Project Row Houses has been showing visitors for years how art can impact a neighborhood in a positive way. And on Sunday, May 22, 50 AAM attendees got a double dose when they had the opportunity to visit and see the work that PRH has been doing for the last 17 years plus hear firsthand about the impressive strides that the Queens Museum of Art (QMA) have made in connecting with their surrounding diverse community.
The tour began at PRH’s office building where new faces crowded into the cool air-conditioning as Rick Lowe (PRH Founding Director), Tamika Evans (Row House CDC Property Manager), Tom Finkelpearl (QMA Executive Director) and Prerana Reddy (QMA Event Director) welcomed everyone to Project Row Houses. Rick told the story of PRH, his conversations in 1992 with six other African American artists and how they were working toward using their art to create a positive change within the Third Ward Community. During a tour of Houston’s worst neighborhoods they discovered the 22 boarded up shotgun houses (c.1933), and inspired by Joseph Beuys’ idea of Social Sculpture and the work of Dr. John Biggers, transformed the houses and created Project Row Houses as we know it today.Everyone stepped out in the Houston sunshine and began walking down the historic oyster-shelled sidewalk along Holman Street, where they meandered in and out of the seven historic shotgun houses which now serve as Artist Project Spaces, currently displaying Round 34: Matter of FOOD. A few attendees were delighted to see GreenHouse Collective’s aquaponic garden and the chickens located in the back courtyard.
We turned the corner onto St. Charles, walking by the Young Mothers Residential Program and gazed upon the development of 12 Duplexes where the Row House CDC provides affordable rental units, designed by Rice Building Workshop. We wandered into the old Delia’s Lounge, which now serves as affordable studio rentals and visited with artists Robert Pruitt, Rabe’a Ballin and Gregory Michael Carter. As we made our way across Dowling Street, Rick pointed out Flower Man’s House and the Rice Building Workhop’s ZeRow House. The tour ended at the historic Eldorado Ballroom. Everyone had the opportunity to rest their tired legs and refill on water as Tamika Evans spoke in more depth about the residents living in the Row Houses CDC Duplexes, how they are selected, the interest of a mixed income neighborhood and the expectations for community interaction.The focus shifted as Prerana and Tom presented a PowerPoint of the Queens Museum of Art. Maps are shown illustrating the melting pot community that surrounds QMA. We learn through historic images that QMA is located inside the New York City building created to house the New York City Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair and that from 1946 to 1950 it housed the General Assembly of the newly formed United Nations. As the context is set of where QMA is located, Tom and Prerana speak about the various programs their museum has developed and share images depicting the creative ways in which they have successfully connected with their surrounding community. We learn they have community organizers and art therapists on staff, offering workshops and working out in the neighborhood engaging the diverse residents. We see the The Panorama of the City of New York, the largest architectural model, built by Robert Moses for the 1964 World’s Fair and how Damon Rich activated the panorama by displaying housing foreclosures as part of his project Red Lines Housing Crisis Learning Center. Additionally, we learned about some of the innovative projects being developed through their programs The Heart of Corona Initiative, Queens Teens and New New Yorkers.
The presentation ended with PRH’s Ayanna Jolivet Mccloud talking about her project labotanica and then a Q&A followed. Everyone emerged back into the May warmth making their way, with satisfied expressions upon their face, back onto the bus. Feedback assures me that, for many, this was an inspiring first day of the conference.
–Ashley Clemmer Hoffman, Project Row Houses; AAM 2011 On-Site Insight Co-Coordinator