It all began with a plucky high school student and his assessment that Rick Lowe’s portfolio of political art failed to address social need. “People need solutions,” the student said. “If you are an artist and you are creative, why can’t you create a solution?”
Lowe rose to the student’s challenge and his “solution” won him a 2014 MacArthur Fellowship, announced yesterday. Twenty years ago, Lowe rallied a group of fellow artists and bought two blocks of derelict, 1930s shotgun houses in Houston’s Northern Third Ward, one of the city’s oldest African-American neighborhoods.
“We weren’t trying to do something to serve the arts community;” Lowe said in a 2013 Creative Time report. “We were trying to figure out how the arts community could serve this community.”
Working on instinct, Lowe listened and observed, letting the content of his work come from the community. Two decades on and Project Row Houses remains a beacon of empowerment by providing venues for people to safely create, learn and live. The project now stretches across six blocks encompassing exhibition and residency spaces for artists, offices, a community gallery, a park, low-income residential and commercial spaces, and transitional housing for young single mothers, and has seeded similar arts-driven, Lowe-led redevelopment in Los Angeles, New Orleans and North Dallas.
We are the people. The people are the place. The place is the art. This is a creative revolution (and its uniform).