Commentary: Project Row Houses: Arts, Culture, and Collective Creative Action

By Eureka Gilkey

Project Row Houses (PRH) was founded in 1993 to be the catalyst for transforming community through the celebration of art and African American history and culture. Inspired by the work of German avant-garde artist Joseph Beuys and African American painter Dr. John Biggers, a group of seven Black artists, working and living in Third Ward, purchased 22 historic shotgun-style row houses on two blocks in a disinvested neighborhood and began using the houses as spaces for thematic art interventions. These artists leveraged a broad perspective of art, stemming from Beuys’s concept of art as “social sculpture,” the idea that art is about how individuals shape the world around them. The seven founders of PRH—James Bettison, Bert Long Jr., Jesse Lott, Rick Lowe, Floyd Newsum, Bert Samples, and George Smith—perpetuated Beuys’s radical tenet that each individual is an artist, and art can be a continually evolving collective undertaking.

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