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Leave a comment! | Published in Affordable Housing, Architecture, Art and Artists, Charities, Community Serivce, Events & Exhibitions, House Tours, Movies, Video, landscape preservation
A few months ago, Andrew Garrison saw my post about Project Row House and sent me a copy of the documentary he directed called Third Ward TX. This is a project that is so genius and moving to me; I’ve been following its progress for years. If you’d like to catch up, you really need to screen this film. I’ve dreaded and thus procrastinated writing this review for months because I know that words can’t do it justice. The last time I was moved to tears by a project or an exhibit was Gee’s Bend Quilts. It doesn’t happen often to this old cynic!
In 1993, Rick Lowe founded Project Row House. He was struck by how much the dilapidated shotgun shacks in the city of Houston reminded him of John Biggers’ paintings. He calls the shotgun shack “a humble abode and a temple.” As Lowe and a group of artists renovated the homes, they created a community where artists-in-residence would come stay and exhibit. Thus, the artists engaged the community and brought attention to a place that had been abandoned by many. Once a neighborhood with a small town feel, the area had fallen on hard times.
The first major result of PRH was eight exhibition houses housing two different artist per year, with exhibitions and exhibitions in progress showing for six months a year. The doors are open for people to walk through. Exhibits range from portraits to this 2001 Walter Hood installation:
After reaching this success, Lowe realized it was only the tip of the iceberg in helping the community. Thus, The Young Mothers in Residency Program was born. Single mothers were able to live in housing that is part of the project, and they are aided by mentor moms. They live rent free for two years while completing educations. These families become part of a thriving community. The amount of dignity this effort brings to people seems too powerful to describe.
Perhaps the best analogy comes from an interview with a local found object sculptor and funny character from the neighborhood. When describing his own art, he says he “takes nothing and makes something of it.” Although this is the way PRW’s site may have seemed before the project began, I believe there was always something there. The energy and spirit from the old community had been stifled in the abandoned houses, but Rick Lowe sensed it and found a vent through which he freed it.
The documentary is so well done, from interviews with Lowe, artists, residents, community leaders, community characters, and even spec real estate developers. The film also finds wonderful images from the days when this was a strong African-American community as well as people who remember what it used to be like. Ironically, the success of the project has caused its next challenge; PRH has brought so much positive attention and improvement to a previously ignored area that real estate prices are rising. This means that property taxes are becoming unaffordable in an area where the average family of four has an income of $13,500 a year.
I can’t think of another project that compares to this one; at the heart of it is community, its other parts include art, historic preservation, urban planning, social work, culture, history, and architecture. The results of these parts working together are respect, dignity, strong families, education, true community and pride. John Biggers, one Lowe’s original inspirations for the project said it best: “Art will save your life.”
Thank you so much to Andrew Garrison for capturing this project so well on film and for sharing it with me. This is the perfect film to screen for artists, urban planners, mayor’s conferences, architecture school lectures, professional design associations, Brad Pitt, the list goes on. If you are interested in arranging a screening, contact Third Ward TX here.
To see a trailer, to purchase the film, or to arrange a screening, click here.
To learn more about The Row House Community Development Corporation, click here.
To learn more about The Young Mothers Residential Program, click here.
To learn more about John Biggers, get this book.
â€¢First two photographs and the Young Mothers program photograph from ProjectRowHouses.org,
â€¢John Biggers painting from The Art of John Biggers: View from the Upper Room
â€¢Black and white photos from The Third Ward TX Gallery
â€¢Walter Hood installation photo from wjhoodesignn.com