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Looking for a funky, unique event to enjoy? Then the Houston Art Car Parade will be right up your alley. The annual event scheduled for Saturday May 12 was the first and is the largest Art Car Parade in the world. Since its inception in 1988 the event has grown in popularity every year and now attracts some 200,000 viewers and over 260 vechicle participants.

What exactly is an art car? As with most art forms you can truly say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some art car artists take their art form very seriously while others use the venue as a way to express their political and social views which range from patriotic to very liberal. Still others use the art form as a chance to express their child within....and it shows. Regardless of each artists efforts the result is a very entertaining parade that will leave you amazed at the ingenuity of the human race.

The definition of a car is stretched a bit as well here so that "artists" of all moveable forms can participate. You will see cars, bicycles, motorcycles, roller-skaters and human powered vehicles and other modified motorized vechicles...the only catch no real flames and they must all move well and be themed. Perhaps you'd like to enter your RV?

The theme and the name of each vechicle take months sometimes years of preparation for the artists. Okay, there are a few vechicles that look like they threw something together at the last minute but for the most part the majority of these vechicles had many hours of labor and creative impulse put into them. For example  the " Buick Reflectra" is a Buick covered with little mirrors, which took the artist hundreds of hours to glue over the vechicle. On the smaller scale you might see people on mopeds encased in a muffin outfit or an astronaut on a segway calling himself Earth man. There is no limit to the imagination and that's what makes it such a great parade to watch.

Though the parade began in 1988 with the famous Fruitmobile, the origin of the inspiration of the event  actually dates back to 1956.

Jeff McKissack, was a local Houston mailman and on his route he encountered alot of vacant trashed lots in the neighborhoods he walked. An artistic bug bit him one day and he decided to turn one of these vacant lots into a sort of artistic playground by painting discarded items like washing machines and farm implements bright, fun colors. The area began to garner alot of attention and it became known as "The Orange Show". He continued to add more interesting and artistic pieces to the lot until his death in 1980. There was a short threat to tear the lot down after his death but the well heeled art society in Houston stepped in to save it and the area has now become a mecca for artists. In 1984, the Orange Show Foundation commissioned The Fruitmobile, a 1966 Ford station wagon covered with plastic fruit. By 1988, others had joined in, and the annual parade began with about 40 cars.

If getting an award for your art work is important to you...the art car show has more awards than any in the nation ranging from "Best Everyday Driver" to "Best Contraption". But the coupe-de-gras of awards is the Mayors Cup which garners a grand trophy and $1,500 prize.  More than one Grand trophy can be handed out like last years, "StuDent Driver", a creation by artist Ben Gibson whose grandmother totaled her Buick when she ran a stop sign. Gibson adorned the car with a telephone pole and a dangling raccoon, traffic cones and a pair of legs dragging behind.

In a year where upcoming elections are in the news and political difference is everywhere you shouldn't be surprised that many art cars will have  liberal-ish political themes, i.e. global warming or anti-war sentiments. Last year the most pointed statement was "MPeach Bush," a pickup truck with a peach theme and peach-clad women aboard, but it was followed shortly by "Stars and Stripes Forever," a guy on a riding mower towing little trailers with dozens of American flags. Still the parade favorite is the vechicle that started it all...The Fruitmobile which just goes to show how fruity we are about our art and our cars!

The best part of the show for participants and viewers alike is that it's free! The cars begin lining up on Allen Parkway at 9 a.m. but the parade doesn't roll until 1 p.m. Most people go for the whole day to enjoy the reverie of the parade and festival.

Here's some press quotes on the parade:

It's a psychedelic cartoon come to life.
Detroit Free Press

A retina saturating extravaganza that has become one of
America's zaniest roadside attractions and
a sort of Venice Biennale for car nuts.
New York Times

Without a doubt one of the finest auto events on God's earth.
BBC s Top Gear Magazine

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