When I think of Project Row Houses, I think back to the Cultural Equity Framework that I have studied a lot in this program. Specifically, it brings up questions around inequities of people to even have the same spaces to celebrate, share, and express culture. One of the largest challenges with the definition of culture that this framework provides is that it asks people to examine their everyday rather than what is considered mainstream and to evaluate whose everyday is receiving funding, space, resources, mobility, and vision to be celebrated. The key word here is “celebrate”. Looking at most cultural plans across the nation, they aim to distribute or spread culture, rather than celebrating what already exists within spaces.
The coalition between artists present on the website is extremely interesting and exciting to me, especially because there are artist programs that we have studied such as Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matters who first organized at Simone Leigh’s installation last summer, which we also went to as a program. Seeing projects that are bringing together individual artists who are working towards similar revolutions is a really powerful form of coalition building as it puts funding and space in the hands of those working to end cultural inequity. I tried to research the roots of how this project started and came across the idea that high school students had asked for solutions rather than art that just showed problems. Learning moments, like these, are crucial for me to remember in that they are a part of every person’s process.
Last week I went to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MassMoCA) and of the many notes I took, I wrote about the idea of community imagination of wonder and what it means for a neighborhood to experience art that through its ability to induce wonder, cultivates some sort of co-authorship as to what the art is. Looking at the programs, they all so closely involve members of the Houston community, whether in the actual creation of art, or in who is being centered to experience it. Art merging with housing, young motherhood, educational access, small business development and so much more within this project, shows the foundations that art can create for a people to be able to explore their identity and then come together to change their surroundings, not only because of the recognition of culture that art can bring about, but the opportunity art gives to see the future as malleable.
The final piece that I have been thinking a lot about is the idea of dispensability within a lot of organizing practices. Namely, how do we take histories of shame, difficulty, and oppression and sometimes center those challenges in our work, and how does doing that impact the esteem and worth of the people around us? I would love to see a shift in this practice, and see it clearly in Project Row Houses, where possibility is being centered—especially in a place that was once a symbol of drugs. To be able to invest in a community in that way gives people an opportunity to grow in self worth and self love alongside the community development process. If this self worth process is not happening in the people leading a movement, how can we possibly expect the people we want to collaborate to be able to?