As clouds rolled over a gloomy Thursday afternoon, Rebecca Bass gazed proudly out over her students’ nearly completed art car and couldn’t help but be filled with pride and joy at the strides that have been taken over the last few months—on both the project and in her students’ lives.
Her Heights High School students may be fashioning ‘just a car’ for Houston’s annual Art Car Parade April 8 on the surface, but for Bass and her crew the meaning runs much deeper.
“I saw what a fantastic group project it is, how they get to meet adults and be in an adult world,” said the retired HISD educator who now serves as the art car specialist and first glimpsed the idea during her HISD tenure. “They get to meet artists from all over the world, they get to feel important, and they get to work through problem-solving opportunities together.”
Music has been a common theme for Bass and her students over the years, from Lizard King and Atomic Dog to Bohemian Rhapsody and Electric Ladyland. For the 2017 edition, the group has conjured up a tribute to Prince, entitled ‘Purple Reign.’
From brainstorming the idea to execution of the bespectacled gas cap and the top of Prince’s head on his motorcycle, the annual project (entered yearly into the city’s art car show) is completely student-driven and Bass was quick to shift the focus to the students themselves.
“I guide them, but it’s not my ideas,” she said. “They come up with all this crazy stuff themselves.”
None of the students putting the finishing touches on the car last week appeared to be similar in their tale of coming to work on the project— but all of them have since discovered a passion for one aspect or another.
Take Noelle Riall, who heard about it through the grapevine from a family friend. From the moment she got involved, Riall was unexpectedly hooked, and she stood there last week a third-year art car veteran.
“I got out here, and it just ended up being an everyday thing—I was here until 6 or 7 p.m. sometimes,” she said.
Former Heights High School student Mark Flores said he saw the project ignite a passion which keeps him coming back for more, even since graduation, as he worked on his fourth art car creation. “Starting off, I was a bit awkward and I didn’t do much.
[ngg_images source=”galleries” container_ids=”42″ display_type=”photocrati-nextgen_pro_horizontal_filmstrip” image_crop=”0″ image_pan=”1″ show_playback_controls=”1″ show_captions=”0″ caption_class=”caption_overlay_bottom” caption_height=”70″ aspect_ratio=”1.5″ width=”100″ width_unit=”%” transition=”fade” transition_speed=”1″ slideshow_speed=”5″ border_size=”0″ border_color=”#ffffff” override_thumbnail_settings=”1″ thumbnail_width=”120″ thumbnail_height=”90″ thumbnail_crop=”1″ ngg_triggers_display=”always” order_by=”sortorder” order_direction=”ASC” returns=”included” maximum_entity_count=”500″]This year’s Purple Reign art car from Heights High School (photos by Heights High School’s Connie Berger).
When someone asked me to do it, I said ‘Yes’ on a whim, and from there it grew into a part of my life that I can’t ever get rid of,” he said of his initial foray into the art car world.
For rookie Julian Meraz, when Riall (his friend) mentioned the need for help with the car, he saw in the offer an opportunity to unleash a passion which has always driven him.
“I was interested in the designing process and everything they did with it. So, I started coming every day and just fell in love with it,” he said. “I really like designing the car, because it takes commitment and skill to do it. I can really let my creativity out with everything.”
While the three may have rarely crossed paths before the new year, the common thread now is the lasting relationships and the time spent in the service yard that has brought them and others together for a common purpose.
“It was the one constant, steady thing I had going on in my life,” Riall said. “It was the one thing I could come to where I knew what was going on, what had to be done and was enjoyable.”
Worth the time
Creating the masterpiece is no small undertaking, as the semester-long project requires students to take time after school each day, and even give up precious hours of their spring break, to complete it.
So, what makes it worth giving up watching the NCAA Tournament, hanging out on the beach or simply winding down from the school grind?
“Afterwards, you see people taking pictures of it and posing with it, and it’s a nice feeling to see something we all made come together and be a huge work of art,” Flores said.
“Getting to see the finished product was a really satisfying feeling,” Riall added. “The most enjoyable part is being at the parade and people saying ‘y’all did this? Kids did this?’ and seeing people take pictures with the car while being completely blown away by it. It’s great to see something I helped with astonish people.”
More than a project
Beyond the task of simply creating the masterpiece, Bass strives to teach her crew lessons throughout the process which will touch their lives long after they leave the Heights High School walls.
“These (communication, collaboration, handling criticism, independence) are skills they have to learn—they may go off and never build another art car again, but they go off in the business world or their personal lives and they’ve learned skills and they’ve felt important,” she said. “We do so much for them that we don’t let them make their own decisions and mistakes. They feel like adults when they get finished with this—they have accomplished something from beginning to end.”
Such efforts have already crept into Riall’s life, as she said the necessity of communication has helped her overcome social anxiety.
“When I started out here, I really didn’t like talking to people. Now it’s super easy to talk and hold conversations and tell people about what I’m doing,” she said of the experience. “You have to be able to collaborate with everyone else, because it can’t look like 12 different people, it has to look like one person did it. You have to be able to talk to people about what you’re doing and what’s going on.”
For Flores, his experience highlighted the importance of grabbing the bull by the horns, which can translate to various situations.
“It showed me you can’t just expect somebody to do something for you—if you want something to happen, you’ve got to make it happen,” he said. “When you first start out, it’s hard to wrap your mind around, but it inspires work ethic in a lot of the kids who work on it.”
Heights High School’s ‘Purple Reign’ will join around 250 bikes, cars, skaters and motorized creatures April 8 for one of the largest art gatherings of its kind in the world.
The parade will get started at 2 p.m., but residents are encouraged to get there early and grab their spot for the spectacle.