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Why Public Art Matters to Developers of Houston’s Master-Planned Communities

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Houston’s master-planned developers have created increasingly elaborate amenities to attract prospective residents.  Over the years, concrete swimming pools have turned into modern, resort style pools with waterslides.  The old schoolyard playground has been replaced by “natural” playgrounds with treehouses and a 100-foot zipline.

Today, displays of public art – typically found in urban parks and in front of civic institutions in central Houston – have made their way into the Houston suburbs as a integral part of master-planned communities’ landscaping.

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, The Johnson Development Corporation will showcase several large metal sculptures at its master-planned communities throughout Houston.  Starting April 1st, the Houston based developer will launch large scale sculptures created by Massachusetts metal artist Dale Rogers at its Fort Bend County, Montgomery County and League City communities.  These outdoor works include “Four People,” a Cor-Ten steel sculpture of four people holding hands that will be permanently displayed in Cross Creek Ranch, Imperial Sugar Land, Harmony, Harvest Green, Riverstone, Tuscan Lakes and Woodforest.  Two temporary exhibits – “Flight,” a 2012 ArtPrize-winning stainless steel sculpture of flying birds, and “The Big Dog Show,” a Cor-Ten steel sculpture of free-standing dogs – will circulate throughout Johnson Development communities in Fort Bend, such as Sienna Plantation.

Johnson Development has a long history of incorporating art into public spaces.  Since the 1990s, the company has installed outdoor art pieces, such as sculptures depicting nature scenes, statues depicting neighborhood life and design features in Imperial Sugar Land that give a historical nod to the community’s past.

“We see public art as the nexus for the community, a social offering that creates a sense of place,” Doug Goff, Johnson Development’s COO, said in an email.  “Art in public places also creates attachment to one’s community.  We have found that the aesthetics of a place – its art, parks and green spaces – rank very high with both existing and prospective residents as a driver of attachment.”

Rogers, a 13-year veteran artist who has work displayed in more than 10 states, began creating large scale public art a decade ago.  His first commissioned works went to municipalities and corporations, but over the years, Rogers noticed more developers commissioning artists to create outdoor pieces for their master-planned communities.  “While municipalities ten to favor iconic pieces that show off a tourist destination and corporations like abstract geometric pieces for their office lobbies, developers gravitate toward figurative pieces that represent what the community is about,” Rogers said.

“For Johnson Development, that has meant art pieces that focused on the community’s natural features and active lifestyle of its residents,” Goff said.  “Rogers’ sculpture for Johnson Development’s 40th anniversary celebration – “Four People” – is an “uplifting and uniting” piece that can be interpreted as parents playing with their children or four close friends,” he said.

“Cities and companies want to project a certain image when they commission Rogers to create a public work of art,” Rogers said.  “Companies have realized they can attract more creative and higher-caliber employees with public art on their corporate campuses,” he said.

“if you’re highly motivated, you want to surround yourself with art and be inspired,” Rogers said.  “It’s the same with residential communities.  If you have a nice piece of art where people can gather, you’re going to have a tighter sense of community, a happier community.”

Article courtesy of Paul Takahashi with Houston Business Journal

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