I recently watched an episode of the Amazon Original Series Mozart In The Jungle in which the fictitious New York City Symphony played an outdoor concert for the prisoners at Rikers Island. The catch is that during filming, which is very much like a documentary, original members of the Chelsey Symphony and the New Westchester Symphony Orchestra performed at the prison.
Producers of the show recorded footage of orchestra members and prisoners both during the concert and afterward, in short, individual interview clips. Viewers of the show were given the opportunity to witness, what effects the exposure to art and culture might have on some of the area’s most hardened criminals. The result was nothing short of magical. Incredible music played by masters of the craft was heard for the very first time, and the impact was clearly visible.
This would probably have come as no surprise to Rick Lowe if he had been watching. Almost 25 years ago Rick had the revolutionary idea that if you expose people to beauty, art, and creativity that you could reach something within the individual spirit and raise the ability to aspire, both for themselves and for others. So, in 1993, along with several other like-minded artists and community activists, he developed Project Row Houses in Houston’s Third Ward. The neighborhood, one of the city’s oldest African American communities, was suffering under the results of high crime and hopelessness at that time.
PROJECT ROW HOUSES
Rick and his partners began by purchasing a couple of city blocks in a northern part of the Third Ward, and converting the old section of row houses into spaces for artists’ studios. It was a simple plan to provide an active, creative presence in the community but has since grown in ways that possibly even Rick could not have predicted. His vision for the social role of art in neighborhood revitalization is now a 5-pillar program that includes: Art and Creativity; Education; Social Safety Nets; Architecture; and Sustainability.
As visitors enjoy walking around the art spaces, which are free to the public and open five days a week, it does not take long to realize that there is much more going on here than just art. The next block over is the site of the Young Mothers Program, which offers short-term housing, education, counseling, parenting classes, and personal growth classes to young single mothers. Another block down is a series of multi-story duplexes, architecturally inspired by the original row houses, and a part of the Project Row Houses affordable housing project.
The Project Row Houses Incubation Program provides small business support in the form of retail space and mentorship to entrepreneurs who are in the early stages of business development, but who lack the resources to see the project through to success. Community Markets for local artists and craftspeople are also frequently held to give creative entrepreneurs from the community an opportunity to reach a broader audience and showcase their goods.
For the younger population, PRH offers tutoring and the College Bound Project, as well as summer art camps for budding artists. But the crowning glory of Project Row House, at least from a visual perspective, may be ZeRow House. The ambitious project was undertaken by the Rice Building Workshop and sits on the site as a beautiful prototype of what the future of affordable and sustainable housing could be.
Project Row Houses is currently in its 45th Round of artists on view. The title of the exhibit is Local Impact, and it will be available for your enjoyment until February 12th. Curated by PRH’s Public Art Director, Ryan Dennis, this round showcases the work of Regina Agu, JooYoung Choi, Sally Glass, Jesse Lott + Ann Harithas, Tierney Malone, Harold Mendez, and Patrick Renner.
For more information, viewing hours and location please visit: www.projectrowhouses.org or call 713-526-7662