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Art + Community Review: Project Row Houses

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

We Are the People, Project Row Houses

A review of the interaction between "Art" and "Life" as it relates to Project Row Houses (PRH) becoming successful over time.

In the Big Ideas in Art and Culture lecture, I love how Rick Lowe talked about the challenge he received to make art a solution, not just social commentary, and how it has been his guide in creating and sustaining PRH. He notes the importance of both art as a symbol and art as the practical in the example of the young mothers housing project that needed to become its own conglomerate so that it could remain practical for the community while allowing PRH to function as a symbol. I see this as different facets of scale; for instance activist rallies with large crowds of people can be instrumental in making big change, but it looses the intimacy of the personal connection that smaller projects and workshops can affect. Knowing when one is needed vs the other is extremely important based on the message. As Rick Lowe said in his article for the Creative Times: "Just because you can make a painting bigger doesn’t mean that you can make a painting better." He focuses on how art can serve the needs of people within a community, and not to swoop in and create a whole new culture that essentially displaces the people already there, making them feel just as discarded as others have already done. In his talk and writing I get the sense that art and life are fused, his work takes inspiration directly from the lives of the people and communities and he uses that to create art as a social sculpture directly tied to a specific place with those specific people at the root of it all. In community engaged art I think the order of the words is essential; using that as a guide, anyone wishing to create living sculpture can create a meaningful balance between art and life, and possibly even erase unhelpful/invisible borders between them.

PRH seems to dance across the line of life and art in a way that seems to be very successful and very beautiful, much like Gaviotas. Similarly PHR cannot be implemented at scale or just anywhere, it is intrinsically tied to that culture, those resources. I think that Rick Lowe+Artists constantly checking in with themselves and the community "is this an issue? is this solution working? are we helping?" elevates the community as artists and creators themselves. Taking something that appears discarded and re-contextualizing it through art is powerful, like relocating The Flower Man; Brother-in-Law's food; Cookie Love's Wash and Fold. By holding space for people to be able to come and talk intimately with the artists as insiders, by creating space for people in the community to feel safe and freely express themselves, by establishing support systems for people to be able to advocate for themselves and make positive change on their own, are all invaluable resources and an amazing testament to what art can do when it mixes with daily life.


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