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New Downtown Murals Draw Attention to Houston’s Air Pollution and Rehabilitation of Detained Youth

By Indira Zaldivar & Edward Saenz

Downtown Houston officials and leaders unveiled two new murals adding to the large-scale public art gallery “Big Art, Bigger Change” addressing environmental issues and United Nations sustainability goals.

The latest mural, “When Tomorrow Comes” by Polish street artist Bezt, centers on Houston’s air pollution. The mural, located on 1111 Main St. at the intersection with Dallas Street, depicts a girl wearing a flowery scarf over her nose and mouth to protect herself against air pollution. The flowers represent native blooms in clean areas, conveying the message of clean air for future generations.

In the list of U.S cities with the worst air quality, Houston ranks sixth. Additionally, in Houston’s most polluted neighborhoods, 80% of the population comprises individuals from ethnic or racial minority groups.

Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis highlighted how the murals aim to address these socio-environmental concerns through large-scale public art to “inspire change.” 

“This is more than creating a culture of public art or transforming downtown into a fine arts museum,” Ellis said. “It is also about framing these vital issues in ways that speak to the public and convey them with our words.” 

 “Everyone deserves to breathe… clean air, but our region has some of the dirtiest air in the country,” Ellis said. It’s our communities of color that have borne the brunt of lax regulations and corporate recklessness for far too long.”

Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said that neighborhoods like Aldine and Fifth Ward, etc, house more polluting facilities than other parts of town.

“There are people who wake up every day in our community who have higher incidence of asthma or heart disease, or lung disease because they live in a community that is overburdened with facilities that dirty our air,” Menefee said.

The second mural symbolizes support and guidance for youth. Painted by Houston-based artist Alexander Arzu and Emmanuel Jarus Harris on the outside of Harris County’s Juvenile Detention Center, the mural pays tribute to John Biggers, a late renowned Houstonian artist known for his social realist murals. The mural features a large replica of his painting “the return,” symbolizing the humanization of the judicial system and support for the rehabilitation of young individuals. 

“The return” is located at 1200 Congress St, Houston, TX. 

The murals, curated by Street Art for Mankind, are commissioned by Harris County, Commissioner Rodney Ellis and Downtown Houston.