A new public art installation in greater Northside Houston is aimed at raising awareness of and providing resources to victims and witnesses of human trafficking.
Part of UP Art Studio's Mini Murals program, with funding through the city of Houston, the murals — highly colorful and visible from the street — are painted on traffic control cabinets by local artists. They include the phone number for the National Human Trafficking Hotline, alongside uplifting images of birds, flowers and butterflies.
The murals were created by artists Alex "Zú" Arzú, Anat Ronen and Renee Victor, with project support from the Mayor's Office of Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence and Office of Cultural Affairs.
“Art can improve awareness, inspire change and encourage healing,” read a statement from Debbie McNulty, director of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs. “Through the artwork of Houston-area artists, we aim to provide a resource for individuals most vulnerable to human trafficking within a community very much impacted by this tragic issue.”
The mini murals are located near four intersections, selected from 311 data and reports from the area: Airline at Crosstimbers, Airline at Cavalcade, Jensen at Crosstimbers, and Moody Park. They were launched last week amid Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and ahead of this Monday’s National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
The Mayor’s Office of Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence defines trafficking as the recruitment or transportation of individuals for the purpose of exploitation, using threats, fraud or force. It includes labor trafficking, sex trafficking, child trafficking and online trafficking.
Texas reports the second-highest number of human trafficking cases in the U.S. after California, based on 2015-2019 data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline. A recent analysis from the Polaris Project points to human trafficking as a growing problem during the pandemic, citing a more than 40% increase in national crisis situations.
"Victims of trafficking are typically isolated and hidden. Often, both victims and witnesses don't know how to report this heinous crime or receive help," read a statement from Houston City Council Member Karla Cisneros of District H, who initiated and funded the project. “The goal is for these street art installations to bring hope and a number to call for help.”