PROJECT ROW HOUSES
Project Row Houses was formed in 1993 to address physical, spiritual, and social change in one of Houston’s poorest neighborhoods. Through PRH’s revitalization of the original 2 block campus of 22 abandoned shotgun-style houses for its arts, education and social service programs, PRH became a leader in the Third Ward community’s re-development. Almost simultaneously, inner-city Houston became the target of intensive gentrification and hundredss of upscale, high-density town homes and lofts were constructed. In the process, acres of green space, blocks of bungalows, and thousands of community residents were displaced. Ultimately this trend resulted in the eradication one of the nation’s oldest African American communities, Fourth Ward or Freedman’s Town. In order to preserve and protect the Third Ward community from this sort of destruction, PRH worked with residents to create a new development paradigm with the least displacement of existing residents while at the same time empowering and strengthening the community.
The Row House district is a 74-acre neighborhood in Houston’s northern Third Ward. This historically important neighborhood had been neglected for many years and suffers from badly deteriorated infrastructure, a dearth of green space, a lack of other civic amenities, and a median income of $14,200. The housing stock is in poor condition but includes many historic shotgun-style bungalows as constructed by emancipated slaves and their descendents.
Working with artists from throughout the country over the past seventeen years, PRH has dramatically changed the face of the northern Third Ward community. By creating multigenerational education programs; an intensive residential program for young, single mothers; a public art program that is deeply rooted in the community; and building affordable housing for artists and long time Third Ward residents to live, PRH has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of the people who live here and change the direction of their future.
Project Row Houses (PRH) has invented a context where art can create real social change. Intersecting public art and social practice, PRH locates Houston’s Third Ward community, a predominantly African-American working class neighborhood, as its canvas in which residents and artists play a vital role in activating the community. Central to the vision of PRH is the social role of art as seen in neighborhood revitalization, historic preservation, community service, and youth education. All PRH’s programs explore exemplary artistic production that speaks to the history and cultural issues relevant to the African-American community, particularly in Houston’s Third Ward Community.
PRH is uniquely positioned as a neighbor, a partner, a developer, a social services provider and, most prominently, as a community-based arts organization. Over the past fifteen years PRH has become interwoven into the very fabric of the community through initiatives and programming that spark engagement and re-cultivate ownership. PRH’s projects and services are ongoing in nature, as we seek not only to meet the immediate needs of the community, but to also address the core issues that threaten its survival. Legendary artists, musicians, educators, and entrepreneurs have called this historical neighborhood home for generations. People make international treks to visit our famous restaurants, community organizations and historical sites. However, Third Ward is equally famous for its reputation as one of the poorest and most desperate of Houston’s neighborhoods. Through its projects, PRH works hard to change these conditions and improve the lives of Third Ward residents.
PRH provides artists freedom to develop vision, voice and experiment in different ways, and thus creates a more integrative experience for the community and the artist. Through our diverse programs we seek true interaction with the community. This activates the artist, the experience, and community members and ultimately has produced an opportunity for long term growth and revitalization for Houston’s Third Ward. However, PRH does not consider itself a social service organization even though that is part of what it provides. Driven by Founder Rick Lowe’s vision, PRH locates its programming more as a form of social sculpture, in which life itself might be a work of art. PRH is inspired by John Biggers, the late African-American muralist who painted black neighborhoods of shotgun houses, like the ones that make up PRH, and showed them to be places of pride and community, not poverty and crime.
THE CYNTHIA WOODS MITCHELL CENTER FOR THE ARTS
The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts is dedicated to ground-breaking, transformative collaborations across the performing, visual, and literary arts. Based at the University of Houston, the Mitchell Center commissions and produces new works, presents public performances and exhibitions, offers curriculum and scholarships, and hosts residencies with renowned visiting artists from throughout the world. The Mitchell Center forms an alliance among five departments at UH – the School of Art, Moores School of Music, School of Theatre and Dance, Creative Writing Program, and Blaffer Art Museum.
Together with Project Row Houses, the Mitchell Center presents a three month series about how the arts can inspire debate and catalyze social change.
Communograph: Mapping Community Through Creative Action brings world-class contemporary artists including Mel Chin and Mierle Laderman Ukeles to Houston for talks and workshops. The series also features many artists working in the Third Ward, and explores the history of creativity within this African American neighborhood.
Communograph also adopts a field-based model designed to immerse University of Houston arts students in the multi-disciplinary discourses of social arts practice and give them the opportunity to work in a variety of public spheres, urban environments and social groups.
This partnership with Project Row Houses provides the context in which art can create real social change. Combining public art and social practice, PRH regularly invites Third Ward residents and artists to play a vital role in activating the community. Central to the vision of PRH is the social role of art as seen in neighborhood revitalization, historic preservation, community service, and youth education.
Communograph: Mapping Community Through Creative Action is offered in conjunction with Communograph, an original project by artist Ashley Hunt commissioned by Project Row Houses . This series is curated by Bree Edwards, Mitchell Center program director and Ashley Clemmer Hoffman, Project Row Houses public art manager.
For more information about the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts at the University of Houston visit www.mitchellcenterforarts.org.