Seabrook has pelican statues. Friendswood has murals. Clear Lake has painted traffic utility boxes.
Until last month, League City had nothing, but it is aiming to change that.
Over the next couple of years, the city will make a concerted effort to create and install different forms of public art across the city. The art will reflect the city’s history, future and values, giving an identity to residents and visitors alike, officials said.
To demonstrate this effort, an artist in May finished painting the first piece of public art for the city: A utility box in League Park has been adorned with longhorns, a train and other imagery reflecting the city’s culture.
This is just the beginning.
“I think the only direction we’re heading is up, and it’s going to start reaping benefits,” League City City Council Member Larry Millican said.
Filling a void
Millican was the first to propose creating public art in League City. During a strategic planning session in early 2019, Millican challenged staff to come up with ways to beautify and share League City through art.
“You look around this region, and everybody’s got something,” Millican said. “We didn’t have any identifying art, if you will, in the city. I thought there was a void.”
Millican wants to avoid creating “blank roadways and entrances” in a city that will one day be home to over 200,000 residents, he said.
From a development standpoint, art offers advantages. The city seeks quality developments, both residential and commercial, for the city’s growth, which means including amenities to make them attractive. Art can factor into that, Millican said.
As an example, League City has for years been planning the Riverbend development along North Wesley Drive just east of I-45 and south of Clear Creek. When complete, it will include restaurants, shops, a marina with several boat slips, an amphitheater and a hotel. Additionally, city officials are working to include art projects in the development, which is highly visible to I-45 motorists.
Besides making areas more attractive, art draws people in, creating economic opportunities.
“Attractive places attract people and dollars,” said Katherine Gregor of UP Art Studio, a company helping League City with its art effort.
UP Art Studio co-owner Elia Quiles said she agreed.
“Cities are finally starting to see that public art helps in the economic development goals, and I think that’s why ... more cities ... are looking for ways to incorporate public art as a branding tool and an identity tool,” she said.
On top of that, public art allows League City to maintain its small-town feel with imagery reflecting its humble beginnings and rural values. Themes for potential art include the city’s history, its status as a birdwatching destination and more, officials said.
“What better way to ... highlight that story than ... public display? And one way you can do that is art,” Millican said.
Ample art opportunities
To identify public art opportunities, League City hired UP Art Studio in Houston to conduct a $9,000 feasibility study. The studio came back with ideas for art and evidence, and the community is excited about the effort.
According to a public survey conducted as part of the study, over 80% of residents indicated they support the ideas and goals behind creating art across the city.
“That was awesome to see,” said Quiles, who helped with the study.
The survey showed residents support art in various places, especially in parks, trails and gateway entrances into the city.
Park art could be anything from more mini-murals, such as the one in League Park, to statues; League City officials have mentioned more than once a desire to make a statue honoring John C. League, the city’s founder, especially considering next year is the 60th anniversary of the city being incorporated.
Wayfinder art, such as large, abstract installations, could be placed at trailheads of League City’s numerous walking and biking routes. These are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also allow trail users to identify where they are, officials said.
Gateways into the city, such as highways and overpasses, could be decorated as well. Additionally, UP Art Studio suggested painting one of the city’s two water towers, giant murals on the blank walls of private properties, and art related to drainage in areas where the city is constructing flood-mitigation projects, Quiles said.
League City is wasting no time on UP Art Studio’s suggestions: Starting in fiscal year 2021-22, the city will paint over two dozen traffic utility boxes across the city.
“How do we start with some easy, quick-win projects to build some excitement in the city?” said Director of Communications and Media Relations Sarah Greer Osborne, who is spearheading the projects. “We’re going to start small with the traffic boxes.”
The city is also working with Clear Creek ISD to have students help design art near their campuses, officials said.
To help with its effort, League City earlier this year revived and renamed its Clean and Green Committee to the Keep League City Beautiful Committee. The committee includes residents interested in sustainability and art.
Jason Makepeace is a committee member, a University of Houston-Clear Lake associate professor of sculpture, and director of the college’s art and design program. He is excited by League City’s effort.
“Having opportunities for having local artists to bring their creative touch and ownership in the town they live in, I think is a great opportunity,” he said. “I’m all for it. It’s exciting to see these sorts of things happening.”
UP Art Studio has put out a call for its mural program, which League City is now involved in. The studio got 140 applications, 20 of which were from League City residents, Osborne said.
“It’s been super exciting to know we have a pretty big [art interest] in League City that I’m not sure anybody knew about before,” she said.
Jason Makepeace’s wife, Nina Makepeace, is a Clear Falls art teacher who is looking forward to working with her students on potential art projects. She, too, supports public art.
“It’s a long time overdue,” she said. “If you visit surrounding cities, many of them seem to have already incorporated just more art into every aspect of the city. I think it’ll be awesome to highlight the creativity we have here in League City.”
Funding the arts
This fiscal year, the city set aside $25,000 from hotel occupancy tax funds to complete its five planned murals along Main Street and the one at League Park. Hotel tax funds were lower this fiscal year due to COVID-19, but officials expect it to rebound soon.
“Things are picking up, so we’re optimistic about the next quarter that we’re in,” she said.
For FY 2021-22, the city plans to set aside $150,000 in reinvestment money toward capital improvement projects for art. Another $30,000 will come from hotel tax funds, and an additional $30,000 will come from the streets fund for a total of $210,000, Osborne said.
The city could end up allocating more toward art by pulling from its parks fund and its 4B fund, which is money set aside for sports facilities, she said.
“I’m hopeful we could get that $210,000 even higher,” Osborne said.
With that $210,000, League City will pay for at least another 20 traffic box murals next fiscal year. Some of the money might fund a statue of League or public art at the city’s new dog park or a new 5K loop trail at Hometown Heroes Park, Osborne said.
In the future, League City might consider allocating a certain percentage of all capital improvement project costs toward art like Houston does. Quiles and Gregor said almost every city that has art uses this method to fund projects.
Finally, League City plans to hire a full-time staff member who will concentrate, in part, on the city’s art effort. The staff member will replace two unfilled part-time library staffers in the budget, Osborne said.
The city is taking the initiative one step at a time, but officials are excited about where the city may end up 10 or 15 years from now.
“With this initiative, if it continues, I believe we are going to be a city that’s going to be identified by the projects we’re going to be putting on the ground,” Millican said.
When it comes to League City’s public art, the possibilities are endless, Quiles said.
“It can go as far as they want to take it,” Quiles said. “I’m really hopeful for the city of League City.”