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Jim Carman of Howard Hughes-Houston Region, with Wind Waves, his favorite sculpture, which is located in Hughes Landing

Featured Article

The Originals

Growing a Legacy of Public Art

Public art is an integral part of The Woodlands identity by design, and the legacy left by its founding couple continues to thrive. 

"You know when you are in The Woodlands, and you know when you're not," says Jim Carman, President of the Houston Region at Howard Hughes. "It's due to a number of factors, public art being one of those."

In 2022, Howard Hughes is unveiling two new art installations. The first is described as a significant mural for display in the Town Center. The second debut is planned at Hughes Landing later this summer. An international artist will use light and sound to create an interactive work expected to be a regional draw. 

"I am very, very excited about these pieces," says Carman. "I think, they are going to take our public art to the next level." 

That is no small boast because The Woodlands already has one of the most extensive public art collections for a community its size anywhere in the country. Something that didn't happen by chance.

In 1964, entrepreneur George Mitchell purchased 50,000 acres of timbered land. With it, he and his wife, Cynthia Woods Mitchell, began a decades-long journey that blazed a trail for others to follow. 

"The Woodlands was one of the first true master-planned communities," says Jim Carman. "It had the size and scale to truly create a new town."

The Mitchells envisioned elevating this original town by including original art that all could enjoy. 

To make their concept viable, in 1973, Mr. Mitchell established a mandatory art fund supported by a percentage of commercial construction costs and land sales. The Woodlands Development Corp. continued contributions after buying The Woodlands from Mr. Mitchell in 1997. And now Howard Hughes, the current development engine driving The Woodlands, is doing the same.

"It's inspiring, it's an honor, and it's a lot of pressure," Carman says. "But good pressure, it's an opportunity to truly make an impact on a community." listed The Woodlands number one on its "2021 Best Cities to Live in America" list, and Carman believes that while it takes many components to get a ranking like that, public art is one of those components.

Besides the art fund, further foresight led the Mitchells to set up The Woodlands Art Council that supports and promotes the visual and performing arts in partnership with The Woodlands Township. From The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival to the commissioning of art benches, and starting this year, the new installation of art bike racks, the council aims to bring color, imagination, and vibrancy to the community's green spaces.

From its villages, business centers, lakes, and waterways to the pathways and roads that connect it all through wooded settings, the Mitchells' edict was to weave public art into The Woodlands' very DNA. 

Nikole Kerner Bobley believes the plan succeeded. "There is an energy coursing through the community about public art that you don't find anywhere else," says the former arts columnist and creator of ARTFEEL. She thinks public art strengthens the community and can improve people's lives.

"Public art softens the hard lines of our built spaces," Kerner Bobley says, "It transports people through their memories, or it stimulates new thoughts and inspires new ideas."

The current 56 outdoor sculptures, 24 art benches, and more than 20 mosaics serve as adorning gems to The Woodlands artistic crown, The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. This outdoor space for the arts came about after Mrs. Mitchell viewed a ballet in an Austin park in the mid-70s and dreamt of creating something similar. 

Art was crucial to Cynthia Mitchell, says Cameron Klepac, Director of Marketing and Education for the Pavilion. "That was really Mrs. Mitchell's goal. She wanted the community to have a heart."

The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion is now a world-class amphitheater with 6,000 covered seats and room for about 10,000 lawn guests. In addition, there is a 21,000 square-foot event center and a first-class club. According to Pollstar magazine, the concert industry's leading trade publication, when compared against the world's top 100 amphitheaters, The Pavilion is fourth, based on the number of tickets sold in 2021. 

The Pavilion is routinely in the top five, but Klepac says it never gets old. "To think about her dream and how big it has become, I think that is a testament to the Mitchells and what they did with their dreams."

The Mitchells committed both their time and money to turn their dreams into reality. The original $10 million to build The Pavillion came from The Woodlands Corporation, which Mr. Mitchell owned. In addition, the Mitchells personally donated a reported $5 million to the Houston Symphony to make The Pavilion its summer home. Similarly, they made donations to the Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera to ensure they too would perform in The Woodlands.

"They were very philanthropic people," Klepac says. "The reason why we have the relationships we do – is because of them."

As for what's needed to push The Woodlands Arts Program to even higher heights, Carman would like to see The Woodlands Township Board of Directors expand upon Cynthia Mitchell's dream of having a dedicated Performance Art Center.

According to Carman, the township has considered two sites: one in Town Center near The Pavilion and another where it purchased land at Grogan's Mill Road and Lakewoods Drive. 

"They have the funds available to build it and the support of the community," says Carman. "We are hopeful that the township will prioritize it, and we are here to help however we can."


  • Acrobática, on the corner of Constellation Drive and Hughes Landing Blvd.
  • Jim Carman of Howard Hughes-Houston Region, with Wind Waves, his favorite sculpture, which is located in Hughes Landing
  • The George P. Mitchell life-size bronze, located in Town Green Park
  • The Commemorative Tribute to Cynthia Woods Mitchell, located at the north entrance of the Pavilion
  • The Woodlands Wind-O overlooking Lake Woodlands is one of 24 art benches commissioned by The Woodlands Arts Council.