The mission of Project Row Houses is to be the catalyst for transforming community through the celebration of art and African-American history and culture.
Project Row Houses’ work with the Third Ward community began in 1993 when seven visionary African-American artists—James Bettison (1958-1997), Bert Long, Jr. (1940-2013), Jesse Lott, Rick Lowe, Floyd Newsum, Bert Samples, and George Smith—recognized real potential in a block and a half of derelict shotgun houses at the corner of Holman and what is now Emancipation Avenue. Where others saw poverty, these artists saw a future site for positive, creative, and transformative experiences in the Third Ward. So, together they began to explore how they could be a resource to the community and how art might be an engine for social transformation. This is how the PRH story began.
With the founders engaged with a community of creative thinkers and the neighbors around them, Project Row Houses quickly began to shift the understanding of art from traditional studio practice to a more conceptual base of transforming the social environment. While they were artists, they were also advocates.
Over the next twenty –five years the organization brought together groups and pooled resources to materialize sustainable opportunities for artists, young mothers, small businesses, and Third Ward Residents helping to cultivate independent change agents by supporting people and their ideas so that they have tools and capacity to do the same for others.
PRH is, and has always been a unique experiment in activating the intersections between art, enrichment, and preservation.
The Influence of Dr. John Biggers
PRH was inspired in part by Joseph Beuys, a German artist who coined the term “Social Sculpture” to represent the way in which people shape the world around them, and Dr. John Biggers, a Houston-based artist and educator whose work challenged African American sterotypes and often highlighted architecture and its significance to community.
Early conversations between Dr. Biggers and PRH founder Rick Lowe about the rich history and symbolism of the shotgun houses that dot the physical landscape of Third Ward informed and shaped the ideals of Project Row Houses. It was a style that originated in West Africa and was brought to the US via the slave trade – first through the Caribbean up to New Orleans and then across the country.
Mindful of the history and depth of symbolism in these houses, the founders began to brainstorm what a project would look like if it encompassed 22 houses.