towards displaying public art throughout all of its campuses and universities.


 In the library’s special collections department is an exhibit dedicated to Dorothy Hood and her artwork. 

The exhibit called “The Edge of Being” features the Texas-born artist’s archival works from when she was a child until her final years. 

“This show is a variety of both paintings and collages by Dorothy Hood, but also some of her own objects from her studio, paintbrushes, a variety of ephemera and archival material from her apparel collection,” Yordan said.

The exhibit will be available to view long term until March 2023. 

A recent piece of work from Muna Al-Bader is her mural painting “Cultural Bonds” which connects her experience in Houston and her birth city, Doha.

“She was so inspired by being here on a campus and talking to students that she added these quotes which are about the importance of education,” said public programs and outreach manager Lauren Cross.

Al-Bader uses the color blue in all of her paintings as a symbolic way for her to remember and honor her ancestors, according to Cross.

In March 2022, a show “Instantaneous Beauty” on Andy Warhol’s photography became open to view at UH Downtown where UH systems were gifted about 100 images highlighting his legacy, Yordan said.

The show is a traveling exhibition that will be on view at UHD until April 6 and then relocating to UH Clear Lake.

James Schillinger/The Cougar

“And this exhibition is an opportunity for us to kind of highlight the collection in a way that puts it into conversation with some of his finished artworks and artworks by some of his contemporaries,” Yordan said.

Located in the art district on campus is Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts which houses a few key pieces of work from previous UH professors.

“Windows on the World” by Al Souza showcases a non-traditional pop art piece made from fragmented jigsaw puzzles. 

“It’s called Windows on the World, the idea being you have all of these windows but also creates this kind of global shape,” Cross said. 

 James Surls’ “The Flower Woman” is a modern sculpture made from pine, oak and gum wood. 

According to the Public Art department, Surls enjoyed letting the structure of the wood dictate the form of the sculpture.

“Usually it’s very rewarding just to look a little longer or a little closer, which I think is something that sometimes you know, with works like this,” Cross said. 

In addition to the free public arts tours, a variety of workshops for students to learn about art with respected artists are available as a resource on campus.

According to Yordan, diversifying the collections is a high priority to ensure artists of different backgrounds are represented. 

Another crucial step for the Public Art department is determining the placement and accessibility of each artwork. Re-evaluating the art’s location and access is a constant process for the committee to ensure visibility is improved. 

“We do consider disability access and access to the general public,” Yordan said. “ We want to make sure that any of the artwork in our collection, that are on view, are accessible and they’re not tucked away or locked away in places that can’t be seen or experienced.” 

Computer engineering technology junior Lama Tahan shared her appreciation for the variety of art on campus as well as the uniqueness of each piece. 

“Personally, my favorite art piece is the mural at the college of technology called Cultural Bonds because I really enjoy seeing it through my eyes and what it means to me in relation with education and culture,” Tahan said. “I appreciate the message it gives to me and love the different colors, styles, and techniques used in the artwork. Overall, the artwork on campus is unique, diverse, and very fun to see.”

The Public Art system has seen a transition in its operations going from a collecting organization to functioning as a museum. 

In terms of the future of UH Public Art, Cross shared that in addition to having a permanent collection, there is a temporary program for any emerging artists in Houston to apply and create proposals to turn into reality.

“They’ll usually submit to us a budget, a sketch and a plan of what the artwork will be,” Cross said. “From there and then we decide from there you know, is this feasible? Is it affordable? Is it possible to pull off? Does it kind of eliminate our collection? So there are a lot of people kind of cooks in the kitchen to decide which art gets put on campus.” 

Members of the UH Public Art committee share that they are continuing to work on broadening their scope and what they can offer while creating opportunities for the community to get involved. 

“It’s just an exciting time to be apart of UH Public Art because it’s at a growth period right now,” Yordan said. “Giving access to the population of students, people who might not normally visit a museum or typically go to a gallery space, that kind of brings the art to them in an educational environment.” 

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Correction: A previous version of this story did not refer to Public Art UHS by the full name.

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