HISD students take their creativity to the streets at 37th Annual Art Car Parade

On April 13, students from 26 HISD campuses participated in the 37th Annual Art Car Parade. The parade is a treasured community tradition and the culmination of months of hard, creative work each year. Students at participating schools collaborated during their art classes and after-school time to construct their unique Art Cars. The morning of the parade, students gathered to showcase their creations alongside vehicles designed and built by scores of other artists from across the city. Crowds came out to marvel at the fantastic works of art on wheels along a route that followed Allen Parkway through downtown Houston.

A panel of local artists, art patrons, and sponsors of the arts collective and Houston institution The Orange Show judge the entries and select the winning Art Cars in a variety of categories. The event welcomes participants from all over and attracts an audience of more than 250,000 spectators. HISD students conceptualize and build their Art Cars using donated vehicles and plaster, papier mâché, reclaimed materials, and other creative means. The idea is for students and teachers to let their imaginations run wild, and then craft a car that embodies the group’s collective vision.

Parker Elementary School created an Art Car for the parade in 2020, but the event was canceled due to the pandemic. This time around, Parker art teacher Julie Dickinson was considering a car with a floral theme, to represent the school’s on-campus garden. She changed her mind after a conversation with one of her colleagues, Leslie Hokanson, who suggested building a car inspired by Parker alum and NASA astronaut Shannon Walker.

Designing and building the space-themed car was a team effort, with Parker’s fourth and fifth graders painting a galaxy design on the truck, and younger students using plaster sheets to make planets for the solar system. A Parker parent created a model space shuttle out of plywood for the top of the vehicle, and students painted themselves inside its windows. As the finishing touch, a fifth grader drew a picture of astronaut  Walker at the very front.

“Projects like Art Car have tremendous value in the lives of all people, but especially our young learners,” Dickinson said. “When students participate in these community events, they develop a greater sense of pride in themselves, their schools, and their immediate community. They learn to concentrate and pay attention to details. Art is a part of everything. It is naturally cross curricular. Students use math, science, social studies, and reading every day in art class. This particular Art Car experience increased student knowledge about our solar system, three dimensional shapes, and states of matter.”

Dickinson tried not to get her hopes up when contacting NASA to see if Shannon Walker would participate in the parade.To the Parker team’s delight, however, Walker agreed to ride in the bed of “The Galactic Walker,” joining her painted miniature on the plywood shuttle and Parker’s lion mascot emblazoned on the sun across the truck’s grille.

HISD Secondary Visual Arts Coordinator Chandel Hancock says the Art Car Parade helps students connect to their campus, their community, and themselves through “creativity, collaboration, and problem solving.”

“These are traits needed for future success personally and professionally,” she said. “Students experience the highest levels of learning through participating in one of Houston’s most anticipated events.”

Hancock, with HISD Visual Arts Curriculum Designer Rickey Polidore, oversees the Art Car season for the district each year. Polidore, himself an accomplished Cartist, has been participating in the parade for more than a decade.  

HISD honorees at this year’s event include Ortiz Middle School, which received the Rockstar Rookie Award for first-time participants.  And Carnegie Vanguard High School got the Hard Luck Award for persevering through an unfortunate mishap on parade day. In addition, HISD schools swept the Youth category with Sam Houston Math, Science and Technology Center taking first place; Tanglewood Middle School placing second; and Garden Oaks Montessori placing third.

To read more about HISD and the Art Car Parade, visit the News Blog archive here.To learn more about HISD Visual Arts programs, visit the district’s webpage here.