Project Row Houses (PRH) is a neighborhood-based nonprofit art and cultural organization. It is located in Houston’s Northern Third Ward, one of the city’s oldest African-American communities. PRH was founded in 1993 by Rick Lowe, an artist and community activist.
At the urging of some local high school students, Lowe and a coalition of other artists bought a block site of twenty-two shotgun houses with a novel endeavor. For all of history, art has functioned as a social commentator – often calling out social problems in ways and with clarity impossible to achieve without art. The students challenged Lowe to fix problems with his art, rather than merely using art as a medium to comment on problems which everyone already acknowledged. PRH was founded on the principle that art – and the community it creates – can be the foundation for solving such social problems and eventually revitalizing depressed inner-city neighborhoods.
The program has since expanded to a variety of community-based initiatives, all of which use the arts as a means of development. Since 1993 the PRH has grown from the original block and a half to six blocks, and from 22 houses to 40 properties; including twelve artist exhibition and/or residency spaces, seven houses for young mothers, artist residencies, office spaces, a community gallery, a park, low-income residential and commercial spaces.
All of the arts and cultural programming of PRH is referred to as “Public Art”. PRH art is developed to respond to the community, involve the community, and reflect the community. In the PRH philosophy, arts and community are integrally necessary for each other to thrive – art is not viable without community and community is not viable without art.
PRH continuously evolves to address needs in its community. To wit, in 1996, PRH developed the Young Mother’s Residential Program (YMRP). Many young, single mothers are forced to discontinue their education in order to raise families – often perpetuating a cycle of poverty. YMRP assists low-income single mothers and their children to achieve successful, independent lives by providing up to two years of subsidized housing, counseling on personal growth and parenting skills, and most importantly, a supportive, nurturing community.
Similarly, in 2003, PRH assembled a new entity: the Row House Community Development Corporation and started buying land and buildings in order to protect the historic character of the neighborhood against encroaching gentrification.
The work of PRH continues to evolve – and it remains a leading example of how communities can be saved and reborn from within. We had a chance to talk with Rick Lowe on our podcast Social Design Insights on May 25, 2017.