Posts Tagged ‘Rick Lowe’

This wonderful video is based on a retreat we held in the Fall of 2007 titled Invigorating Communities, Designing for Inclusion. The video was created by BAYCAT Studio, where Innovators Network member Villy Wang serves as the President and CEO. Enjoy!


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Project Row Houses

Project Row Houses

I’m standing on the corner of Smith and Elgin, not far from Houston’s Third Ward. It’s May but with the heat and humidity it might as well be August, so I’m relieved when Tim Martinez pulls up, and I slip into his air-conditioned car.

Tim’s the Director of Development/PR at Project Row Houses (PRH), a neighborhood-based art and cultural organization located in Houston’s Northern Third Ward, one of the city’s oldest African-American communities.

PRH founder Rick Lowe, artist, community activist and member of the U.S.-Japan Innovators Network, was one of four Americans who participated in Invigorating Communities, Designing for Inclusion in November 2007. The two-day retreat in Kyoto brought together architects, urban planners, and leaders in culture and civil society from the United States and Japan to share ideas on urban revitalization, social inclusion, the role of arts and culture in stimulating local economies.

In Kyoto, Rick gave a compelling presentation on PRH, explaining how the organization was established on the site of 22 abandoned shotgun houses, 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.

Business has brought me to Houston, and I am eager to see PRH for myself.

As Tim and I cross over Freeway 288 into the heart of the Third Ward, he explains how home owners there have successfully staved off the condo developers that seem to have overtaken much of the city. “People decided the Third Ward is not for sale,” he says.

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The Third Ward was once a center of African American culture in Houston, with Dowling Street at its hub. We pass the Eldorado Ballroom, an unassuming art deco building that as a night club played host to the likes of BB King, Count Basie and numerous other blues and jazz luminaries until it closed in the 1970s. PRH renovated the ballroom and reopened it in 2003 and continues to make improvements.

We park in the shade under a large tree across the street from a row of white, single-storey wood buildings. These are some of the 22 row houses PRH uses for art installations and studios, as well as for their artist-in-residence program.  Seven of the buildings are used for PRH’s Young Mothers Residential Program, where single mothers 18-26 live in fully furnished updated row houses while receiving mentoring and finishing their education, Tim explains.

Crossing the street, we step into a two-story brick building, a former grocery store which now serves as PRH’s office. The first floor is used as gallery space.

Upstairs, I meet Cheryl Parker, PRH’s Executive Director. On this particular day, Rick Lowe is in Washington DC. He’s been invited to the White House to talk about the role of art in fostering community revitalization, Cheryl explains.

I ask Cheryl what of PRH’s current projects she find most exciting, and she immediately replies, “Home. Space. Place.” The exhibition, or “round” as she and Tim call it, comprises works by eight artists on the themes of home, identity, culture, struggles and perseverance, she says. PRH holds two major rounds a year, as well as a special program in the summer engaging local college students.

Tim and I step outside and in a few feet we are on the porch of the nearest shotgun house. Inside, I am amazed at how small it is.

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It’s really one room, with a door at the front and a door at the back. One, sometimes two, families lived in these spaces, Tim says. This house is being used as a gallery by artist-in-residence Andres Janacau, a student at the Glassell School of Art, he says.

The next several houses are being used as art installation spaces for “Home. Space. Place.” “It’s one house per artist,” Tim explains. “We want the artists to think of the houses as a blank canvass.”

In one house, the main space has been divided into several small rooms. The walls in one room have been papered over with red photocopies of a letter written by the artist’s grandmother, describing the effects of Hurricane Betsy fifty years ago.

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In another room, the same artist, Rashida Ferdinand, has covered the walls with sand and broken glass, echoing the destruction brought by hurricanes.

In another house, artist Lisa Qualls has strung clothes lines draped with white linen from wall to wall. “The idea here was to collect clothes line stories from local people” Tim explains – stories relating to hanging washing out to dry.

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In a third house, Cynthia Giachetti has created a ceramic quilt, reflecting the artist’s interest in preserving and protecting community.

We head back outside and Tim points out a series of new two-storey duplexes. Designed by Rice University architecture students, the clapboard houses echo the best qualities of shotgun houses and are being leased to families at affordable rates by Row House CDC, a spin-off from PRH which focuses on economic development in the Third Ward.

I ask Tim about future plans for expansion. “CDC is planning to do another development of duplexes about a mile away from here,” he says, as we make our way back to the office for a glass of water and much-needed respite from the heat.

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Eight of the 24 families that have moved into the current duplexes include artists as family members, which has helped new-comers engage in the community. “They wanted to be here because they wanted to be part of the community,” he says.

Our tour complete, Tim is kind enough to give me a ride back to my hotel.

Note to anyone traveling to Houston: Home. Space. Place. continues through June 21.
(Daniel Rosenblum)

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Project Row Houses’ sister organization Row House Community Development Corporation (Row House CDC), formed in August 2003, now receives 5% of referral fees for all purchases made through the Amazon.com Associates Program. All contributions are tax deductible as allowed by law. Row House CDC is based in Houston’s historic Third Ward, and envisions uniting mixed-income housing, green space, public facilities, artists’ living/studio spaces and historic preservation.

