Rice Art Program Hopes to Raise University's Aesthetic Profile

Quick: when you think about visual art, which Houston university comes to mind? Hint: It's probably not the one known for its engineering students. The University of Houston is the city's undisputed arts leader, with its own 40-year-old public art program and the Blaffer Museum, which, gallery no more, is in the midst of planning its own ambitious expansion.

Quietly, though, things at Rice University have been changing in recent years, with the addition of the Brochstein Pavilion and the continued excellence of installation space The Rice Gallery--which is less well known than it is well regarded, with lots of influential art folks (plus good sandwiches & cookies) turning up at its regular lunchtime artist talks.

But Rice officials have announced that the quiet quality thing is coming to an end.

The university is going big with a public art initiative, the Rice Art Program, that has ambitions of raising the university's aesthetic profile in the city and beyond. Over the last year, notable works including Charles Mary Kubricht's paraMuseum: Environmental Exigencies, Leo Villareal's Radiant Pathway and Aurora Robson's Lift have been getting noticed on campus and in the surrounding Med Center/Museum District neighborhood. Coming next year, a planned James Turrell "skyspace" at the Shepherd School of Music will seal the deal on Rice's increased profile.

So is this a competition between Rice and UH, or only an exhibition? Arts officials in town say it's not an arts arms race; a rising tide will lift all boats. "I fully support what Molly [Hubbard, Rice's Art Director] and Rice are doing," said Michael Guidry, UH's Curator of University Art Collections, who oversees the public art collection at UH. "Public art has obviously become an important aspect of the art landscape in Houston, and Rice's program will only enrich that. I look forward to seeing what they do next."