The 60-foot-wide esplanade framed by Heights Boulevard is home to one of Houston’s most popular walking trails, featuring lush greenery, mature trees, and park benches. Running through the heart of the historic Heights neighborhood, the green space, designated a “scenic district” by the city, annually hosts the outdoor sculpture installation True North to celebrate the artistic nature of the area and encourage the understanding of contemporary art.
Named after the compass bearing of the boulevard, True North showcases eight sculptures by emerging and established Texas artists each year from March through December. The works, along with their accompanying signage, are evenly placed between the 400 and 1800 blocks of Heights Boulevard, visible to all passing through the neighborhood. “There is a wonder and delight which people experience when they see these sculptures in their surprising, nontraditional settings,” explains Kelly Simmons, one of True North’s curators.
Founded by Houstonian Gus Kopriva, owner of Redbud Gallery, True North’s first installation took place in 2014. “His vision for the project was to make art more accessible to those who, for multitudes of reasons, do not ordinarily visit museums or other more formal visual arts venues,” Simmons says. “The public sculptures are meant to cultivate a dialogue about or interest in art to which the casual viewer may not otherwise be conditioned.”
Adding to the city’s vibrant public art scene—which includes the likes of James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany at Rice University and James Surls’ Tree and Three Flowers on Kirby Boulevard—the True North team strives to include a diverse range of sculptures each year. There is no submission process. Instead, a group of curators selects the artists directly, considering a variety of factors including color, media, theme, and visibility when making their selections.
“The True North organization understands the role public art can have within their town and does an outstanding job of coordinating for this annual effort,” says Art Fairchild, a 2022 True North artist. “It is a widely accepted fact that public art adds economic value and helps influence civic pride.”
The works of 74 artists have been included since the project’s inception. Several of those artists exhibited outdoor works for the first time, adapting their signature styles to withstand Houston’s climate. Many exhibiting artists have also played into environmental factors by incorporating wind-activated components or solar-powered elements, much like the current work by Suguru Hiraide of Wichita Falls. Hiraide’s Maneki Cat Altar, constructed out of stainless steel and aluminum, turns with the wind and features a maneki–neko, known as a “beckoning cat” in Japanese culture, with a solar-powered paw that motions the viewer over for a closer look.
In addition to Hiraide’s piece, the current installation features the work of Houston artists Rachel Gardner, Guadalupe Hernandez, and Israel McCloud, along with Cumulus by Elizabeth Akamatsu of Nacogdoches, Sphericity by Art Fairchild of Dallas, the sun will always find you here by Will Larson of Austin, and Zig Zag by Jim Robertson of Trinity.
To expand the understanding of the art, True North hosts an annual Artist Sip & Stroll event as well as artist talks and related programming. They have also partnered in the past with other Houston art organizations such as ClayHouston and Sculpture Month Houston.
The project is completely funded through private donations and organized by a volunteer team. True North is presented in collaboration with the Houston Heights Association, City of Houston Parks and Recreation, Houston Public Works, and Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs.
“The Heights area once boasted the highest concentration of artists in Texas, and that spirit lives on despite the vast changes to its make-up over the last couple of decades,” Simmons says.