Rick Lowe speaks to Pew Fellows on September 19, 2011. Photo by Nicole Steinberg.
On September 19, 2011, a group of Pew Fellows gathered at Philadelphia's Print Center for an evening that was part consumption, part inspiration. The event was the first in a series of dinners and discussions, meant to introduce Pew Fellows to exceptional artists outside of the area and the creative leaps different artists take in their projects and practice.
The special guest for the evening was Rick Lowe, founder of Project Row Houses, a neighborhood-based nonprofit in Houston, which has focused since 1993 on using creative solutions to renovate old homes and thereby revitalizing the mostly African-American community. Lowe began as a painter, until he realized that he could accomplish more outside of his own studio. He described the challenge someone offered him: "We know what the problems in our community are; we live with them every day. You're an artist—why can't you create a solution?"
Lowe explained to the Pew Fellows in attendance that with this challenge in mind, he left his studio life behind and went out into the world to volunteer. When he discovered the dilapidated row homes in Houston's Northern Third Ward, he began to imagine how he and his fellow artists could utilize their collective creativity to transform the homes in order to re-contextualize them, giving them value and a place in the history of the area. A group of artists worked on one house each, working with the residents to ensure that personal touches and cultural flourishes to the homes remained intact. Project Row Houses has since continued to offer creative solutions and alternatives to gentrification.
"The sum of our creativity is much stronger and better than the individual," Lowe told the Fellows, who were inspired by Lowe's approach to social good, and how it incorporates that creativity without sacrificing artistic excellence.