Arts and Attractions

Odessa TX Arts and Attractions

Why has the Odessa Convention and Visitors Bureau begun referring to itself as “Discover Odessa”?

Well, people from outside the city probably are familiar with the book, movie and TV show “Friday Night Lights.” But they might have to discover that the town obsessed with high school football in these stories was Odessa, Texas.

Everybody can identify a couple named Bush. Odessa was their first home when an oil man named George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara lived there, rearing young George W. Bush, while the future Laura Bush was growing up across town.

If you’re from Texas, maybe you have heard tales of a giant jackrabbit. But others may have to discover that Odessa oddity themselves.

And when they arrive in the city, these visitors may be surprised to discover that Odessa is full of theaters and museums, and has as many public art sculptures and paintings as any city of its size in the world.

Discover Odessa’s name change is a call to action for visitors and residents alike to get out and discover all the unique features of Odessa!

Public Art Proliferates

Everywhere you go in Odessa, you seem to run into a statue, mural or decoration. Randy Ham, executive director of the nonprofit cultural support group Odessa Arts, said that’s no accident.

“There’s been a concentrated push since 2014, when Odessa adopted a master plan for public art,” Ham said.

Sometimes these artworks come in bunches. An 8-foot-tall jackrabbit has stood outside the Ector County Administration Building since 1962. Nicknamed “Jack Ben” after Odessa-born former Texas Attorney General and Secretary of State John Ben Shepperd, that statue was inspired by an annual jackrabbit-roping competition at the Odessa Rodeo. Jack Ben, in turn, inspired Odessa Arts to ask local people to create smaller jackrabbit  statues of their own.

“Today we have 37 jackrabbits, all of them created in the 1990s by local artists,” Ham said.

Odessa Arts reached farther with another citywide project. Noticing that the metal boxes that hold traffic signal controls are boring or bordering on plain, the organization invited artists all over America to submit designs to cover those boxes. Artists proposed designs ranging from colorful geometric patterns to a surrealistic pair of human lungs, and a local firm made vinyl versions of each design that could be pasted over the control box. “We have 127 traffic boxes in Odessa and 30 have been decorated,” Ham said. “You’ll have one from an Odessa artist next to one from an artist from Puerto Rico.”

Many other prominent artworks have been created one by one, celebrating all the cultural threads of Odessa life, past and present. The area’s Old West past is celebrated by “A Hard Day’s Work,” a statue of a cowboy on a bucking bronco. The oil industry that underlies today’s Odessa economy is celebrated with “Dressing the Bit,” a statue of two oilfield workers. Two children with the words Faith, Hope and Love stand outside Odessa Regional Medical Center,  where ailing kids are treated.

Chris Kyle, the “American Sniper” hero from the Iraq War and Odessa native, is remembered in a 15-foot-high bronze statue. A memorial outside the police headquarters shows a fallen hero in blue.

A Soaring Gateway

Each year the city council sets aside hundreds of thousands of dollars for Odessa Arts. Much of the money is utilized as grants to local artists, and to support projects like Hot Summer Nights, a concert series held between late May and early August in beautiful downtown Noël Heritage Park; One Book Odessa, a citywide reading program designed to get everyone in Odessa reading the same book, and featuring an appearance by the author; and Books in the Basin, Odessa’s very own book festival.

But one project rising above them all – literally – the past two years has been the Odessa Spire. In the 1950s a shopping center named Rockhill Springs erected a high, narrow advertising sign at the edge of the central business district. The center closed and since the 1990s the sign has not been used. But Odessa Arts got the idea of turning this into a soaring, 110-foot-high Odessa Spire with changeable LED lights that would form a “Gateway to Downtown Odessa.”

In 2017, Philadelphia artist Ray King was selected from over 90 applicants to design the Spire. Construction began in August 2019 and was finished by the end of the year, with the $500,000 cost covered by city grants and private donations.

