Next City: Street Makeover: Artists Bring Visibility to a Low-Lit Alley

Full Article by Alexis Stephens

"Since January, artist Rick Lowe, a social practice artist most well known for founding the Houston arts and cultural community Project Row Houses, has been in residence, helping to continue to reclaim the underdog space. He and AAI have experimented with 'maintenance art,' or making the cleaning of the space an act of performance art.

Lowe thinks that having people from all walks of life take on tasks such as picking up litter has more of a lasting impact than, for example, paying someone with a business improvement district uniform to do it. 'You have to do it with the motivation of the poetic meaning and value of the people that are doing it and not so much on the result,' Lowe says. 'The most efficient way would be to pay someone to do it, but when you pay someone, you might be more expedient in terms of keeping the place clean, but you might miss out on the opportunity of actually empowering someone to change the way they see themselves within the space and that ultimately has a much stronger impact than just keeping it clean.'

Two locations on Pearl Street have suggestive meaning for the project: The Goldtex Building, a newly constructed luxury loft building, and the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter, both flank the block the Asian Arts Initiative sits on.

'To me, [Pearl Street] was very symbolic of the overall dynamics that are happening in the rest of the city and the rest of the country,' says Lowe. 'There’s the dynamic of having rejuvenation of real estate, and there’s a certain kind of excitement about that, but there’s also a little bit of concern for the existing population … The strategies of working with the people moving into the new developments is a bit simpler than working with the existing population when it’s a homeless population, so that’s where we’ve focused most of our efforts toward that population and keep them connected, at some level, to the community as it continues to change.'

Lowe hopes his work makes Hood’s work seem less fanciful and more of a matter-of-fact reflection on the potential of how people can rally around space long-term. 'If my work is to be successful, it is to continue to cultivate the groundwork to bring [Walter Hood’s] work to fruition,' he says.