Figurative poetics  by morris malakoff tv4m47

If you live, work or play downtown, you’ve noticed new sound bites on the streets, and we’re not talking about sirens or jackhammers—though, we do know those all too well. 

In association with Downtown District and CORE Design Studio, an eye-catching banner collection titled “Figurative Poetics” boasts 100 quotes from past and present Bayou City dwellers, touting everything from thought-provoking musings to quirky quips about what it means to be a Houstonian. It is the latest beautification initiative from Downtown District to bring a fresh perspective to Houston’s colorful past and current renaissance with an eclectic assortment of voices capturing the city’s nuances. Or in the words of contributing fourth grader Caoilin, “And for quesadillas I would trade a skyline.” Nailed it.

Chatty banners popped up around downtown attractions in early April and can be viewed in the Theater District, Minute Maid Park, St. Joseph Medical Center, City Hall and along major thoroughfares. The final installation on Main Street will be completed by the last week of May, with all banners flying high for the next two years. 

CORE Design Studio principles Fiona McGettigan and Alan Krathaus curated the “Figurative Poetics” concept. McGettigan shares that their narrative resonates with individuals because it touches on the diverse voices of the city. “As people walk the streets of downtown, we hope they engage with the banners like pages from a book,” McGettigan says. “Each page gives more insight into Houston and the people who live here.”

The studio also collaborated with Writers in the Schools, High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program, as well as literary arts nonprofit Inprint for banner text that resonates with locals. “We brainstormed several places to quote material, including Literary Houston by David Theis,” says Rich Levy, executive director of Inprint. “My poem Main Street, Dusk is featured, from which we chose the quote ‘I am waiting for snow.’ We are all waiting for snow sometimes, aren't we? Especially on steamy summer nights in Houston.” 

Levy shares that the banners bring life, wit and spirit to downtown as a smart and eye-catching addition to the streets.

CORE Design Studio also collected passages from bygone authors and tastemakers. Journalist and humorist Alexander Sweet’s 1883 book On a Mexican Mustang through Texas, from the Gulf to the Rio Grande is also quoted: “The coast-town mosquito rarely exceeds in size the ordinary Texas mockingbird.”

More than a hundred years later, Sweet’s humorous observation still hits close to home for downtown bystanders who read his text, smile and nod with a mutual understanding that only locals can appreciate. As quoted on a banner by the Queen B herself, it’s “Houston, Texas baby.”

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