“Why is art crucial to developing civic pride?” This was the central question husband and wife team Elia and Noah Quiles, proprietors of UP Art Studio, asked in a 2015 presentation for TedXHouston. The answer continues to drive their mission, most recently, from the inside of a new storefront location in Downtown, at 104 South Main Street.
As a business, UP Art Studio seeks to facilitate art and design projects for urban and contemporary artists, communities, and corporations from a local to global scale. But as a socially conscious entity, the mission of the Quiles is to create meaningful change in urban environments with public murals, using the work of artists to, as Elia says, “educate, move and engage communities.”
Their foundational goal, in their own words, is to create “civic pride through civic art.”
Though UP Art Studio was officially created by the couple in 2012, the intersection of art and community began decades ago for Noah. What started in the early ‘90s as an effort to express himself through tagging would eventually become the medium that influenced the course of his career. But in those days, living in Chicago’s Southside, it was mostly an escape from the surrounding violence of gang activity. Noah now believes that graffiti saved his life.
The journey from amateur street artist to entrepreneur and business owner wasn’t clear cut, but two major life events created new pathways for Noah: a move to Houston in 1998, and meeting future wife and business partner Elia in 2003—fittingly, following the Art Car Parade ball.
In those early years, Elia—a native Houstonian—was a successful University of Houston Downtown graduate working as an executive in commercial real estate. Though she was good at what she did and enjoyed her career, Elia felt pulled toward the public work Noah was facilitating in various communities throughout Houston and in places like Miami, Florida.
“The more I contributed to what we were doing, I felt better about myself. A lot of what we do makes an impact on the community,” says Elia. “Not just Downtown and the inner loop, but to give access to public art outside of the inner core was really fulfilling.”
Public art brings beauty and creativity to everyone, regardless of their backgrounds, and it’s a tenet that fuels Elia and Noah in their mission.
“Diversity is an illusion without inclusion, and that’s the thing that sets us apart,” says Noah.
This is evident in the studio’s many projects, which come in various forms. Their mini murals project transforms traffic signal control cabinets into works of art around the city. With funding and support from various sources, including the City of Houston, the Quiles find local artists from the Houston area to bring the metallic, grey boxes to life. Each box reflects the artist’s unique style and incorporates elements from the surrounding community.
Today the UP Art Studio entrepreneurs are keeping up with a dizzying array of projects from their new office and gallery space, which encourages visitors on weekdays, and includes plans to stay open late on the weekends.
As for Noah, he says he’s living the American dream.
“I’m a curator with one of the best operational individuals I’ve ever worked with. Elia’s keen knowledge of business is a leg up over everyone else in this community. Presentation, our mentality, and our mission are making sure that we help to instill civic pride, and we’ll work for years to make sure it happens.”
For a full list of past work, find UP Art Studio at 104 South Main Street, or visit their website at www.upartstudio.org.