I constantly find myself trying to translate successful projects into other scenarios. I find Project Row Houses inspiring, and am joyful of its success. To bring together social programing and art in a substantial way. To not leave social programing at a thing with which to draw media attention. To be about the community you’re engaging with. To be the community. What does Project Row Houses have that other spaces don’t? Is it location? Funding? Programing? A combination of these?
I find the tactics behind Project Row Houses, the ones I can observe, fascinating. The way it’s laid out seems to reveal that intention as well. There’s a row of white houses, which are the artists studios and such, and behind, the housing for single mothers, as if the art was protecting the social programing. As if to provide this social service it was fundamental to be legible as art practice. As if “art is essential to community” doesn’t only mean let’s express ourselves together, but how can the art world be of service to us, because there is no other way people are going to be looking this way.
I also like their use of “neighborhood revitalization”. To me, today, that just meant gentrification. It’s the language developers use to fool you into thinking they’re doing something good for the community. But PRH takes back that language. It boldly defends the honest meaning of neighborhood revitalization and enacts it in the community’s own terms. How powerful, to beat liberalism at it’s own game.
Another aspect of PRH I find compelling, is its commitment to place and time. How it has survived since 1993, more than two decades, and while Rick Lowe and other artists involved have mobility, the project has become an institution that must remain in place, must remain committed. How frightening is that to me. I find myself thinking that. While I very much want to practice and build, for some reason I find myself terrified at the remote possibility of being tied to a place. It’s not even that I’m trying to go anywhere, I have no alternate plans that building a space (for example) could prohibit. It’s the commitment itself that’s frightening.
What do I gather from these scattered thoughts? Maybe just to be smart, and learn to play the game. To play without diluting ideals. To get to check mate. And to commit to those ideals. And if that looks like a commitment to place at some point, so be it. Two things can happen, the project is so successful other people can come in to run it, as PRH has done, or it’s not, and you let it go when it’s time to let it go.