Chron: Commercialism and Art Cars

Here’s an article against corporate infringement into the art car scene. It’s more invective because of it’s harsh title – which is just typical “journalism”. I heard a few discussions on this topic at the many events I was at. Mostly, the corporate cars don’t show for the quirky events and thus don’t effect the “counterculture vibe”. The parade is a media event, and I fully expect corporateness to show up for a 250,000 person crowd.

I heard one major complaint about the McDonald’s shoe visiting schools on Friday. It’s a reasonable complaint, though one not shared by all artists. The complaints about the Shoe’s stereo being too loud are much more common.

What humors me the most is the social elitism of the comments to the article on the Chron’s web site. (“It’s not art because I don’t like it.”)

Is commercialism driving off fun of the Art Car Parade?

A few say sponsors detract from the event’s counterculture vibes

By SARAH VIREN
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
May 13, 2007, 9:57PM

Patrick Stanley exhausted his supply of souvenir hard hats an hour before Houston’s Art Car Parade started Saturday. Each bore the name of the construction company he works for, SpawMaxwell, just like his art car, a 1958 Edsel Pacer.

The Edsel, redone to look like a construction truck, even has a front-end loader and backhoe.

Besides being fun to make, Stanley said, his bosses figure it’s good for business.

“I went to them and said let’s do an art car,” said Stanley, decked out like a construction worker for the occasion. “We had just done a comedy show and a bowling tournament that went well so they said OK.”

But the sight of corporate sponsors has some longtime art car supporters worrying that commercialization will take some of the funk out of the traditionally counterculture parade.

“The problem is that any time you have something like this that starts out as an outlaw thing, it’s all totally cool and everybody wants to be involved with it ’cause it’s cool,'” said Jackie Harris, one of the parade’s originators, who drives a vehicle known as the Fruitmobile.

“But then it gets bigger and bigger. It’s just like a snowball, and the bigger a snowball gets the more cling-ons you get.”

Hamburgers and coffee

Although the brain child of the art community, Houston’s art car parade has steadily gained the attention of businesses big and small. Just up the parade line from the SpawMaxwell vehicle — after a car shaped like giant tree, one like an underwater monster and another covered in beads — was a giant, drivable Starbucks cup, paid for by the coffee company, but built by a local artist. Elsewhere in line was a McDonald’s car shaped like a shoe, a Bubbles Car Wash Hummer that spews bubbles and, yes, a Houston Chronicle car in the shape of a giant star.

These corporate-sponsored art cars have become common enough that this year the Orange Show Center for Visionary Arts, which runs the historically funky event, created a special awards category for them.

“Over the past two to three years there have been these really awesome creative cars that definitely qualify as art cars, but are sponsored by corporations,” said Kim Stoilis, artistic director for the organization. “We recognized a need to recognize our sponsors and recognize our artists who are creating these.”

Stoilis said organizers like her know they need business support to keep up the event, which started in Houston 20 years ago and has inspired copycat parades nationwide. But they wanted to find a way to reward those companies that really “get it,” meaning they make an effort to do something interesting with their cars.

Art car began with just a handful of decorated cars but has grown over the years to include nearly 280 entries and draw more than 200,000 spectators along its parade route, which runs along Allen Parkway near Taft to downtown.

Parade entrant Patrick Hoyt said he always liked the organic feel of the event and is unnerved seeing so many corporate cars in recent years. Dressed in a Lord of the Rings costume Saturday afternoon, he entertained crowds before the parade by cloaking his face and pretending to be the Grim Reaper.

“A lot of us are lefties,” he said while taking a break from his act. “And as a vegan, that McDonald’s car kind of bothers me. I was behind that car one year and I didn’t like it.”

Business opportunity

For their part, many businesses say they try to be considerate of art car protocol. Michelle Weisblatt, director of marketing for Austin-based Sweet Leaf Tea, said her company hired a local art car artist and worked with the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program to decorate their 1983 Cadillac Deville limo this year. In the end, they put about $2,000 into the vehicle. Weisblatt estimates that money invested in something as unique as an art car will payoff better than an ordinary radio spot or billboard advertisement.

“The art car parade gives companies an opportunity to put out there what look and feel they want people to walk away with, with regards to their brand,” she said.

And among the parade spectators, not all saw the shift as bad.

After gawking at the Starbucks car, Marc Ostrofsky said he thought business sponsorship could only improve the quality of quirky cars in the parade.

“You can almost walk around and say this company should sponsor this car,” he said, pointing at one covered in tennis balls.

“And that company ought to sponsor that car,” he added when he spotted a giant toaster car. “Like who makes toasters?”

sarah.viren@chron.com

The SpawMaxwell car rocks! The artists who made it drive it each year. They convinced someone else to pay for them to make some cool art – they totally win. And they won first place on the no-money-just-recognition Corporate Award which was started this year.