WHAT'S ON JIMMY'S PLATE? (WAYFINDING SIGNS)
Claire Wood, Communications Intern
Have you ever seen the distorted glass of downtown towers near Cullen Center? How about flamboyant birds in cowboy hats, fluttering above Houston’s Theatre District? Maybe a jubilant stick figure, waving a haphazard Hello to passing pedestrians?
There’s a chance you haven’t – and for a long time, neither had I.
Like some Houstonians, I find myself navigating through downtown walkaways. Yet, despite my frequent visits to the city’s streets, I failed to notice these works of art.
Let’s rewind to the year 2000. It was at the turn of the millennium that Houston Downtown Management District (HDMD) announced a new, exciting civic art endeavor. Known as the Downtown Vehicular Wayfinding Signs project, the program aimed to reimagine the backs of downtown directional signage as blank canvases. In a series of years, the project commissioned multiple local artists and a total of 44 directional signs in the Houston area. By 2003, the sign-backing artwork was complete, the project a success, and downtown adorned.
Up until now, however, the project has remained untouched with over a decade’s worth of rain, wind and UV rays wearing away the signage. While the signs themselves were maintained by the City (the poles replaced, the directional symbols preserved), the art on the back degraded with time, causing the paled images to go unheeded by many a passerby. Now, 15 years later, the project initially realized by Houston Downtown Management District has resurfaced.
Enter the man responsible for assisting HDMD in the project: HAA Civic Art + Design Collection Manager Jimmy Castillo.
A native Houstonian, Jimmy graduated from the Houston School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA), afterwards continuing on to attain his BFA in Photography from the University of Houston. Working today as collection manager, Jimmy schedules and supervises conservation projects for all of the city’s artwork, from sculptures in parks to paintings in library corners.
An important figure in the Downtown Vehicular Wayfinding Signs project, Jimmy works to reprint the fading artwork that was originally mounted at the program’s beginning. Though reprinting the artwork may seem a simple task, the 15-year disparity between the project’s initiation and its resurfacing has left a substantial technological barrier that Jimmy must struggle to break through. In order to reprint the images mounted years ago, Jimmy has to dig through obsolete technology, sifting through stacks of CDs, digging through zip-disks, flipping through fuzzy transparency films and floppy disks.
Jimmy’s work for the Wayfinding Signs project involves more than recovering the art of the past. This year, ten local artists have also been commissioned to create new pieces for the collection. The artists: Pablo Gimenez-Zapiola, Sarah Welch, Prince Thomas, Jasleen Sarai, Michael Guidry, Robert Ruello, Bennie Flores Ansell, Nathaniel Donnett and Dennis Nance.
“We aren’t using just any artists,” Jimmy explains. “These are Houston artists.”
Thus, the civic art fills the downtown streets with something authentic, original and local. It’s a statement of culture – Houstonian talent, showcased in the downtown streets.
“The Wayfinding Signs project is Houston civic art made by Houston hands,” Jimmy concludes. “It makes Houston home.”
And now for food! While working Downtown and visiting the HDMD offices, Jimmy finds that the Downtown Tunnel System’s a great respite from the summer heat. Lately, he has visited Post Oak Grill and Treebeard’s in the Tunnels and Otto’s for burgers beneath Allen Center. Try them out!