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Artists work to preserve, enrich a historic Black district in Houston

Seven artists bought 22 houses in the historic Black neighborhood, with the initial aim of exhibiting art by and for the community.
Artists work to preserve, enrich a historic Black district in Houston
Posted at 4:03 PM, Feb 02, 2024

It's almost unfair to ask those who make art their life to explain how art creates change.

But in the Third Ward of the largest city in Texas, an example can be found in a block of homes, a fresh coat of paint covering boarded-up windows still there from three decades back.

"This was actually one of the worst streets in Houston," said Danielle Burns Wilson, interim executive director of Project Row Houses. The nonprofit was created 30 years ago, Burns Wilson said, "by seven artists that really didn't see themselves in white cubes, right? And when I refer to white cubes, I mean museums."

Those seven artists bought 22 houses in a historic Black district in Houston. Their initial aim was to exhibit art by, and for, the community. Several houses still do that today. Most do much more.

"When Project Row Houses started, it was like, 'OK, well this is great,'" Burns Wilson said. "It was like, 'You're bringing art to the community. But what are you doing for the neighborhood?'"

Thirty years in, many Project Row houses are residences that charge rent based on income.

"We do grocery giveaway every other week," said Trinity Stardust, who lives in a residence and also leads community engagement. "You know, we bring the bank here because this is a bank desert. There's something for everybody here, whether you go and do art therapy, or you just come to the radio station."

The imprint of the project extends throughout the ward. Two blocks down from All Real Radio is a market and ballroom. One block over are two Black-owned bookstores, including the first Black-owned comic book store in all of Texas.

Anthony Suber is one of three artists who use a row house as a studio.

"Art is not intended to solve a problem per se," Suber said. "It's intended to make you think about what the steps are that you need to take to solve the problem."

Suber's studio continues the cycle of art effecting change. Not only has his work appeared all over Houston, but he also runs a nonprofit to host conversations in his community about mental health.

"We have a mobile truck that we're actually producing as we speak that will travel to different parts of Houston and do pop-up healing sessions," Suber said.

For those on the ground, their work continues a legacy. Photos and videos, both inspiring and appalling, documented the modern Civil Rights movement. In recent years, street art and murals have made statements of resistance. In the Third Ward, Project Row Houses is its own statement — a statement of identity and of conviction in its community.

"People know the work that we're doing and actually come down here to study it," Burns WIlson said. "In the arts world, if you say you're from Texas, everybody knows Project Row Houses. And I think everybody in the neighborhood knows what a beacon it is."

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