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The Power of Public Art


Jenna Foertsch |
October 31, 2019

Daring to expand frontiers means being bold in ways that inspire new waves of creativity. Buildings 56 and 57 at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, a collaboration and coworking space, is paying homage to center’s “Dare. Unite. Explore” initiative through Houston-based artist Nicky Davis. The murals can be seen on the south side of the buildings and are clearly visible on the Space Center Houston tram tour route. The two buildings have been collectively nicknamed “1958” for the year NASA was founded, and welcome anyone on-site from Johnson looking to use their different spaces and amenities. 


Joel Walker, director of Center Operations, initially thought of the idea of a center mural when he recognized that the iconic professional graffiti in downtown Houston often drew inspiration from various NASA programs. Walker described that this art style is becoming more mainstream, with Houston artists doing murals for different corporations—and even a live graffiti mural at the 2019 World Series (*insert sad tears*). Walker met Davis at Houston’s Comicpalooza, immediately drawn to his whimsical and unique style. Walker’s love for art and vision for JSC, comingled with Davis’ talent, brought these murals to life in ways that bring color and vibrancy to the future of space and Johnson’s collaborative spaces.  


Director of Center Operations Joel Walker (right) with artist Nicky Davis. Image Credit: NASA

Ali Llewelyn, 1958’s building manager, along with talent strategist Nick Skytland, work behind the scenes leading the coworking space. Together, they were instrumental in the success of the mural project, which was just one part of that initiative. These buildings are also known for the hyperwall, augmented reality sandbox and the recently opened-up Sputnik, an airstream trailer used as a conference room on a first come, first served basis. 

With Dare. Unite. Explore as inspiration, the murals create a visual experience that provide an exciting focal point for NASA’s history and what is to come with Artemis and future programs. 

“Space art has always existed,” Walker said. “It’s the space picture—the picture of our Earth. We’ve included it in education, student art or contests. It’s a way to pull students in to participate. I think it’s like landscaping, interior design and architecture. It takes you out of the utilitarian and puts you into something more beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. It sets the stage for what’s happening. For that reason, I think it’s important.” 

The murals are another giant leap into daring to take new and bold actions. Walker agreed with this sentiment, adding that he allowed Davis to have freedom with his design, not stifling creativity, with an added analogy of Commercial Crew. 

“We’re changing—sometimes you have to do bolder things to change,” Walker said. “In Apollo, you designed the rocket, and someone built it for you. Now, in Commercial Crew, the requirement is three people on the space station, and I’m not going to tell you exactly how to do it. If I want to go fast and quick, I just have to tell them the vision and let them do it their way.” 


Fun-loving characters, the "stars" of our universe, come together artistically to inspire the next chapter of human space exploration. Image Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz  

Commercial Crew requires trust. Our industry partners must be trusted to complete initiatives creatively, but correctly, to accomplish our bold goal of sustainability, with boots on the Moon by 2024. The Artemis program is uniting with our partners, colleagues and communities to accomplish these tasks, whether through Commercial Crew, art or other center initiatives. The idea of non-traditional collaboration, fostered by the coworking space, is here to facilitate new ideas and creative partnerships that allow forward-leaning work to happen.

You can see the mural now at Buildings 56 and 57. For more information on 1958, visit: https://centerops.jsc.nasa.gov/1958-coworking-space/

To learn more about Joel Walker and COD, check out the Directors Series

View of 1958, NASA Johnson Space Center's coworking and collaboration space. Image Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz
View of 1958, NASA Johnson Space Center's coworking and collaboration space. Image Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz
Another view of 1958 (Buildings 56 and 57). Image Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz
Another view of 1958 (Buildings 56 and 57). Image Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz
The murals by artist Nicky Davis use a street art vibe to tell Johnson's human spaceflight story and expound on Dare. Unite. Explore. Image Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz
The murals by artist Nicky Davis use a street art vibe to tell Johnson's human spaceflight story and expound on Dare. Unite. Explore. Image Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz