Client: Houston Airports - City of Houston
Location: Houston, TX, United States
Completion date: 2022
Artwork budget: $331,000
Curator of Public Art
Janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee
Janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee, LLC
Passengers immerse deep into the Texas Gulf coast through an interactive art experience. The Aquarius Art Tunnel at Bush Intercontinental Airport measures 240 feet long, 24 feet wide and 10 feet high. The site-specific commission includes a floor to ceiling mural, lenticular lenses, filtered lighting, custom carpeting, an original soundtrack and an augmented reality feature that invites guests to interact with the tunnel on social media. The vibrant visuals transport passengers deep into the Gulf of Mexico, and into The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, which is located about 100 miles off the Texas coast. The title, The Aquarius Art Tunnel, speaks to the universal concept of how water belongs to all of us and is the vision of marine conservation artist Janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee. Her own scuba-diving excursions inspired Folmsbee to create this multi-sensory experience. She was born and raised in Mumbai, India; is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; and now lives and works in Houston, Texas. The artist is the first South Asian woman to be represented in the Houston Airports public art collection. The airport’s art program recently became the first-ever recipient of the World’s Best Art in the Airport award by Skytrax.
Houston Airports launched an initiative during the early stages of the global pandemic for the sole purpose of supporting local artists. The need to transform a tunnel connecting an international terminal was the single largest project. The airport desired engaging artwork that could speak to the world while referencing home and reinforcing a sense of place. The goals of this site-specific project were crucial to the overall design. The Houston-based artist thoughtfully featured the word water in multiple languages to enhance its universal appeal and create an immersive experience that invites passengers to soak in the sights of sounds of the Texas Gulf Coast as they walk through the 240-foot-long tunnel.
An advocate for local artists, especially during the early stages of the global pandemic, I identified a way to support the creative community while also reinvigorating an international airport tunnel used by thousands of passengers a day. I serve as the Curator of Public Art for Houston Airports. From laying the groundwork for this project, through the selection process, design phase, construction and installation, to guiding the artist as she realized her vision, achieving this major accomplishment is personally satisfying and underscores why Houston Airports is the first-ever winner of the World’s Best Art in the Airport Award.
This captivating 240-foot art tunnel continues to receive international acclaim. The United Nations Decades of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (UNDOS), through UNESCO, endorsed The Aquarius Art Tunnel created by Janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee. UNESCO celebrates Folmsbee’s work as a site for scientific and educational importance that supports ocean conservation. Global publications are spotlighting the unique artwork, the trailblazing artist and the airport that sought to bring a immersive experience to travelers. A QR code connects passengers to an augmented reality feature that showcases a species of fish unique to the Texas Gulf Coast. Passengers can then snap a photo with the AR-filter and share it on social media. This multi-media approach encourages passengers to engage with the art, share their experience and educate the public on the delicate ecosystem found 100 miles off the Texas coast. It’s because of Folmsbee’s vision that Houston Airports innovated ways to make the project sustainable. The airport recycled the preexisting carpet and supported Folmsbee’s lenticular lenses with energy-efficient LED lighting. The original soundtrack, which plays throughout the tunnel, incorporates a recording of the artist’s breath recorded during her scuba diving adventures.