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Funny Cars: Mobile Madness at Houston’s Art Car Parade

Houston’s delightfully zany vehicular vaudeville—a.k.a. the Art Car Parade—gets on a roll each May, with tricked-out wheels that defy description.

Can a car covered with plastic fruit be called a classic? Jackie Harris’ Fruitmobile was one of 11 wildly decorated vehicles in The Orange Show’s original “Road Show” parade in 1986, and the car is still going strong.

A giant, high-heeled shoe—shiny, cherry red, and big enough to crae the foot of an Olympian goddess—glides past the towering glass-and-metal skyscrapers of downtown Houston, and is greeted by thousands of cheering fans. Not far behind rolls a 1981 Honda Civic covered with hundreds of tropical-fish photos interspersed with a rubber chicken, 40 pounds of aquarium gravel, 616 pennies, hot-tub tiles, and a plaster ballerina. Ten thousand wind-bottle corks, glued in dense clusters to every visible surface of an old pickup truck, float by moments later.

Creativity is a quirky thing. We seem to associate it most often with the world of art—a cache of sensitive and sophisticated pursuits that tap the more erudite portions of the human psyche. The world of cars, on the other hand, seems counter-opposed, what with its sounds and smells and brute, in-your-face, steel-girded horsepower. Yet, when springtime throttles forth in Houston, you’d better hold on to your bucket seats, for these worlds are set to collide. The result is the audacious and whimsical celebration of excess called the Art Car Parade.

Scheduled this year for Saturday, May 10, the free parade is the hallmark of the artfully orchestrated Pennzoil Art Car Weekend, the biggest and most celebrated “art-auto” extravaganza in the nation. Houston’s Orange Show Foundation, an organization created in 1980 to “preserve works of extraordinary imagination and celebrate the artist in everyone,” sponsors the festival. Art-car events include the Main Street Drag (not confined to Main Street), which consists of five convoys of art cars visiting local children’s hospitals, schools, day-care centers, inner-city neighborhoods, and other sites where folks congregate who otherwise wouldn’t get to see the zany vehicles. There’s also an Art Car Symposium, a chance for artists, curators, scholars, and the generally curious to share their knowledge and love of auto art.

Sponsored by The Orange Show Foundation, the Pennzoil Art Car Weekend, includes 5 events, which begin Fri., May 9, with the Main Street Drag. The Art Car Symposium, a multimedia presentation on the growing art-car phenomenon, follows that evening at the Rice Media Center (Stockton at University Blvd., Rice University Entrance 8) from 7-9 p.m. This is the only event for which there is a charge ($5).

The 2003 Art Car Parade: Powered by Pennzoil begins Sat. at 1 p.m. at the intersection of Allen Pkwy. and Taft. The route follows Allen Pkwy. into downtown, veers right onto Clay, turns left onto Bagby, and then goes left on Lamar, which turns into outbound Allen Pkwy. The 2.5-mile route ends at Eleanor Tinsley Park. There is no admission charge along any part of the parade route.

The Art Car After Party, which features an exhibition of dozens of mobile artworks, live rock music, concessions, family activities, and more, takes place immediately after the parade near the footbridge in Eleanor Tinsley Park, from about 2-6:30 p.m. The Art Car Awards Ceremony, in which art-car-parade winners in dozens of categories receive a total of more than $10,000 in cash prizes, is held at the same place at 5 p.m.

For details, write to The Orange Show Foundation, 2402 Munger St., Houston 77023; 713/926-6368;

Related Events and Sites

The Artists ArtCar Ball, a separate event sponsored by the Wheels of Progress Foundation for the Arts, takes place Thu., May 8, from 7-midnight (site undecided at press time). Dress is definitely "anything goes." Admission: $20 per person (no presale tickets or reservations). Call 713/221-1145 or 817-8255;

The Artcar Museum, a contemporary art museum that emphasizes art cars, is at 140 Heights Blvd. in Houston. Hours: Wed-Sun 11-6. Admission: Free. Call 713/861-5526;

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From the May 2003 issue.

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