Arts / Galleries

Famous Art Wonderland to Pop Up on Kirby Drive — Houston Gets its Own Color Factory

San Francisco and New York Phenomenon Brings NASA Onboard for its Bayou City Launch

BY // 09.24.19

For weeks, rumors buzzed and traffic stopped along Kirby Drive as the handsome edifice that was formerly Internum got its stripes. Broad horizontal bands of jaunty color transformed the once understated façade into a mammoth new iteration of the coastal phenomenon Color Factory, the national pop-up dedicated to installation art — and to an insane amount of selfies.

This is only the third edition since Color Factory’s launch in San Francisco in 2017, followed by SoHo in New York City in 2018.

Expect 15 immersive multi-sensory experiences throughout the 20,000-square-foot interiors, including a scent chamber crafted by L.A. collaborators The Institute for Art & Olfaction, which is a novel idea this writer first encountered at Design Miami in 2010, but has not seen staged since.

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston is stepping up as Color Factory’s community partner.

NASA is involved, as well as Texas talents Alicia Eggert, who was tapped for an interactive light installation, with creative partner James  Akers.

Other talents in the well-edited Pop-and-design mix: Korean-American artist Soo Sunny Park (who also employs light); United Kingdom-based collaborators Harvey & John (crafting a black-and-white spatial rendezvous complete with levitating orbs); Eric Rieger of Minneapolis who takes over the lobby with a Houston-centric installation pairing colored circles with images specific to Space City; enchanting giant marker installations by Ohio artists Andrew Neyer and Andy J. Pizza; music stylings by Los Angeles-based Mary Ramos; and bi-coastal Christine Wong Yap’s “Complementary Compliments” project, which seeks a deeper level connection among the exhibition goers.


  • Valobra Jewelry April 2024 Mother's Day 2
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Also tapped are Los Angeles artist Michelle Rial’s text-based creations, Dallas designer Abby Clawson Low, and Houston/Austin photog/illustrator Carra Sykes.

Hypno of NYC/L.A. will devise the photobooths.

Culinary offerings include macarons by Houston’s Tout Suite, soft-serve ice cream by Australian brand Aquas, popcorn in rainbow hues from Hot Poppin (New York), and complimentary candy (courtesy Economy Candy, New York) in the Compliments Room.

Finally, Color Factory gives back to the community by providing funding (and volunteers) in collaboration with one of its participating artists — California-based nonprofit Project Color Corps — to paint a mural in Houston’s EaDo neighborhood. The Montrose Center will also be a beneficiary.

The entire experience — while slightly reminiscent of other Texas pop-ups recently — possesses a utopian, smart art vibe thanks to the participation of serious artists.

Factor in NASA’s imprint and the CAMH endorsement, plus its sincere community engagement, and Color Factory promises to elevate the viewer experience beyond a surface-level Instagram moment.

Via email, we reached Color Factory’s chief marketing officer Alison Piepmeyer, for an exclusive preview and history of Color Factory:

Why Houston as Color Factory’s third national venue? What factors, in terms of the creative community and audience, helped make the decision?

Houston is the perfect fit for Color Factory. It is vibrant, philosophical, artistic and quirky, a food-lover’s haven, and shares the same values about bringing new creative experiences to the city for anybody and everybody to enjoy.

See how Color Factory was staged in New York in this video:

We are extremely mindful of the communities and markets we enter, and we look for opportunities to be in cities that represent the vast diversity of our country.

Houston is not only one of the largest cities in the United States (and growing), but it is also the most diverse city in America (with over 140 languages spoken, and more than 38 percent of the population speaking Spanish).

To honor that diversity, our Houston location will be completely bilingual (Spanish and English).

From the Menil to the Art Car Parade, there are countless exhibitions and installations that have already primed the city to be curious, playful and ready to experience new representations of art and the world around them.

One of the other key reasons is that there are initiatives in the city that align with our own mission very closely, and that we are eager to be a part of.

