Everything You Need to Know about the 2023 Art Car Festival and Parade
Get ready for one of the most colorful and creative events of the year: the 36th Annual Houston Art Car Festival and Parade! This year's event, happening April 6-16, promises to be bigger and better than ever before, with 10 days of art car viewing opportunities. From cars covered in feathers and glitter to trucks transformed into giant, fire-breathing dragons, this year's collection of entries is sure to be a feast for the eyes.
Launched in 1988 by The Orange Show (now The Orange Show Center for Visual Art), a nonprofit space dedicated to folk art for children of all ages), the Houston Art Car Parade began as a small gathering of 40 artists and roughly 2,000 spectators. The following year, the parade had doubled in size, and today, it maintains its place as one of the city’s largest free-to-the-public events, drawing hundreds of thousands of curious spectators every year, to enjoy the magic of masterfully imagined low riders, creative convertible contraptions, bejeweled roadsters, custom-crafted classics, and fur-covered, metal-modified, fire-breathing varieties. And the most Houston-centric vehicles of all—slabs!
The list of free and ticketed festivities, which take place over a 10-day span, include the opportunity for spectators to engage with the cars and their owners at locations around Houston. Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know (with more events and announcements to be added in the coming weeks):
First Thursday at Mid Main
Thursday, April 6 | 5 p.m. | 3500-3700 Blocks of Main Street
The Houston Art Car Festival and Parade officially starts on First Thursday at Mid Main. A $5 donation allows access to the event with live music at various venues around Mid Main, as well as a curated market on Winbern Street, beer sampling from Saint Arnold Brewery, and more. All proceeds benefit The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art.
Easter Orange Art Car Hunt
Saturday April 8 | 10 a.m. | Smither Park, 2441 Munger Street
This 39-year-old Orange Show tradition is a fun, free, and creative Easter Egg hunt for the whole family. Let the kids loose to find hundreds of candy-filled eggs, prizes, and, of course, oranges! Kids and families will also have an opportunity to see and explore a selection of art cars and meet their artists.
The Main Street Drag
Thursday, April 13 | 9 a.m. | Orange Show World HQ, 2334 Gulf Terminal Drive
Designed to “bring the parade to the people,” the Main Street Drag is an opportunity for art cars and their artists to visit schools, hospitals, nursing homes, developmental facilities, and other locations where residents may not be able to attend the parade or festivals events. More than 100 cars help to create a series of “mini parades” that will make their way to designated locations as the artists spend time showing off their rolling masterpieces, talk to spectators about their inspiration, and explain how they built them along the way.
Art Car Sneak Peek at Discovery Green
Thursday, April 13 | 6 p.m. | Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney Street
This free and family-friendly evening under the stars in Downtown features live music, art activities for the kids, food and drinks, and the opportunity to interact with 100 plus art cars on display. The annual Art Car Sneak Peek is one of the first public opportunities to see new entries rolling in this year’s parade and is totally free.
The Legendary Art Car Ball
Friday, April 14 | 6 p.m | The Orange Show World Headquarters, 2401 Munger Street
Wild costumes, live music, interactive and performance art, food, drinks, and a huge selection of illuminated and fire-breathing art cars are hallmarks of the annual Legendary Art Car Ball. Featuring performances from New Orleans avant-garde “rap cabaret” sensation Boyfriend, Austin’s lauded electro-pop performer Caleb de Casper, Houston’s DJ Amarji, the high energy Free Rads 2nd Line, and more to be announced. Enjoy immersive and interactive art installations by INPUT/OUTPUT, Moon Papas, and Maria Chavez; and fire performances from Ms. YET & The Renegade Carnies, as well as the visual spectacle of hundreds of glittering, twinkling, bouncing, and pulsating art cars scattered throughout the Orange Show World Headquarters’ 8-acre campus. Tickets start at $40.
The Parade’s Lineup Party
Saturday, April 15 | 11 a.m. | Allen Parkway, at Heiner Street
Join Splice Records and Saint Arnold’s for The Lineup Party; a chance to peruse all 250 plus art cars as they get ready for the parade. Enjoy live music on the Saint Arnold stage, beverage booths, food trucks, sponsor activations, games, prizes, and more.
The parade officially begins at the intersection of Dallas and Bagby Streets (on Allen Parkway), heading into Downtown before circling City Hall and heading outbound onto Allen Parkway out of Downtown, and finally dispersing at Waugh Drive. As always, the parade is free to attend. Attendees are encouraged to arrive at the parade route early to secure their spot and enjoy the beverage and merchandise stations dotting the route, as well as food trucks, entertainment, and more. Once the checkered flag is waved at 2 p.m., the parade will last approximately two hours with Allen Parkway and downtown streets opening back up at 5 p.m. Parking can be found in parking garages downtown or on side streets along Allen Parkway, but ridesharing or bicycling is encouraged to lessen the amount of automobile traffic.
H-E-B Kids Creative Zone
Saturday, April 15 | 11 a.m. | Sam Houston Park, 1000 Bagby Street
Ideally situated on the frontlines of the parade starting cars, the Kids Zone features an array of creative and interactive experiences to enjoy. Included are community partners such as Aeolian Manor Foundation, Alley Theatre’s El Zocalo, Art League Houston, The ARTZ, CAMH Teen Council, Children’s Museum of Houston, Houston Botanic Garden, Houston Mariachi Festival, Houston Public Library, MECA, Ripley Cheer, and more. Reserved grandstand seating adjacent to the H-E-B Kids Creative Zone is available for purchase at $40 per person.
The VIPit Experience
Saturday, April 15 | 12 p.m. | City Hall/Hermann Square, 901 Bagby Street
The ultimate viewing party and the largest fundraiser for the festival offers unobstructed front row views of the parade as it rolls through Downtown, all set within the beautiful Hermann Square at City Hall. This event features complimentary bites from more than a dozen local chefs and restaurants, cocktails, pre-parade entertainment, kids’ art activities, swag bags, live parade commentating from notable Houston personalities, and nearby reserved parking. Individual tickets start at $175, reserved tables start at $1,500, and reserved grandstand sections start at $2,000.
Art Car Awards Ceremony
Sunday, April 16 | 11 a.m. | The Orange Show World HQ, 2334 Gulf Terminal Drive
More than $16,000 will be distributed to winning art car artists and groups based on their creativity, artistic techniques, and inspiration. The public is invited to come celebrate the winners and get a final chance to see this year’s Art Car entries and meet the artists. View the line up at their website.
For more information and all ticketed events, visit their website at www.thehoustonartcarparade.com.