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Free for All: Art Without a Price Tag -- Houston Japan Fest, Shell Eco-Challenge & More

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There's a car race starting on Friday, the Shell Eco-Challenge Marathon. Well, we call it a car race, but it's not a race exactly. Instead of seeing who can go the fastest, the object here is to see who can go the longest on a gallon of fuel. And while they might technically be cars, the vehicles in the marathon won't be parked in anyone's driveway anytime soon.

Participants run the gamut from amateur engineers and tech geeks to major motor manufactures like Ford and Honda. During the marathon, cars in different categories (fuel cell-powered, gasoline-fueled, diesel-fueled, and LPG-fueled) travel at an average speed of 15 miles per hour for 10 miles. Fuel usage is carefully measured, and the winner takes home $10,000.

It was at a 2005 Eco-Marathon that a Swiss university team set the fuel efficiency world record with the Pac-Car II, which used hydrogen fuel cell technology to achieve the equivalent of a mind-boggling 12,600 miles per gallon in a regular gasoline-fueled car and emitted only water as exhaust. On the internal combustion engine side, Quebec's Université Laval has dominated the last three years with a vehicle that gets 2,564 mpg. Hopes are high that those numbers will be matched -- or bested -- at this week's marathon.

Spectators are invited to watch the action noon to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney. For a full schedule of events, visit www.discoverygreen.com or call 713-400-7336.

On Saturday, we'll be at the Houston Japan Festival, a former winner of the Houston Press Best of Houston® award for Best Festival. This is one of our favorite festivals of the year and an increasing number of people agree with us; the festival grows bigger every year.

The family-friendly entertainment ranges from ancient, traditional arts to contemporary pop culture, with performances by Taiko drum ensembles, dance groups, martial art demos and cosplay contests. There's also plenty of food. We should repeat that: plenty of food.

Here's a tip, take the MetroRail to Hermann Park, parking at the festival will be scarce.

The Houston Japan Festival runs 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday at Hermann Park Japanese Garden, 6001 Fannin. For information, visit www.japan-fest.info or call 713-963-0121.

On Sunday, we're taking one more look at ''Perspectives 177: McArthur Binion''; this is the exhibit's last day.

This is the first solo show in a museum for mid-career artist McArthur Binion, a tribute as much to the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston's dedication to exhibiting works from artists in all phases of their careers, as it is to his art. "Not every museum is looking for the hottest, youngest, new thing to ever hit the scene," Senior Curator Valerie Cassel Oliver laughs.

The paintings in "Perspectives 177" are comprised mostly of large blocks of color. "What McArthur does is use wax crayons and presses that pigment onto the surface of the painting, so it does have this highly textural feeling to it," Oliver says. "These paintings are traditional; they are flat, they are two-dimensional for the most part. But they do have a sculptural feel to them."

See ''Perspectives 177: McArthur Binion'' from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at the Contemporary Arts Museum, 5216 Montrose. For information, visit www.camh.org or call 713-284-8250.

Jef with One F contributed to this post.

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