In the footsteps of the past
Houston's Historic Freedmen's Town gets $1 million boost to artfully relay its compelling story
In the shadows of downtown's skyscrapers, tucked between Buffalo Bayou and the bustling city core is Freedmen's Town. Immediately recognizable for its redbrick-accented streets and historic homes, the neighborhood was originally established in 1865 by more than 1,000 former enslaved people, who built it into a center for life, worship, and work.
Now, the enclave is getting a huge boost through a new initiative, Rebirth in Action: Telling the Story of Freedom. The $1 million initiative is a partnership between the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH), Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy (HFTC), the City of Houston, and artist Theaster Gates.
The multi-year project is designed to showcase Freedmen's Town as a monument to Black community, agency and heritage.The more than $1 million in funding comes from the Mellon Foundation and the NEA Our Town Grant.
In a city that's always making way for the new, sometimes it's easy for the past to get overlooked. Rebirth in Action aims to ensure that doesn't happen. The project will encompass infrastructure resiliency planning, artist activations through local artist residencies throughout the Freedmen’s Town area, and a large scale exhibition with Gates focused on the narratives of the longtime residents of the neighborhood.
“Rebirth in Action is an example of how social innovation in Black communities develops out of precarity and how a museum can work hand-in-hand with community partners to engage in restorative justice and develop deeper community engagement through the lens of art, healing, and community investment,” said CAMH Deputy Director Seba R. Suber in a press release announcing the project.
This initiative will include a variety of stakeholders: Local artists and research fellows will have the chance to pitch their projects and works through an open call for proposals. CAMH's CAMHLAB artists-in-residence at Freedmen’s Town will be curated for projects that highlight, honor, and animate the histories and stories of Freedmen’s Town.
Each residency will culminate in a public presentation of a project within Freedmen’s Town. National artists like Theaster Gates will also have activations in the neighborhood, adding to its stories and legacies.
Gates' work considers the true power of Black spaces and invites audiences to see them as places of resilience, restitution, and redemption.
Freedmen's Town is Houston’s first Heritage District that includes seven sites recognized by UNESCO Routes of Enslaved Peoples project. One of Rebirth in Action's first priorities is to preserve the area's brick streets, laid by those early founders, and so elemental to the neighborhood's legacy.
A kickoff celebration for Rebirth in Action is scheduled for February 14 at 10 am. The public, artists, and others interested in learning more about - or becoming involved with — the project are encouraged to attend.