Tommy Gregory Leaves Houston Airport System for a Job in Seattle
by Brandon Zech October 9, 2018
Tommy Gregory has told Glasstire that he is leaving his position at the Houston Airport System for a job in Seattle. His new job, as the Public Art Director of the Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac), which is owned and operated by the Port of Seattle, will involve overseeing the conservation of the airport’s collection, the commissioning of new works, and the organization of temporary exhibitions throughout the airport. Sea-Tac’s art collection includes pieces by internationally-known and regional artists, including Frank Stella, Louise Nevelson, Sam Gilliam and Robert Rauschenberg, among others.
Gregory began his career at the Houston airports in 2014 as the collection’s curator, and in 2017 was named its new Public Art Program Director and Curator. During his tenure working for Houston’s three airports — Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), William P. Hobby Airport and Ellington Airport — the institution’s art collection doubled in size, and Gregory shepherded along commissions and other pieces by many Texas artists, including Robert Pruitt, Christian Eckart, Joseph Havel and Krista Birnbaum. Partly because of Gregory’s efforts, more than 70% of works at IAH are either by Houston-based artists, or were purchased through Houston galleries. Gregory was also responsible for a reinstall of small-scale sculptural pieces throughout IAH’s concourses, highlighting the airport’s collection of Texas talent, and for numerous conservation efforts on pieces in the airports’ collection.
A longtime Texan, Gregory first got the taste for public art through his undergraduate work with artist Luis Jiménez in 2005 at the University of Houston. After that, he worked on public pieces with Paul Kittelson and Carter Ernst, and obtained his MFA from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Gregory’s public art administration began post-graduation, when he was hired as the Public Art Specialist for the City of San Antonio, where he worked on commissions by Chris Sauter and The Art Guys, among other projects. He then returned to Houston and worked at the Houston Arts Alliance on public art projects, before settling in at the Houston Airport System.
Gregory is also an artist in his own right. In the past few years, he has shown his works at FL!GHT Gallery and the UTSA Art Gallery in San Antonio and the Williams Tower Gallery and Redbud Gallery in Houston. He has also curated numerous exhibitions around Texas, and is a co-founder of Sculpture Month Houston.
Of his experiences in Houston, Gregory told Glasstire:
“My time in Houston, and Texas for that matter, has been one so enriching; I have bled and lost sleep over the arts in this place. The potential is so great in Houston, and in Texas… the creative people need to stay together, need to work together and need to not be afraid to critique each other… it is the only way we can get stronger. I will miss the city of Houston, I will miss driving to see shows at the Modern, and at Blue Star. I will miss having drinks and discussions with so many of the creative people that put in so much time to make things that never existed, in hopes to positively alter the way we all see the world. I really hope people know that I will do what I have done my whole career — I will put on shows here and in Seattle. It hasn’t set in yet, but I will be an emotional person the second I turn in my badges. I promise to make Texas proud in the PNW.”
Gregory is finishing up his stint in Houston with two Sculpture Month- and airport-related projects: an installation by Jo Ann Fleischhauer in a defunct air traffic control tower at IAH, and a group exhibition he organized at the 1940 Air Terminal Museum, a small, funky air travel museum near Hobby Airport.