Houston Genius Rewarded

Project Row Houses pioneer wins a Genius Grant — and takes home $625,000 with no strings attached

Project Row House pioneer wins a Genius Grant — and a cool $625,000

Rick Lowe Project Row Houses September 2014
Rick Lowe in front of Project Row Houses. Photo courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Project Row Houses with people walking outside day
Project Row Houses in the Third Ward now serves the community as a "social sculpture" for its residents. Project Row Houses/Facebook
Rick Lowe in Vickery Meadow neighborhood in Dallas
Rick Lowe became the inaugural artist-in-residence at Dallas' Nasher Sculpture Center earlier this year. Photo by Alison V. Smith for the Nasher Sculpture Center
Project Row Houses We are the People sign
"We are the People" sign on a Project Row Houses home. Project Row Houses/Facebook
Rick Lowe Project Row Houses September 2014
Project Row Houses with people walking outside day
Rick Lowe in Vickery Meadow neighborhood in Dallas
Project Row Houses We are the People sign

We have a genius among us — a person Houstonians already know who stands out as an extraordinarily creative visionary.

Artist and social activist Rick Lowe, founder of Project Row Houses and originator of the art form "social sculpture," has been awarded a The MacArthur Fellowship, an honor commonly referred to as the “MacArthur Genius Grant.”

The 53-year-old Lowe, along with the other 21 fellows including Austin artist and affordable housing advocate John Henneberger, will receive an unrestricted stipend of $625,000 each paid over the course of five years.

 The nonprofit venture initially centered around the revitalization of nearly two dozen shotgun-style houses that he and his team saved from demolition in Houston's Third Ward .

The prize is awarded annually by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to residents of the United States who "show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work."

“All of us at Project Row Houses are so proud and excited that Rick has received this prestigious recognition from the MacArthur Foundation," Project Row Houses exectutive director Linda Shearer said in a statement. "It will enable him to continue to perform his work in local communities.

"Project Row Houses is now 20 years old and poised to embark on new initiatives into the future. We know he will continue to be a vibrant catalyst in transforming community through the power of art and look forward to his next steps.”

Lowe, originally trained as a painter, earned international acclaim for his Project Row Houses, which he founded in 1985 alongside James Bettison (1958-1997), Bert Long (1940-2013), Jesse Lott, Floyd Newsum, Bert Samples and George Smith. The nonprofit venture initially centered around the revitalization of nearly two dozen shotgun-style houses that he and his team saved from demolition in Houston's predominately African-American Third Ward.

Through Project Row Houses, those structures are now transformed into galleries, classrooms artist studios and community gathering spaces, helping shape the once fast-eroding neighborhood by nurturing a sense of togetherness and exchange. In fact, some children have gone on from this program to prestigious colleges (including the Sorbonne in Paris) and Lowe now mentors the generations behind them.

"Lowe continues to provide the guiding vision for PRH as he pursues his overarching goal of animating the assets of a place and the creativity of its people," the MacArthur Fellows Program website notes. "He is not only bringing visibility and pride to the Third Ward by celebrating the beauty of its iconic shotgun houses; he is also changing the lives of many PRH program graduates and expanding the PRH campus to cover a six-block area in an effort to preserve the historic district’s character in the face of encroaching gentrification."

President Barack Obama appointed Lowe to the National Council on the Arts in November 2013.

Lowe has collaborated on similar "social sculpture" achievements throughout the United States, including just this spring in Dallas when he was selected artist-in-residence at Nasher Sculpture Center. His vibrant Trans.lation gave culturally diverse Vickery Meadow residents an opportunity to share their talents and traditions with each other through a series of workshops, free-standing white cube “galleries” and pop-up markets.

CultureMap Dallas notes, "Lowe and the Trans.lation team inspired not only entrepreneurship, but also a new vision for what public space and interaction could look like in the neighborhood."

Lowe has initiated similar arts-driven redevelopment in other cities, such as the Watts House Project in Los Angeles and a post-Katrina rebuilding effort in New Orleans. More community building projects include The Arts Plan for the Seattle Public Library, the Borough Project for the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C., and the Delray Beach Cultural Loop in Florida.

His work has been exhibited at such national and international venues as Houston’s Contemporary Arts Museum and Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea and the Venice Architecture Biennale.