Arts / Museums

Inside Project Row Houses, a Look at Houston’s Truly Unique Art Space — a PaperCity Video Exclusive

In the Heart of the Third Ward

BY // 06.05.20

Editor’s note: In the latest installment of our insiders museum video series, Project Row Houses’ long-standing curator and programs director Ryan Dennis pulls back the curtain on works by Houston talents in round 51’s “Local Impact II.”

Here, Dennis focuses on the creator of PaperCity‘s May print issue cover, painter Jasmine Zelaya, an artist who is rapidly registering on collectors’ radars.

Zelaya’s work has also graced the cover of New American Paintings, Issue 132, October/November 2017, selected by Virginia Museum of Fine Arts curator, Valerie Cassel Oliver, formerly senior curator of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.  

PaperCity May Houston and May/June Dallas cover artist Jasmine Zelaya's work has also appeared on the cover of the prestigious New American Paintings, in October/November 2017. Zelaya's art-making, fueled by diversity and feminism, takes over one of Project Row Houses' interiors this summer. 
PaperCity May Houston and May/June Dallas cover artist Jasmine Zelaya’s work has also appeared on the cover of the prestigious New American Paintings, in October/November 2017. Zelaya’s art-making, fueled by diversity and feminism, takes over one of Project Row Houses’ interiors this summer.

This video was made days before the respected Ryan Dennis left Row Houses for another big opportunity in the art world. She’s just been tapped as chief curator and artistic director for the Center for Art and Public Exchange at the Mississippi Museum of Art, in Jackson, Mississippi.  

Third Ward Game-Changer 

We wanted to single out Project Row Houses, and Dennis’ curatorial vision, as this art space in the heart of the Third Ward in Houston, is among the most unique in America. 

Twenty-seven years ago, artist Rick Lowe and six other visual talents — James Bettison (1958-1997), Bert Long, Jr. (1940-2013), Jesse Lott, Rick Lowe, Floyd Newsum, Bert Samples and George Smith— came together to found PRH, as a response to the lack of opportunities for black artists in Houston, as well as a commitment to preserving a historic African-American community. 

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The experiment was spun around a block-and-half of then decaying, historic shotgun houses, which would be restored and remade into an art venue.

Project Row Houses is responsible for preserving multiple blocks in the Third Ward and offering its historic neighborhood a gathering place for art and community.
Project Row Houses is responsible for preserving multiple blocks in the Third Ward and offering its historic neighborhood a gathering place for art and community.

Project Row Houses would then birth a campus, and later a Community Development Corporation that would hold off developers to keep significant acreage intact, thus revitalizing Third Ward for its residents.

The entire concept, novel at the time, came to be known as “social sculpture,” and would lead Rick Lowe to receive decades later, one of the country’s highest creative accolades — a MacArthur “Genius” grant —  followed by a professorship at the University of Houston in the newly minted Center for Art & Social Engagement. Additionally, Art League Houston bestows Texas Artist of the Year honors this fall upon Lowe. 

Nearly three decades later, and more than 50 rounds of artist installations, Row Houses, as you’ll see from Ryan Dennis’ video, remains intensely relevant as a platform for dialogue and community.

Read more about Project Row Houses’ remarkable history here.

Learn about Jasmine Zelaya’s practice here. 

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