When Brian Ellison moved from Tulsa to Houston eight years ago, he was in search of a community that felt like home—until he got to the Third Ward. That’s where he found a welcoming community where strangers wave at each other, neighbors know one another, and business owners in establishments like NuWaters Co-Op and Crumbville remember their customers. All of this reminded Ellison of what he had back in Oklahoma, and he said he wanted to show the beauty he experienced in the neighborhood. So, he directed A Day in the Tr3.
His seven-minute film follows a young man named Dominique Elam through the gentrifying Third Ward while capturing scenes of everyday beauty like elders playing dominoes on the porch, a woman dancing in church, and the ubiquitous rubble that piled up after Harvey. He shot the film as part of his artist residency program at Project Row Houses, the storied Third Ward organization that’s used its smattering of row homes as a neighborhood center for museum-quality galleries, affordable housing, a small-business incubator, and more for 25 years.
A Day in the Tr3 premiered last fall at PRH alongside Ellison’s photographs of the neighborhood as well as an affirmation wall full of sticky notes—all of these art projects relating to preserving and protecting his new Third Ward home. The film will be screened again at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston this weekend as part of a special film series marking PRH’s 25th anniversary.
“Because it’s the 25th anniversary, we’re trying to lift up the values of the organization in addition to have some points of engagement for people to come into,” says Ryan N. Dennis, the curator and programs director at PRH. “We thought that the themes around family and community are most applicable for the work that we do and how to think of that representation in film.”
Ellison, who’s always been artistic but just recently an “artist,” says he’s honored to be associated with a top museum like the MFAH and is even more excited that be a part of the anniversary celebrations. He says he loves his day job as a special education teacher at YES Prep, but creating art like film and photography is his true passion—the career he chases after.
“Project Row Houses opens such an amazing platform for the community. People come from all across the world for the Project Row Houses experience,” Ellison says. “So to be a part of that, and to know the legacy that Project Row Houses is creating and has built for itself, is beyond words because I’m just extremely honored.”
He wants his film to convey to the viewers that they should experience something before they label his neighborhood. “Oftentimes, people think about the Third Ward, and they view it in a negative way—rundown and poor—but it is the exact opposite of all those things,” he says.
The MFAH film series—which includes other films like Bill Gunn's Personal Problems, Spike Lee's Crooklyn, as well as other shorts like black enuf and Born With It—is one part of many Project Row Houses events designed to commemorate a quarter century of progress. Since its 1993 inception, the organization has grown in scope and size to foster up-and-coming artists and devised a unique program to assist single mothers. The organization even has a permanent art display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., where 12 Third Ward youth will travel to immerse themselves in African American history this August (courtesy of Solange Knowles, who attended PRH block parties growing up in the neighborhood).
“I don’t think our founders knew the kind of impact this organization would turn into or have when they first started,” Dennis says. “It’s just a significant and unique organization that really couples art and social services and neighborhood development into one punchy organization that has the ability to reach into different fields.”
Family, Community, and Shorts: A Project Row Houses/MFAH Collaboration, July 13–15. Tickets $9. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet St. 713.639.7300. More info and tickets at mfah.org.