To everybody else it was just a row of rundown shotgun houses at the corner of Holman and Dowling (now Emancipation) in the heart of Houston's African American community. But for seven visionary artists, they saw real potential where others only saw poverty.
And the idea for what would become Project Row Houses was born from the dreams of Jesse Lott, Rick Lowe, Bert Samples, Floyd Newsum, George Smith, James Bettison and Bert Long, Jr. Twenty-five years later PRH covers five city blocks in Houston's historic Third Ward, houses 39 structures and has become a difference-maker for art and artists in Houston.
Now we've got a chance to hop on a bus and meet surviving members of that dream team while exploring their public art in a Founders Bus Tour led by PRH's Curator and Programs Director Ryan N. Dennis and Public Art Coordinator Jeanette Degollado.
The routes will be similar but each week of the four-week tour will highlight a different founding member. "We kick off on June 2. On the first weekend we will go to Jesse Lott's studio," says Dennis.
On the second weekend they will stop at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art. "We will talk with the Station's Curator Alex Tu about the work of George Smith that's at the Station in addition to highlighting the museum." Dennis says that Ann Harithas and Station Director Jim Harithas have been major supporters of Smith's work and of Project Row Houses, in addition to their work on social justice and supporting artists working in more complicated areas.
The third weekend will include a trip to The DeLuxe Theater which houses Bert Samples' mural. "The last weekend Floyd Newsum will be with us discussing not only paintings at University of Houston but also his public works off Main Street downtown," says Dennis.
The Founders Bus Tour is part of a six month schedule of programming that honors PRH's 25th anniversary, sheds light on all of its founders, and celebrates the legacy of public art that has been gifted to the city of Houston. Dennis says she found a few hidden gems out there while doing research for this tour.
Project Row House members receive a discount for the tour so perhaps now is the time to become a member and support PRH and its initiatives that create opportunity for artists, young mothers, small businesses and Third Ward residents.
"That’s something that we think about often. We are here to serve and also here to be nourished back," says Dennis. She says this anniversary year allows Houstonians to think about reciprocity and support this community platform that has made such a rich contribution to our city.
Founders Bus Tour is scheduled for noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays, June 2-23, Project Row Houses, 2521 Holman, 713-526-7662, projectrowhouses.org, $20 to $30.
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The 25th anniversary celebration continues with a variety of programs:
Screenings with MFAH | July 13-15
PRH will collaborate with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston to showcase filmmakers of color as we screen works that act as extensions of Black Life, explore various means of building community, and illustrate how art is subtly interweaved into everyday life.
DC Trip | August 2-5
Journey with PRH to the US capital for a special tour of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which houses a permanent display on Project Row Houses as well as work by founding artist Floyd Newsum.
Symposium | September 7-8
This thought-provoking symposium examines the intersection of art and community as well as the founding principles of Project Row Houses and the practices of socially engaged artists. Artists, curators, and organizers will come together to explore the issues that face contemporary art, the Third Ward and other, similarly marginalized communities.
Round 48 Opening + Block Party | October 13
Round 48 will investigate the storied connection between artists and activism within contemporary art. In conjunction with the opening, we'll be hosting a block party that spans our expansive site with fun games, great food, and amazing performances.
Learn more and sign up for announcements by visiting projectrowhouses.org/anniversary.