In 1991 a student visiting Rick Lowe’s studio commented that his politically-charged paintings were not what their community needed. Why didn’t he use his creativity to come up with solutions to the problems, instead of just pointing them out?
This moment pushed Lowe out of the studio and into one of Houston’s poorest African-American neighborhoods to found Project Row Houses. Influenced in part by artist Joseph Beuys’s concept of “social sculpture,” Lowe’s program turned 22 “shotgun” houses into low-income residencies, galleries, workshop spaces and offices.
Today the PRH “campus” has expanded to 40 properties and covers nearly five city blocks. There are teachers, drummers, Afro-Brazilian dancers and gardeners who provide after-school education for the 55 neighborhood children. Eight of the houses are residencies for visiting artists to do projects involving and relevant to the history and culture of African-American community. With The Young Mothers in Residency Program, single mothers are able to live in communal housing without having to pay rent for two years while they are completing educations.
PRH is considered to be a work of art within which the members themselves are also artists and shapers, a concept that goes back to Beuys’ philosophy of sculpture as a social activity wherein content and form are made up by collective action.
Lowe he has gone on to collaborate with various other artists on community projects. In 2002 was hired to design the Delray Beach Cultural Loop, a 30-minute walk in a southern Florida town that connects the traditional cultural zones of the area. Documentation of his projects is featured in various exhibits around the country and he has received the American Institute of Architecture Keystone Award (2000), the Heinz Award (2002), and the Brandywine Lifetime Achievement Award (2006).