A stroll through the campus of Project Row Houses is a stroll into a world where passion for art collides with compassion for people. Walking down Holman Street, one is surprised to find this world and its inhabitants, moving with excited energy, each step intentional with purpose. A noisy, giggling group of uniformed students race each other toward the open doors of the after-school program. A single young mother waves to her child among the group as she heads to her weekly Young Mothers Residency Program workshop. An artist greets her by name as he steps out onto the porch of a row house, reflecting on his work and its relationship to the world around him. The sun sets on another day at PRH, another day where community is created as it meets art.
This is Project Row Houses; an arts organization focused on community as its canvas. The above paragraph was written in an effort to illustrate the multi-faceted nature of PRH. PRH is positioned as a neighbor, as a partner, as a developer, as a social services provider and, most prominently, as a unique lens magnifying the community’s hidden treasures in ways often unexpected. We seek to be interwoven into the very fabric of the community through initiatives and programming that spark engagement and re-cultivate ownership.
PRH literally has pictures of what the community looked liked without social action, now over 15 years ago. At that time there was little positive social action. Four residents lived on the four blocks which currently hold the 22 abandoned row houses that launched PRH. The community was drug-infested and neglected and the City had already placed the properties on the demolition list in an effort to redevelop the area. Without community action, the neighborhood as we know it faced extinction, similar to the same outcome that the Fourth Ward in Houston has experienced – once filled with over 500 structures on the National Registry, less than twenty of these properties now exist in the Fourth Ward and the demographics have drastically shifted from low-income African Americans to a diverse ethnic mix of middle class residents.
PRH is in the favored position of being able to see the vision of how art can create community actually manifested before our eyes. The opening of the 16 duplexes within the Hannah project has tripled the residents within facilities owned and managed by Row House Community Development Corporation. Almost immediately participation in the Resident Council correspondently increased. We are amazed that, without any prerequisites, 7 out of the 12 current families in the new units include artists. Residents have a deep respect for the historic and cultural significance of this community and are actively working together to identify and address shared interests and concerns. A subgroup has sprung forth to focus on developing a food co-op and Laundromat in the community.