Artist and social sculptor Rick Lowe, founder of Project Row Houses in Houston and the Nasher Sculpture Center's first artist-in-residence, has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, an honor commonly referred to as the “MacArthur Genius Grant.” The 53-year-old Lowe, along with the other 21 fellows, including Austin artist and affordable housing advocate John Henneberger, will receive an unrestricted stipend of $625,000 each paid over the course of five years.
The prize is awarded annually by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to residents of the United States who “show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.” The fellowship is considered one of the highest honors in the creative field.
“We are delighted that the MacArthur Foundation has recognized Nasher artist-in-residence Rick Lowe for his extraordinary achievements with projects like Nasher Xchange and Project Row Houses that are designed to foster social change through art,” said Nasher director Jeremy Strick in a statement. “His work in Dallas in the Vickery Meadow neighborhood continues as a transformative site of social and cultural interaction, helping change our relationship to this vibrant area of the city.
“The McArthur Fellowship will allow Lowe to further his artistic efforts toward bridging the gaps between art and everyday life in urban areas.”
Lowe, originally trained as a painter, earned international acclaim for his Project Row Houses, which he co-founded in 1985. The nonprofit venture initially centered around the revitalization of nearly two dozen shotgun-style houses that he and his team saved from demolition in Houston's predominately African-American Third Ward.
Through Project Row Houses, those structures are now transformed into galleries, classrooms artist studios and community gathering spaces, helping shape the once fast-eroding neighborhood by nurturing a sense of togetherness and exchange. In fact, some children have gone on from this program to prestigious colleges (including the Sorbonne in Paris), and Lowe now mentors the generations behind them.
Lowe's Trans.lation project, in Dallas' Vickery Meadow neighborhood, gave residents an opportunity to share their talents and traditions with each other through a series of workshops, free-standing white cube “galleries” and pop-up markets. Lowe and the Trans.lation team inspired not only entrepreneurship, but also a new vision for what public space and interaction could look like in the neighborhood.
Lowe has initiated similar arts-driven redevelopment in other cities, such as the Watts House Project in Los Angeles and a post-Katrina rebuilding effort in New Orleans. More community building projects include the Arts Plan for the Seattle Public Library; the Borough Project for the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina; and the Delray Beach Cultural Loop in Florida.
His work has been exhibited at such national and international venues as Houston’s Contemporary Arts Museum and Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea and the Venice Architecture Biennale.