On September 18, the lecture series on Art in the Black Diaspora at The University of Texas at Austin hosted a lecture by Rick Lowe, a political activist and installation artist. Lowe discussed his background and career path, though most of the lecture was devoted to his flagship work Project Row Houses. Lowe was born and raised in rural Alabama. He grew up with inequality, poverty and racism. His work has always encompassed these social aspects. Through the 1980s he primarily worked on ephemeral works. Little documentation remains of these, except for newspaper clippings that document his Amnesty International installation and his community organizing work.

Around 1990-91, one of his high school students gave him a critique that would forever change the course of his work. The student told him, and I paraphrase, “Rick, its great that you paint what goes on in our neighborhood, but what solutions are you offering?”. This critique sent Lowe into a search for new answers and eventually led him to Joseph Beuys’ Energy Plan for Western Man.* From Beuys, he extracted the concept of social sculpture and along with the guidance of his mentor John Bigger, he began to conceptualize a project for the Third Ward in Houston.

Project Row Houses was established in 1993 as a revitalization project. The initial phase consisted of 13 units of low-income housing and an artist in residency gallery space. Lowe’s vision was based on four principles for community development: good and relevant architecture, art and creativity, education, and developing a social safety net. Lowe concluded the lecture by stating that the success of this project is based on effective community partnerships.

* Energy Plan for Western Man was a lecture tour that Joseph Beuys embarked on in 1974. The tour, organized by Ronald Feldman and Jon Stoller, consisted of a 10-day, three city circuit with stops at colleges in Chicago, New York and Minneapolis. “Joseph Beuys: Energy Plan for the Western Man.” Walker Art Center. <http://www.walkerart.org/archive/C/9C4315B360BFDC526167.htm>