To support Row House CDC, please visit http://www.rowhousecdc.org/.

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Invigorating Communities, Designing for Inclusion
November 4-10, 2007
Kyoto, Japan

Ruth J. Abram, President, Lower East Side Tenement Museum
Ayako Fujii, President, Environmental Co-op Union, Shiga; & President, Nanohana Project Network
Jeanne Giordano, Urban Design Consultant, Jeanne Giordano Ltd.
Taneo Kato, Secretary General, Asahi Beer Arts Foundation & Executive Director, Yokohama City Arts Promotion Foundation
Keito Kohara, Producer, artcomplex group
Limbon, architect and Professor, Urban Planning, College of Social Sciences,
Ritsumeikan University
Rick Lowe, artist and Founder, Project Row Houses
Osamu Maebashi, President & CEO, M.crew INC.
Tomohiko Okabe, Director, Funnybee Co. Ltd. & CEO, Okabe Tomohiko Design Studio
Villy Wang, President & CEO, BAYCAT


Kyoto, a city of 1.5 million people and Japan’s traditional seat of culture, faces challenges familiar to many American cities. At the top of the list are the revival of downtown commercial districts and the inclusion of economically depressed “outsider” groups.

So it was natural that Japan Society’s U.S.-Japan Innovators Network should hold a two-day retreat in Kyoto, bringing together architects, urban planners, and leaders in culture and civil society from the United States and Japan to share ideas on urban revitalization, social inclusion, the role of arts and culture in stimulating local economies.

The two-day retreat, Invigorating Communities, Designing for Inclusion, was held in collaboration with the Keikan Machizukuri Center in Kyoto, and was followed by a public symposium where American participants discussed their work in revitalizing communities in the United States.

The retreat and symposium were inspired by ideas that arose from the U.S.-Japan Innovators Network’s second retreat, (IN)SIGHT: Bridging Gaps (Tokyo 2007), and recommendations made to Japan Society during its third retreat, The Next Phase: Innovators Network (IN).

The Kyoto retreat began with a walking tour through the Kamo River area, with some emphasis on Higashisanjo, a predominately burakumin (a Japanese social minority group) neighborhood, and the Kiyamachi entertainment district, a historically popular entertainment area that has deteriorated.

This provided participants with a first hand look at some of the ongoing issues—commercial and entertainment revitalization, education, crime and beautification—related to the revitalization of depressed communities in Kyoto. The walking tour was followed by a day and a half at the Kyoto Keikan Machizukuri Center intensely discussing each others’ experiences, successes, and ongoing challenges in four sessions:

The Economics of Community Revitalization – Once commercial activity dies in a community, how do you revive it? And once you’ve revived it, how do you make it sustainable, while making sure the original community does not get chased out as a result of over-gentrification?
Community Inclusion: Working with “Outsider Groups” – Whether working with low-income minority communities in San Francisco or Houston, or NEET (Not currently engaged in Employment, Education or Training) and people at the bottom of the social pyramid in Japan, the challenge is the same: How to give the dispossessed a voice and a vested interest in the larger community.
The Role of Arts & Culture in Community Renewal – A strong magnet for cultural communities is important for the health of all urban areas. Strong cultural communities attract people, tourism, new businesses and business investment.
Financing Community Innovation – Whether in Japan or the United States, obtaining financing is a constant challenge for entrepreneurs, both social and business, working in community revitalization.

Each session featured two participants presenting his or her ideas, challenges,
and/or successes on the subject at hand, followed by extensive dialogue among all the participants. From these discussions we uncovered a number of important steps for community revitalization and some poignant observations:

Important Steps to Community Revitalization/Innovation:

Change negative perceptions/mind-set.
Break the emotional barrier.
Use the media to get the word out.
Tell your story to people all over the world.
Build partnerships to increase social network.
Create greater opportunities for outreach and support.
Create new or strengthen fading values.
Foster a community that cares and wants to be involved.

Interesting Observations:

“Outsiders” are not bound by the status quo, bring fresh perspectives, and can affect change.
Invite outsiders to be involved in the design process.
Economic hard times can increase opportunity in community revitalization/innovation.
People are more willing to try new, riskier ideas when things look bleak. The freedom to make mistakes, learn from them, and try new and daring things are critical.

During the final wrap-up session a number of people voiced their desire to continue discussions and collaborate with each other. Discussions started in Kyoto are continuing:

Jeanne Giordano and Limbon are interested in forming an urban development “swat team” to create a
revitalization blue print for Kyoto.
Tomohiko Okabe and Villy Wang, representing organizations that have successfully used the video arts, are interested in deepening their relationship to build more effective means for using the media to empower people and change negative perceptions.
Taneo Kato is interested in collaborating with BAYCAT and is interested in the Tenement Museum’s
unique business structure.
Limbon, Ruth Abram, Jeanne Giordano, Katsuhide Takagi, Manager of the Department of Preservation, Kyoto Keikan Machizukuri Center, and Japan Society staff will meet in January 2008 to discuss future collaboration on historic preservation and community revitalization.

For more on Upcoming Events and Innovators’ News, visit the Innovators Network website: http://innovators.japansociety.org/

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