Project Row Houses (PRH) is a neighborhood-based nonprofit art and cultural organization in Houston’s Northern Third Ward, one of the city’s oldest African-American communities. PRH began in 1993 as a result of discussions among African-American artists who wanted to establish a positive, creative presence in their own community. Artist and community activist Rick Lowe spearheaded the pursuit of this vision when he discovered the abandoned 1 1/2 block site of twenty-two shotgun-style houses in Houston’s Third Ward. The shotgun houses became the perfect opportunity to pursue the creation of a new form of art. They had two key elements: 1) a beautiful form recognized by the renowned Houston artist Dr. John Biggers to be filled with architectural, spiritual, and social significance, and 2) a need for social action among the community to bring the project to life.
PRH is founded on the principle that art-and the community it creates-can be the foundation for revitalizing depressed inner-city neighborhoods. This principle was is in part based on the philosophy of German artist Joseph Beuys (1921 – 1986) who coined the phrase “social sculpture,” which transformed the idea of sculpture as an art form into a social activity. Thus, the mission of Project Row Houses is to create community through the celebration of art, African American history and culture.
PRH has established programs that encompass arts and culture, neighborhood revitalization, low-income housing, education, historic preservation, and community service. These programs are inspired by the work of world renowned artist Dr. John Biggers (1924 – 2001) and his principles concerning the creation of effective communities, specifically:
- Art and creativity should be viewed as an integral part of life, exemplified in African traditions wherein art is interwoven into the very fabric of life through rituals and ceremony activities.
- Quality education is defined through impartation of knowledge and wisdom – including understanding that is passed from generation to generation.
- Strong neighborhoods have social safety nets, woven by community to support community and to raise social responsibility
- Good and relevant architecture; meaning housing that should not only be well designed, but also make sense to preserve a community’s historic character.