By Rebecca Kenigsberg
We say art is the mirror we hold up to society, or as I said earlier this semester, I like to think of it as the fun-house mirror that can distort or make us question society. However, often that ends up eliminating certain communities from access to creating the art or being represented in the art. Therefore, we can ask, who or what society is actually being represented? What I love about Project Row Houses is how the project is bringing art right back to community. Too often art has become a commodity or currency used to divide classes. Project Row Houses brings art right back to a community that can often be neglected and stigmatized.
The duality between the right to housing, the right to community, and the intersection of art is a wonderful concept. I question how the stigma of public housing and single mothers play a part within the project. Under the “Projects” tab, “Social Safety Nets” is the third tab listed, the ones before are “Public Art” and “Education” which makes me question which is the prominent aspect? Does the hierarchy of tabs reflect where they want the most web traffic to go towards? Or is it in an attempt to not publicize the housing for single women either to not stigmatize them even more or to not highlight the specific housing project?
I must admit the aspect that resonates the most with me personally is the Education component. Access to education is a contested topic today, but for me, the most important tool for public change. To me, education is a human right, not political tool to keep those with the power to continue holding the power. What I love about the description is the “traditional or non-traditional education”, too often the educational system we currently have in place also only favors a specific type of learning development that does not take in a plurality of people, communities, ideology, and interests. I am curious to see the intersection between the education and the art projects, how do they utilize the two? I have taught literacy through theater and artistic practices, therefore, I believe that art can be a wonderful tool to teach outside the lecture/listener standard. Do these three distinct aspects of the project intertwine?
The part of the website that irks me is the tours. Are these tours for the locals looking to become a part of the community? Or conversely, who is being exploited in the tour? I have a visceral negative reaction to the idea of gawking at the poor for a sake of feeling like a better human to give money towards that community. I think it is important to showcase their work and their art to the larger community of Houston, but at what cost? Who is being exploited in order to serve the larger purpose? How do those living in the community reconcile their lives on display? I also wonder what are the safety precautions with both youth and single mothers? Who is coming into the community? Who has access to those records? These are not questions in criticism with the project, just larger questions based off of the projects such as this one where ethics is a major concern for me. Of course, as this is a website meant to promote the work, it makes sense as to not include the specifics but incite interest and desire to bring housing, education, community, and art to the forefront of arts politics.