Inspired in part by African American muralist John Biggers, who painted black neighborhoods of shotgun houses as places of pride not poverty and German artist Joseph Beuys who addressed how people shape their worlds, Artist Rick Lowe engaged six other African American artists—James Bettison (1958-1997), Bert Long, Jr. (1940-2013), Jesse Lott, Floyd Newsum, Bert Samples, and George Smith. Together, they began to explore how they as artists could be a community resource and catalyst for change. Upon discovering 22 abandoned shotgun style row houses, Project Row Houses commenced.
PRH now occupies a significant footprint in Houston’s Historic Third Ward, one of the city’s oldest African-American neighborhoods. The site encompasses five city blocks and houses 39 structures that serve as a home base to a variety of community-enriching initiatives, art programs, and neighborhood development activities. Although PRH’s African-American roots are planted deeply in Third Ward, the work of PRH extends far beyond the borders of a neighborhood in transition. The PRH model for art and social engagement applies not only to Houston, but also to diverse communities around the world.
PRH programs touch the lives of under-resourced neighbors, young single mothers with the ambition of a better life for themselves and their children, small enterprises with the drive to take their businesses to the next level, and artists interested in using their talents to understand and enrich the lives of others.
All of the arts and cultural programming of PRH is referred to as “Public Art,” developed to respond to, involve and reflect the community. In PRH philosophy, arts and community are integrally necessary for each other– art is not viable without community and community is not viable without art.