Project Row Houses: Creativity In Houston’s Third Ward

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 o

thers. 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 sim

ple 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.

Now that you know more about Project Row Houses, let’s look at some interesting facts about this impactful project. 

Interesting Facts About Project Row Houses

1. Located in the city’s oldest African-American neighborhoods

Project Row Houses is located in Houston’s Historic Third Ward. Third Ward is known for having a great cultural legacy and rich history for the African American community. 

Houston’s Third Ward was originally created as one of Houston’s political subdivisions after the city’s founding in 1836. By the year 1930, Third Ward was already more African-American dominated with fewer white residents. 

Therefore, given that the Third Ward is predominantly an African-American city with a rich cultural background, it’s no surprise that Project Row Houses is located there. 

After all, Project Row Houses aims to enrich lives with an emphasis on cultural identity. It also focuses on its impact on the urban landscape. 

2. Started as a young mothers’ residential program 

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Project Row Houses was initially formed to be a young mothers’ residential program and small business incubation program. This incubation program gives mentorship, time, and space to creative entrepreneurs and artists who need it. 

Since then, Project Row Houses has expanded and now covers 5 city blocks and 39 homes and buildings. All of these buildings are dedicated to community enrichment – which is what Project Row Houses aims to do. 

These spaces are also dedicated to art programs and neighborhood development. 

3. Focuses on Sustainability 

Project Row Houses helps bring to life sustainable opportunities in marginalized communities. This is part of why it has such a huge impact on the Third Ward. 

Project Row Houses aims to enrich lives through art and focuses on cultural identity and the urban landscape. By engaging artists, enterprises, and neighbors, Project Row Houses can now offer sustainable opportunities to the people who need them. 

4. 7 Founders 

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Project Row Houses was founded by seven visionary African-American artists working in Houston in 1993. 

These visionaries were: Rick Lowe, James Bettison, Jesse Lot, Bert Long, Jr., Floyd Newsum, George Smith, and Bert Samples. 

These artists saw a future site that would bring positive transformation to the Third Ward. They decided to use art as an engine of social transformation. This was art that was no longer confined to the walls of the traditional studio. 

5. 2014 MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’

Rick Lowe Received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2014 for his work of turning dilapidated row houses into mini art spaces in Houston’s Historic Third Ward. 

The MacArthur Foundation annually awards grants to creative people whose work shows great promise. If you receive a fellowship, you’ll get $625,000 over five years to support your endeavors and fulfill your vision. 

6. Focuses on Talent 

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Project Row Houses aims to offer a better life to small enterprises, young single mothers and under-resourced neighbors who are ambitious and want to better their lives. These are mostly artists who have talents to share with the world. 

Therefore, as these artists’ lives are enriched, they also enrich the lives of those around them. 

7. The Impact goes beyond the Third Ward

Although Project Row Houses is based in Houston’s Third Ward, its impact goes beyond these physical borders. The Project Row Houses model for art and social engagement reaches diverse communities around the world. 

In fact, several people come from all over the United States to seek guidance on how to implement the same social practice model in their own community. As a result, project Row Houses has fast become the face of cultural creative development across the country. 

8. Rick Lowe is the face of PRH 

Rick Lowe is one of the 7 founders and was the one to discover the 22 shotgun houses at the beginning. At that time, the 22 shotgun houses were derelict and forlorn. 

Rick Lowe has done a great job being the face of Project Row Houses, thanks to his dedication, charisma, and leadership skills. Thanks to this, PRH has been able to forge alliances with government entities, corporations, and other foundations. 

Another great thing about Rick Lowe is that he’s formed a sustainable model that allows Project Row Houses to continue thriving whether he’s around or not. 

9. PRH is in the schools 

Lowe leads an innovative endeavor at the University of Houston that introduces the students to Project Row Houses. This is part of social practice and continues to make the organization thrive. 

Rick Lowe works in a department known as the Center for Art and Social Engagement (CASE). Fellows from CASE get to integrate their theoretical principles with the real world of Row Houses, which adds to their experience and growth. 

10. Continues to be a great beacon of hope for the art community 

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Project Row Houses is always adapting to the changing needs of its community. Its collaborative framework sets it apart from other similar projects. 

As the torch continues to be passed down to new leaders, there is no doubt that the impact of PRH will only continue to grow. Again, this is within the Third Ward and beyond. 

Final Thoughts 

What was your most interesting fact about Project Row Houses? If you’re ever in Houston, you can plan a visit to this incredible space and get to enjoy a superb cultural experience. 

For more information, viewing hours and location please visit: or call 713-526-7662.

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