This weekend, Project Row Houses, the storied strip of shotgun homes-turned-artistic haven in Houston’s Third Ward, presents its ninth annual Summer Studios showcase. The exhibition, which opens this Saturday, features six emerging young artists plucked from among Houston’s diverse colleges, offering them an opportunity to create work that’s reflective of the community.
“It’s a chance to give a student a chance to work in a real studio space. For most, this is their first exhibit,” says Project Row’s Public Art Director Ryan Dennis. “We want to connect our artists with curators and create a community within a community. It’s all about nurturing artists as individuals.”
Since its inception as an art community in 1993, Project Row Houses has helped to bring a voice to, and paint a picture of (pun intended), its surrounding area. “There’s been so much at work here. We’ve always been thinking about development in the surrounding area, things like establishing a covenant with churches and small businesses. This is a chance to invest in younger artists.”
The Summer Studios project has given the student-artists involved the freedom to create original pieces over a six-week period. Dennis and Co. invited professors from surrounding Houston universities to nominate two or three students who they thought deserved some recognition and from there, the nominees were narrowed down to the chosen six. Each project reflects social and political themes relative to the Third Ward and its surrounding areas. Included in the showcase are University of Houston student Kandace Ponce’s furniture design, which is used to force social interaction and personal space, a comment on the new jutting into the old; Jennifer Mendez, a University of St. Thomas painting major, uses horses as an analogy of gentrification in the encroaching neighborhoods. Other artists include Guadalupe Hernandez (Houston Baptist University), Shaun Parker (University of Houston), Kingsley Onyeiwu (Texas Southern University) and Sula Bermudez-Silverman (Honorary Resident).
“I was really focused on providing the Project Row Houses summer residents with an intense and rigorous six weeks of critical dialogue about community, history, ethics and economy,” says curator and mentor William Cordova. The Yale-educated interdisciplinary artist from Miami who shepherded the project is also known for his similar community-based art projects. “Art is also a tool for problem solving for healing. Third Ward is very much like my community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Liberty City, Opa-Locka, Little Haiti and North Miami Beach. All places where culture is rich but resources are often limited. We are resourceful; we work together because we have common goals and values. Creativity is the only means of transcending beyond our limits.”
Among the socio-political observations, it really comes down to curating artists of tomorrow. “This program is for the artist. We hope viewers recognize the talent coming out of the universities,” notes Dennis. “We want to expose young artists to life as a working artist.”
Project Row Houses Summer Studios 2015. Opening reception Saturday, Aug. 22. 4. Free. Project Row Houses, 2521 Holman St. 713-526-7662. projectrowhouses.org