You Can't Hang This on a Wall: Project Row Houses and the Art of Cultivating Creativity
Bryn Mawr College. Department of History of Art
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The Third Ward in Houston, Texas is a neighborhood which has fallen into economic and physical decline. A row of 22 traditional style shotgun houses were set for demolition until Rick Lowe saw something more in them. Beginning in 1993, Lowe began rehabilitating the houses. He created exhibition spaces, artist studios, and housing for young mothers. Since then, Project Row Houses has grown from the initial site to include more properties and has overseen the building of new affordable housing. Even with the growth Project Row Houses has undergone, the foundations of the organization still lie in the spaces of exhibition and creation of art. Many people refer to Project Row Houses as socially engaged art and speak about it in relation to community art. My thesis addressed questions of the actual presentation of art at Project Row Houses, and how their exhibition model both engages with and subverts our traditional idea of art institutions. I also investigated the delicate balance Project Row Houses has found between creating a space that is integrated seamlessly into the community it exists within, yet also manages to pull in a crowd of people from beyond the community's (and neighborhood's) limits. People are the center of importance in this equation. The foundation of art and artistic practice at Project Row Houses is essential to understanding how people in the neighborhood are able to gain some sense of creative capital. By bringing art to the people in the community in which they can see themselves (such as with the recent exhibition “Question Bridge” which considers the African‐American, male experience in the United States) along with a new awareness that they, too, can be creatively inclined and take authorship over their own projects, there is a level of new creative agency which now exists in the Project Row Houses community. This creative capital is generated through the various different agents at work in Project Row Houses: from artists who exhibit at Project Row Houses to community members to the shape of the institution itself. Together these pieces make Project Row Houses a sit where art is active, present, and engaged in sustaining the daily life of this community.