Can Art Save a Neighborhood? The Creator of Houston's Project Row Houses Speaks

Rick Lowe, an artist/activist, transformed 22 shotgun shacks into a haven of community-minded creativity. Can Portland learn from his work?

By Randy Gragg April 29, 2016

Lowe 2014 hi res download 1 ythlh3
"The community is a sculptural form," says artist/activist Rick Lowe, best known for organizing the purchase and restoration of 22 1930s-era shotgun houses in Houston's predominantly African American Third Ward and turning them into Project Row Houses, an amalgam of arts venue and community support center. 

Since its founding in 23 years ago, Project Row Houses has provided arts education programs for youth, exhibition spaces and studio residencies for emerging and established artists, a residential mentorship program for young mothers, an organic gardening program, and an incubator for historically appropriate designs for low-income housing on land surrounding the original row houses. 

"But at its core," Lowe argues, Project Row Houses is about "the everyday, mundane things that happen—from transitional housing for single mothers or education programs or real-estate development—not only from the standpoint of the practical outcomes but also the poetic elements that can be layered into them."

Lowe has initiated similarly arts-driven redevelopment projects in other cities, including the Watts House Project in Los Angeles, a post-Katrina rebuilding effort in New Orleans, and, most recently, a vibrant community market in a densely populated, immigrant neighborhood in North Dallas. Lowe's pioneering "social sculptures" have inspired a generation of artists to explore more socially engaged forms of art-making in communities across the country. His other community building projects have included the Arts Plan for the Seattle Public Library, the Borough Project for the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, and the Delray Beach Cultural Loop in Florida, among others.

Rowe was in Portland on Tuesday, May 3, for an installment of the Bright Lights discussion series:

Listening With Ears, Eyes, and Heart:
A Gateway To Artistic Value In Unknown Places

An evening with Rick Lowe, founder of Project Rowhouses and MacArthur Fellow
Presented by the UO John Yeon Center for Architecture and the Landscape and the Portland Art Museum
6:30–9:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 3
Portland Art Museum's Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Ave
Reserve your ticket here.

Filed under
Show Comments