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Creating Hope Together: HCC Team Win Big at Houston Art Car Experience

Deborah Lynn Blumberg
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  • Terra Firma

    The 2006 Ford ambulance is now an art car called Terra Firma. (Photo: Jeffrey Chen)

  • Ashley Hope and team

    A team of two dozen HCC students and faculty worked on the art car. Hope and her team spent three days at the Art Car Experience. Pictured: Israel Garza, manager of the makerspace; Katherine Fields, chair of the art department at HCC; Kurt Ewen, vice chancellor; Colleen Reilly, Dean, Center of Excellence for Visual and Performing Arts (Photo: Jeffrey Chen)

  • Diorama

    The team transformed medical supply cabinets into "memory dioramas." (Photo: Jeffrey Chen)

  • Diarama

    During the pandemic, students worked on small pieces of the project that were later united. (Photo: Jeffrey Chen)

  • Brain

    The truck's interior was transformed into a brain with firing synapses. (Photo: Jeffrey Chen)

  • Diorama

    Students used 3D printing when making the dioramas. (Photo: Jeffrey Chen)

  • Skyline

    A view of the skyline from inside the art car. (Photo: Jeffrey Chen)

  • Terra Firma
  • Ashley Hope and team
  • Diorama
  • Diarama
  • Brain
  • Diorama
  • Skyline

For two years, Ashley Hope and her team of two dozen Houston Community College students and faculty - including artists, engineers, sociologists and geologists - transformed a 2006 Ford ambulance into a work of art they called Terra Firma, or solid ground.

The truck features bright blue waves, raging flames, flora, a yellow 3D-printed bird and a rotating tree on top made from welded bicycle parts. They used chicken wire, quilting materials and soft sheets of pink fabric and lights to turn the inside of the truck into a brain with firing synapses, and filled former medical supply cabinets with “memory dioramas.” The truck won big at this year’s Houston Art Car Experience, taking home the Judges Choice award, People’s Choice award, and Art Cartists Choice award. 

“It was affirmation,” says Hope, who’s a professor of studio art at HCC and artist-in-residence at HCC’s new state-of-the-art maker space, the IDEAStudio. 

Hope and her team spent three days at the Art Car Experience displaying their work for Houstonians. “We designed it so people could walk in and sit and hang out with brain synapses firing,” she says. “It was cozy. Kids kept running back to us. Their parents said, ‘they don’t want to see any other car.’”

To make Terra Firma, Hope and students had at their disposal new welding, woodworking, industrial embroidery and 3D printing tools. The idea behind the project was to unite students of multiple disciplines to create, uniting the arts and sciences. “The Medicis brought on the Renaissance by joining the arts and sciences,” Hope says.

The team gutted the ambulance in the summer of 2019, removing stretchers and oxygen tanks. Hope then asked students and faculty to brainstorm what came to mind when they thought about HCC, and everyone contributed related design ideas.

“Really, every single individual - from faculty to students - said, a second chance, rebirth, an opportunity, or a first chance that my parents never had.” Students and staff talked about being at a crossroads in their life and taking an opportunity.

Hope combined all design ideas into a master plan, and then two months after demo, they began creating together. Each element was purposeful. The flames, for example, scorch the earth and symbolize burning a field to allow for better crops the next year.

“Out of that destruction, there’s bloom, opportunity, promise,” Hope says.

The dollhouse-like dioramas tell the life story of a redheaded woman, from childhood into old age. As a girl, she runs carefree through a field with a friend, then she’s working in an office. Finally, she’s seen with graying hair enjoying time with her family.

The art car was the culmination of a difficult year during the pandemic when Hope and students had to get creative to keep the project going. Hope divided work into small parts students could work on individually, and coached them from a distance from their driveways. Then, she and her students spent six weeks putting all of the pieces together.

The ambulance is now on display at HCC, and Hope is currently working to line it up for future community events. She plans to take a year off from art car creating, and then donate her own car to the college for the next HCC art car masterpiece.

Editor's note: For more on Ashley Hope and her art, see Creating a Memorable Covid Halloween. For more on this year's Art Car Experience, see Creative, Colorful Cars

Terra Firma

The 2006 Ford ambulance is now an art car called Terra Firma. (Photo: Jeffrey Chen)

Ashley Hope and team

A team of two dozen HCC students and faculty worked on the art car. Hope and her team spent three days at the Art Car Experience. Pictured: Israel Garza, manager of the makerspace; Katherine Fields, chair of the art department at HCC; Kurt Ewen, vice chancellor; Colleen Reilly, Dean, Center of Excellence for Visual and Performing Arts (Photo: Jeffrey Chen)

Diorama

The team transformed medical supply cabinets into "memory dioramas." (Photo: Jeffrey Chen)

Diarama

During the pandemic, students worked on small pieces of the project that were later united. (Photo: Jeffrey Chen)

Brain

The truck's interior was transformed into a brain with firing synapses. (Photo: Jeffrey Chen)

Diorama

Students used 3D printing when making the dioramas. (Photo: Jeffrey Chen)

Skyline

A view of the skyline from inside the art car. (Photo: Jeffrey Chen)

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