For example, one of our partners is Project Color Corps, a nonprofit organization that utilizes color and color education to revitalize schools and community centers through a unique participative, co-design process.

Color Factory is also collaborating on Project Color Corps’  Random Act of Color project by supporting the painting of a mural in Houston.

We are also supporting local nonprofit The Montrose Center. The Montrose Center empowers Houston’s LGBTQ community by providing behavioral health and support services, primary care. and wellness programs that encourage members to enjoy healthier and more fulfilling lives.

In collaboration with Houston artist, Carra Sykes, Color Factory will be creating custom felt pennants that will be sold in our gift shop. All proceeds will go to The Montrose Center.

A banner and jaunty stripes proclaim the coming of Color Factory Houston. (Photo by CDA)
A banner and jaunty stripes proclaim the coming of Color Factory Houston. (Photo by CDA)

What will be special/unique about Color Factory Houston versus previous iterations in San Francisco and NYC?

Each city is different and our inspiration in any place are the colors of everyday. In Houston, that is wildlife like the bluebonnet, community heroes like NASA, and even the stadium chairs from the iconic Astrodome.

Everywhere around you there is color, and we want to bring that brilliance to light, and give people a chance to explore and experience their city in a new and visceral way.

We are creating site-specific installations (plus bringing back a few fan favorites), collaborating with a new roster of talented artists and creatives, and partnering with local nonprofits and small food businesses we love.


Heather Moore’s utopian-feeling space in an aqua hue for Color Factory New York, 2018. (Courtesy the artist and Color Factory)

Color Factory’s utopian-feeling space in an aqua hue for Color Factory New York, 2018. (Photo by Heather Moore for Color Factory)

How has Color Factory morphed/evolved since you stepped on board in May 2018?

When I first became involved with Color Factory, it was a small community working together on a passion project.

We didn’t necessarily have a vision to expand Color Factory nationally — we just wanted to create a space in which people could fully experience artist’s interpretation of the wonder and generosity of color. It was a very organic process.

We were of course thrilled when the community feedback was so overwhelmingly positive, and what was intended as a one-month exhibit became an eight-month, sold-out event. That’s when I realized that we had created something truly special and worth expanding and exploring more.

Since our start in San Francisco, we’ve had to think about how to grow Color Factory without sacrificing that community feeling that we achieved in that first exhibit. One of the key ways we’ve found that balance is by using our new resources to be even more intentional about our artistic vision for the installations.

We now root all of our palettes in the colors of the communities we create our exhibits in — and draw inspiration from the everyday life of the locals.

In Houston, we didn’t just choose blue because we wanted to include blue. We chose blue because that exact shade of blue is the color of the bluebonnet.

I’m proud that throughout my time at Color Factory, we’ve been able to dedicate ourselves even more to our communities in this way.

And we’ve been able to bring our artists along for the ride and take on even more ambitious projects, like our partnership with NASA.

It’s something that would have felt like a dream thinking about it in May 2018.

How is Color Factory’s concept unique versus other experience pop-ups that have cropped up around the country as well as Houston?

Big picture, however you define or label our space, our number one priority is to make sure Color Factory continues to build experiences that delight our visitors.

We are incredibly intentional about how we design the spaces, and take the time to do it right.

We are more than a backdrop, and we’ve seen firsthand the kind of emotion and natural curiosity that our guests experience in our exhibit, often without a phone in hand.

Another piece is that our work is always centered around esteemed artists and creatives. We want to create beautiful visual environments, but more than that, we want to give our visitors experiences that are purposeful and rich in meaning.

For example, the San Francisco exhibit’s yellow room was inspired by founder Jordan’s father, who wore yellow every day before he passed away.

In Houston, we’re bringing back our rainbow striped Complementary Compliments room, where strangers sit down opposite one and complete a creative activity together. Every room has a story and a purpose.

