Arts / Galleries

Secrets of Houston’s Own Color Factory — the Crazy Rooms, That Wild Ball Pit and More

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BY // 11.01.19

When Color Factory officials started searching for a new location for their wildly popular interactive art exhibition, officials received pitches from Los Angeles to London and many spots in between. But their hearts were set on Houston.

“It’s one of the best-kept secrets in the United States,” Color Factory CEO Jeff Lind says. “Houston has all the cool things of a big city, affordable wages, great people and accessibility to almost everything. It’s just an awesome place.”

For Color Factory Houston, a former furniture store on Upper Kirby has been transformed into a 20,000-square-foot maze with 14 different installations centered around 30 Houston-specific colors, with such shades as the burnt orange of terracotta pots on Airline Drive, the vibrant green of live oak trees in Hermann Park, the dark blue shade of the NASA logo and the pink sprinkles on a Shipley’s donut.

Attendees, who enter according to time-stamped tickets, wander through the exhibits, taking part in such activities as confetti throwing and wading through a NASA-themed sea of plastic balls under a starry sky, with periodic stops along the way for such edibles as candy-colored popcorn, macarons and gummy treats in the shape of berries and watermelon.

Color Factory Houston lobby
Guests enter through an oversized lobby that contains a multi-colored overhead circular mural made of yarn called “Thirty” because it incorporates all 30 shades the Color Factory associates with Houston. (Photo by Cody Bess)

The exhibit debuted in San Francisco in 2017, where it drew sell-out crowds for nine months before closing because the building lease could not be extended, and opened in New York in 2018, where it continues to draw a large throng. Officials are hoping the Houston stay will be open-ended, although for now tickets are being sold through the end of November.

“We don’t build pop-ups,” Lind says. “We build experiences that last long term. Economics will dictate what happens, but we chose Houston because we believe it can stay open long term and for a long time.

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“We love the Houston market and we hope the market loves us back. And if it does, we’re going to stay open as long as we possibly can. We will flip exhibits, bring in new artists, do everything we can to say as long as possible.”

So far, so good for Houston, it seems.

When I visited on the day after the official opening last week, the exhibition was so popular that they had run out of the Black Hawaii ice cream cones served to each guest as they leave and the walls of the “Color Me room were just about completely covered in blue scribbles. The space, created by artists Andrew Neyer and Andy J. Pizza features large black-and-white murals that are colored in by guests using oversized, five-foot-long blue markers that sometimes takes two people to handle.

A worker told me they remove all the scribbles at the end of each day, so it starts with a clean slate the next morning.

There are a lot of other secrets and surprises at Color Factory Houston, so here’s just about everything you need to now about our newest and brightest attraction.

Where It’s Located

3303 Kirby Drive, between Richmond and West Alabama.

When It’s Open

Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 am to 7 pm and Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am to 8:30 pm. Closed on Wednesdays.

What It Costs

$35 for adults, $28 for kids 12 and under, free for 2 and under. Tickets are available online.

Best Times To Go

Anywhere from 1,000 to 1,200 people can go through the exhibit a week, but tickets are stamped with an entry time so it’s rarely overcrowded. Families tend to go earlier in the day and on weekends. Millennial couples are more prevalent at night.

If you’re crowd-adverse, weekday afternoons tend to be less busy. No matter what time you go, I think it’s more fun if you go with another person or a group of friends.

How Long It Lasts

You can stay as long as you like, although once you enter another room, you can’t backtrack. Officials say the average time spent in the exhibition is an hour and a half. All signs are in English and Spanish.

Photo Extra

Just about everything is Instagrammable. But when you check in onsite, you get also get a plastic toke that can be scanned at a photo station in just about every room, allowing for photos to be shot from the ceiling and other advantageous spots and then emailed to an address you provide.

Where to Start

Visitors enter through an oversized lobby that contains a multi-colored overhead circular mural made of yarn called “Thirty” because it incorporates all 30 shades the Color Factory associates with Houston. A team drove 400 miles around the city to compile the colors they believe are most iconic to the Bayou City.  The location that served as inspiration for each color is displayed behind individual round doors on a long wall in the entrance.

In the adjoining registration room, you are greeted by a number of fresh-faced employees in pastel jump suits who help you sign in on a tablet, trigger the photo feature with the plastic token and take a photo to see how it looks. And then you’re on your way.

How it’s Different From New York & San Francisco

Eleven of 14 rooms are new to Houston, and the color-palate is Houston-centric. The final room is an homage to NASA, with a large ball pit “inspired by the moon and galaxy that surrounds it.” The pit contains 40,000 plastic balls with 50,000 fiber optic lights to create a moon-like atmosphere. Lind says they listened to 30 hours of NASA audio to create the sounds of the Apollo 11 moonwalk that can be heard in the room.

Wading through the thick mass of plastic balls can be a challenge however, as guests are told to remove shoes, jewelry, tokens and “anything in your pockets” before entering and to turn the volume of their cellphone up in case it gets lost in the ball pit.

Color Factory Houston
Guests wade though at sea of plastic balls but i can be a challenge. (Photo by Cody Bess)

How it’s the Same as NY & SF

Several popular rooms from the other cities are included in the Houston exhibition. “Confetti Accumlation,” in which which pounds of colorful confetti fall in slow motion from rotating barrels in the ceiling, and the previously mentioned  “Color Me,” where attendees color in a black and white mural with big blue markers, originated in San Francisco.

“Complementary Compliments” was a surprise fan favorite in New York and has been expanded in Houston. Officials originally worried that it would make people feel uncomfortable, but they seem to love staring at each other in a glass-walled stall and forging a human connection via an audio guide that instructs them to do such things as draw a picture of the other person without looking down and picking a color that makes that person unique.

Bright Idea

The only room in the exhibit with windows is a long hallway facing Kirby Drive, where an art sculpture called “Unwoven Light,” made of chain-link fence and iridescent crystal squares, changes colors according to the natural light.

Most Popular Room

It’s a little early to tell what room might be the Houston favorite, but on the day I visited, people didn’t want to leave “Night Bright,” where they can rearrange lit-up plastic tubes on peg board walls to make whatever design they want.

Other Favorite Rooms

I particularly liked “Thought Bubbles,” a black-and-white striped space populated with colorful floating balls that float up and down with blasts of high flow, low-pressure air. Each orb is marked with a circle on the floor with a quote from a Project Color Corps student, such as “Yellow makes me feel like a diamond in the sky” or “I like purple because it give me the right vibe.”

Another sure-to-be popular room is “Your Magic is Real,” in which two or more people activate a neon wall by placing their hands on sensors that make the room come alive with light, color and music. “Artists Alicia Eggert and James Akers believe the power of collaboration can bring more light and color into the world. . . and this room,” according to a description on the wall. But as soon as you take your hand off the sensors, the connection in broken and the room goes dark.

Least Favorite Room

In “Chromaroma,” you sniff the opening in a metal pipe to see if a scent contained within conjures up an expected memory. Some smells, like milk at the bottom of a cereal bowl, brand new boots, or fresh cut grass, are right on target, but others, like being caught in the rain or home sick from school, missed the mark, perhaps because those are memories I’d just as soon forget.

Where to Park

Parking is at a premium on nearby streets, so your best bet is to park in the parking garage at the Kirby Collection for $8, and walk across Kirby Drive. But be careful as there is no crosswalk on that part of the street.

Ride-Sharing

The Uber and Lyft drop-off point is at the front door.

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