The Importance of Arts in the Airports

Alex Irrera
Civic Art + Design Collection Coordinator
Houston Arts Alliance

July 10, 2017


To truly witness the character of city, one needs a composite view. Local history and the natural landscape can communicate time-honored value; while commerce or industry can tell of economic prowess and a community’s plans for the future. Just as these lenses can reveal the features and talents of a population, so too can the productivity of a city’s creatives. Fueled by the interests and imaginations of artists, curators, and other arts workers, public artworks and exhibitions can distinguish their surroundings with enticing insight.

When situated in an airport, the role of the public art is given another dimension. In addition to symbolizing a place, the work now serves the traveler—welcoming, grounding, or inspiring them. As passengers do look up from the busy activity of a trip, thoughtfully curated artworks can be humanizing reminders of travel’s gift of discovery.

This is why art programs in airports can be so powerful, and why facilities across the world choose to establish them. To encourage the growth and continuation of these programs, the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) organizes an annual Arts in the Airports workshop. Every year, arts professionals and administrators gather to support the creation and growth of art programs in aviation facilities of all sizes. By sharing philosophies, best practices, experiments and experiences, members of the field can bolster their existing programs or find the inspiration to alter their course.

While civic ‘percent for art’ laws can facilitate art programs in larger airports, partnerships with local museums, galleries, and other cultural institutions can also be strong enabling supports for those airports that may lack the staff, resources, funding, or expertise to create a program alone. Utilizing the work of international art stars or that of inspiring, local talents (who may lack exhibition venues), artwork displays in these spaces can express and deepen an understanding of that community for both locals and visitors alike.

Following workshops at Dallas Love Field (2015) and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (2016), this year’s AAAE Art in the Airports workshop will be held at the Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas and hosted by the Houston Airport System (HAS). Between October 16 and 18, 2017, participants will be given access to: tours of the permanent and ‘portable’ artworks at Bush and William P. Hobby airports; talks and presentations by local artist and arts professional; and Houston’s robust museum and gallery scene. For this workshop, HAS will be partnering with The City of Houston’s Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, Marriott Hotel at Bush Intercontinental Airport, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Houston Arts Alliance, and local galleries. By traveling to experience Houston’s unique programing and culture, participants will refresh their knowledge of the passenger experience and reacquaint themselves with the stimulating or soothing light that art can be at the end—or beginning—of a journey.