Orange Show Center for Visionary Art Receives $500K Preservation Grant

by Jessica Fuentes September 27, 2022

The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art (OSCVA) in Houston recently received a $500,000 grant from the National Park Service (NPS) in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

The grant is part of the Save America’s Treasures grant program, which initially ran from 1999 through 2010, with annual funding approved by Congress. After a seven-year hiatus, funding was renewed in 2017. Since its inception, Save America’s Treasures has granted over $328 million in support of more than 1,300 projects. In 2021, the NPS along with the NEA, NEH, and IMLS, awarded a total of $15.5 million to fund 49 projects in 29 states, many of which are restoration projects, such as preserving stained glass windows at the First Presbyterian Church of Warren in Ohio, and restoring the historic windows of the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, Connecticut. 

A photograph of The Orange Show, a 3,000-square-foot maze-like folk art environment.

The Orange Show. Photo by David-Brown.

The grant program funds collection projects and historic property restoration, both of which require dollar-for-dollar non-federal matching funds. The OSCVA’s grant is half of the funds needed for its $1 million campaign to preserve the Orange Show Monument, a work of handmade architecture built from 1956 to 1979 by the late Jefferson Davis McKissack, a Houston postal worker. 

In 2006, the 3,000-square-foot maze-like folk art environment was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Constructed of concrete, brick, steel and found objects, including gears, tiles, wagon wheels, mannequins, tractor seats and statuettes, the space features an oasis, a wishing well, a pond, a stage, a museum, a gift shop, and several upper decks.

In a press release announcing the grant, the OSCVA’s Director, Tommy Ralph Pace, stated: “The Orange Show Monument is one of the most important visionary art environments in the United States. As a living, breathing work of art that has hosted thousands of experimental performances by artists, musicians, playwrights, dancers, the monument is a place of activation that challenges the notion of how traditional art spaces can engage with the community.”

He continued, “Constantly exposed to the Gulf Coast’s harsh climate, the monument has survived only because of the efforts of countless staff members, community artists, and volunteers spread across the generations. We are honored to receive this extraordinary grant, which further legitimizes our now forty-year role as a leader in the field of visionary art.”

In November 2021, the OSCVA announced its expansion plans, which will make use of a 5.7-acre property acquired by the organization in 2017. As the OSCVA looks ahead to extending its campus, the organization feels that it must first tend to its namesake monument. In a statement, Mr. Pace remarked that restoring the monument was a necessary step in the process of revamping and growing the organization, and preserving it for future generations.

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