If you watched Third Ward TX tonight you saw Project Row Houses working in a fairly small part of northern Third Ward. I put together a Google Map so you can get an idea of the context for that work. If you go to Google Maps, enter <Project Row Houses “35 blocks”> in the search and you can click to a simple map.
The film was made over a period of six years, starting in 2001. We also have some archival interview material from 1997. Since My co-producer Nancy Bless and I both live in Austin, and my other co-producer, Noland Walker, was living in Boston at the time, we came to Project Row Houses one to three times a month depending upon schedules. Because Project Row Houses is so vibrant, and we were not always on site, every time we came it seemed like something new was happening, another layer. The story was always more complex and evolving.
In some ways the movie is a love letter to what Project Row Houses has done. I was excited as an artist by seeing artists effectively engaged in social and personal transformation, but also still being artists. There was no dogma, no political line, no single way to do things. As a political person, I was thrilled to see imaginative approaches to issues at hand. And as a person with my own circles and communities, I wanted to watch what they were doing to see what could be transferred to my own life. How could my own neighborhood be more vibrant? Is there some way to make sure in my own neighborhood that people know each other and take the time to talk with each other? That we start building the social networks?
I also really loved the idea that I kept seeing and hearing over and over. Take what is at hand and use it to make beauty.
I have seen Rick talking to people recently about five basic principles at work in Project Row Houses that come from the ideas of John Biggers. While Project Row Houses is a particular and unique situation, these principles can be applied anywhere. Here’s Rick’s distillation of John Biggers’ principles:
1) architecture: good and relevant architecture. It should be relevant to
the environment and population of residents.
2) art and creativity: creativity as a means of survival.Biggers: people made their own cloths, designed add on’s to housing, landscape design, creative cooking, etc…. PRH: making the creative process available to community residents. Reconnecting them to the creative spirit as a way to deal with challenges and spiritually uplift the souls.
3) education: community education outside of formal institutions. The way the community educates itself. Biggers: elders in the neighborhood passed on wisdom to children and others in the backyards of the community. PRH: education of children in after-school and summer programs, young mothers
program. These are community educational programs outside the institutional programs.
4) social safety-net: how we care for those less fortunate or who are facing challenges. Biggers: we didn’t have much homelessness in the black community because everyone had a place to say with their family, friend, or other concerned community members, even if it meant 12-15 people living in a small shotgun house. Everyone had something to eat even if the meat had to be
stretched by making soup out of it or adding in all left overs to make a pot of “gumbo.” PRH: young mothers program is symbolic of taking care of the less fortunate or challenged community members.
5) economic development: PRH is just approaching this principle. Although we have brought economic growth to the community by our current development, we have not focused on it as a way to empower our residents. Biggers: economic
survival came out of necessity in older black communities. They made things to sell, or they traded things they made.
Andrew Garrison, Director, THIRD WARD TX