Finally, Color Factory is driven by the community we are in. Whether it’s partnering with local organizations and causes and donating profits, or leaving our visitors with small tokens to take with them, we want to add something.

Our priority is to make a positive impact on the people and places we encounter.

We note for example, Color Factory’s involvement with the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston as well as NASA — how did the CAMH and NASA connections come about?

When we chose Houston we immediately thought of NASA and knew we had to figure out a way to work with them. They have a rich art and iconic design background that we wanted to include in Color Factory Houston.

Luckily, our first meeting [with NASA proved] they’re as passionate about the arts as we are, and it was a very fun, creative collaboration.

By joining forces, we’re allowing people to experience and interact with NASA’s research in a way that they’ve never been able to before. We hope it’ll bring their work to life in a new way.

Our experience working with CAMH was very similar — we were lucky to have a shared vision from the very beginning. They were also familiar with many of our artists partners, who are well-respected in the art community.

Color Factory Houston opens Saturday, October 26, with 15 elaborate art experiences curated throughout the 20,000 square-feet of the former luxury furniture-and-design store interiors. A portion of ticket sales will fund a new commuity mural in Houston’s East End.(Photo by CDA)
Color Factory Houston opens Saturday, October 26, with 15 elaborate art experiences curated throughout 20,000 square-feet of the former luxury furniture-and-design-store interiors. A portion of ticket sales will fund a new community mural in Houston’s East End and benefit The Montrose Center. (Photo by CDA)

What do you hope the viewer will take away as Color Factory makes it debut in Houston?

Because we are more than a backdrop, our exhibits will affect different people for different reasons, and our audience will always find new things to connect with in our work.

That being said, everything we do springs from a goal of helping people have delightful experiences and an awakened state of curiosity.

We’ve seen adults laugh and cry with joy in the ball pit, experience genuine connection with strangers, draw on walls for the fun of it. At Color Factory, it’s all about letting go of the day-to-day and just being present. Forget the to-do list. Give a stranger a compliment instead. Put down the screen. Smell something surprising (and hopefully delicious).

We hope viewers become much more than viewers. We hope they become an authentic, open, and delighted version of themselves.

Lakwena Alphasmoot’s smart mashup of design, architecture, and color defined the presentation of Color Factory New York. (Courtesy the artist and Color Factory)
Lakwena & Abimaro’s smart mashup of design, architecture, and color defined the presentation of Color Factory New York. (Photo by Alpha Smoot for Color Factory)

How did you decide on the Houston beneficiary in terms of creating a mural in the East End?

When we first heard of Project Color Corps, we were immediately drawn to their work. We both strongly believe in the power of color and the value of bringing art into communities. There’s a lot of natural alignment in our missions, and we were just waiting for the perfect opportunity to collaborate together.

When we decided to come to Houston, we wanted to do something special. We’ve put up murals in every city we’ve visited, but we wanted to make this one different, which is when we realized that this was the project we had been waiting for and joined forces with Color Corps.

Will there be a grand opening day with the artists present? Who all from Color Factory will be traveling in to Houston?

Our official opening is Saturday, October 26.

The Color Factory team will be there in full! That includes myself, Tina Malhotra (chief experience officer), Jeff Lind (CEO), and John Thomas (COO).

All of our artists are also invited to our opening party and the preview days. We’re still in the process of confirming who is able to attend, but they’re all very excited to share their work with the Houston community.

Parting thoughts?

Our goal with every exhibit is to make every visitor, collaborator, artist, community and employee feel as if they are being treated above and beyond their expectations. For our visitors, that means that we never create anything half-hearted.

Whatever we build, we build it to be the biggest and boldest version of that thing that you’ve ever seen.

For our community, that means a commitment to giving back and partnering with nonprofits whose mission aligns closely to our own. It means leaving things a little better than we found them.

Color Factory Houston, 3303 Kirby Drive, opening day Saturday, October 26. It will stay open through November 30. Tickets are $35 for adults, $28 for kids 2–12; for more info, click here

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