In the last few years, the city of Houston’s emerging arts scene has taken to the streets, with murals and street art highlighting the city’s culture becoming ubiquitous.
The Rockets and marketing manager Hunter Segesta took notice as well, looking to integrate art into a mural inside of the Toyota Center. While brainstorming the idea in 2017, the Rockets came across Houston-based artist Franky Cardona.
In the months leading up to the 2017 World Series, Hurricane Harvey swept through Houston, causing billions of dollars in damages. In Minute Maid Park – the home of the Houston Astros – Cardona painted the “Home Run Mural,” where players are depicted in determined, stoic poses with a message that read, “Work for it.”
“We were looking at doing a mural inside of the Toyota Center for the Rockets – and we hit it off,” Segesta said. “We did a couple of different cuts, collaborations with some of the artists that come inside the Toyota Center for concerts and events. We created a couple of different pieces for them to thank them for selling out the building. From there, we were able to kind of see [Franky’s] vision and that his talents were incredible.”
After working on some smaller-scale art pieces, the Rockets saw that Cardona could create something memorable. From there, the organization decided on creating a mural inside the arena for fans to come and take pictures with before every home game.
Ahead of the start of this season, the Rockets wanted to take their efforts a step further, bringing things back to the street art that provided the impetus.
During the 2019 offseason, the Rockets held #FanArtFriday, where fans submit their art using #RocketsArt for a chance to be featured on the team’s social media accounts. Of the best pieces last summer, Rockets Director of Digital Content Strategy Steven Goldfried and his team recreated them on electrical boxes outside the Toyota Center, the team’s home venue.
After months of preparation, the Rockets rolled out “From IG to IRL,” a four-video YouTube series that came out between December 6 and 12. The videos featured local artists like Rockets Graphic Designer Sandra Lara and Fernando Aragon designing the electrical boxes and explaining the thought process behind their murals.
“We had seen [#FanArtFriday] be successful, and we’d seen a lot of engagement from our fans wanting to share their artwork and then have us share it with all of our worldwide social followers,” Goldfried said. “When the idea came up to beautify the electrical boxes and take some of this awesome fan art from Instagram to real life, that’s what we did.”
Ahead of their home opener on Oct. 24 against the Milwaukee Bucks, Cardona designed a mural starring Rockets teammates James Harden and Russell Westbrook. The reaction was so positive that Goldfried and Segesta wanted to expand the art displays so fans can experience them outside of the arena.
“We thought it would be kind of cool to show how many different people have talent,” Cardona said. “It might not be your traditional art, but it is a medium. Digital visual art is a different type of medium, and so we wanted to showcase everybody’s work and give everybody a little bit of a shine.”
With all eight electrical boxes already painted, there aren’t any plans to continue the activation throughout the season, said Goldfried. Once the Rockets inch closer to the offseason, they’ll bring back #FanArtFriday and continue to use it as a way to bond with their millions of followers.
“We just love that we have so many fans all over the world that are so creative and passionate about the Rockets,” Goldfried said. “For us, this is a way to bring our fans closer to the brand and closer to the arena if they don’t live in Houston. This was a way to make downtown Houston even more vibrant and show the culture that Houston has.”