“Sondra and I understand that a thriving cultural community is a key component to attracting businesses and families to Odessa,” said Toby Eoff, who with his wife, Sondra, was a major donor to the project.

“As we continue to place public art out in the community, then people can say ‘Oh yeah, I live there. I live where this is and I’m proud of that,’” Ham said. “I really think of it as a shining beacon of civic pride.”

Activities, Events for Every Taste

Odessa is a city where cowboys, culture, oil and everything in between bring visitors a flavor so delicious it can only be described as “A City of Contrasts.”

The book “Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream” by H. G. Bissinger, and a feature film based on that, were about the 1988 football season of the Permian Panthers, one of the two high school football teams in Odessa. A TV series, also named “Friday Night Lights” aired from 2006 to 2011. It was loosely based on the book and movie but took place in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas.

Some residents have become so passionate about trumpeting the city’s glories that a group known as the Odessa Chuck Wagon Gang travels around the country in cowboy hats, preparing Texas-style barbecues for potential tourists. Over 75 years, according to the Odessa Chuck Wagon Gang’s website, “We have survived wars, meat rationing, floods and sandstorms. We’ve stood before presidents and Odessans alike, always with a tasty plate of food, a friendly smile, and a kind word about Odessa. We have dared to be unique, dared to cling to an idea that couldn’t have succeeded without tiring hours of hard work, millions of miles of travel, and a belief in Odessa and Texas.”

When these tourists come, their Odessa visit can put them in the audience of a reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre at Odessa College, in the cockpit of a World War II fighter plane preserved by the Commemorative Air Force, or in the heart of the second-largest meteor crater in the nation.

The Ellen Noël Art Museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. Sports fans can golf, bowl or even watch the Odessa Jackalopes play a North American Hockey League game.

Besides the Globe, three Odessa live-theater venues (Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center, Permian Playhouse and Ector Theatre) present Broadway musicals, the Midland-Odessa Symphony & Chorale, and concerts by local and national artists.

For those with a more nature-oriented bent, four state and national parks are a short drive from the city. As Discover Odessa’s website claims “The unsurpassed beauty of the West Texas sunsets and a climate that is warm and inviting make this uncommon city a
true paradise,” said Discover Odessa’s website ( “Odessa is also well known for its hospitality, and people with deep appreciation of their colorful past and enthusiasm for a future rich with possibilities.”

Chris Kyle Memorial Plaza
8050 TX-191 Frontage
(on the North West corner of MCHS Mission Fitness building)

Ector Country Coliseum
(home of the Odessa Jackalopes)
4201 Andrews Hwy.
Odessa, Texas 79762

Ector Country Library
321 W. 5th St.
Odessa, Texas 79761
432-332-0633 ext. 4025

Ellen Noël Art Museum
4909 E. University St.
Odessa, Texas 79762
432-550-9696 ext. 210

The Globe Theater at Odessa College
2308 Shakespeare Road
Odessa, Texas 79763

Meteor Crater & Museum
3100 Meteor Crater Road
Odessa, Texas 79764

4101 E. 42nd St.
Odessa, Texas 79762

Parker Ranch House Museum
1118 N. Maple Ave.
Odessa, Texas 79761

Permian Playhouse
310 W. 42nd St.
Odessa, Texas 79762

Presidential Archives & Leadership Library
4919 E. University St.
Odessa, Texas 79762

Stonehenge Replica
UTPB Campus
Preston Smith Road
Odessa, Texas 79762

Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center
1310 N. FM 1788
Midland, Texas 79707

White-Pool House Museum
112 E. Murphy
Odessa, Texas 79761

Movie Theaters Century 12
4221 Preston Smith Road
Odessa, Texas 79762

Royal Permian Palace Stadium II
4101 E. 42nd
Odessa, Texas 79762

Cinergy Cinemas & Entertainment
8250 E. Hwy. 191
Odessa, Texas 79765