Houston-based artist and activist Rick Lowe was in downtown Dallas last night, delivering a sort-of inaugural address for a new series of design-focused lectures for the buildingcommunityWORKSHOP, a non-profit that works to remake struggling communities through design. To which you might say, "Great, another week-night lecture by a dude I've never heard of at some place I've never heard of." But what you wouldn't know unless you attended last night's lecture is that Lowe came to Dallas with a radical mission.
Lowe -- whose Project Row Houses famously helped transform one of Houston's worst neighborhoods -- announced last night that he will use grant money from the Nasher Sculpture Center to turn part of Vickery Meadow, the low-income and crime-riddled neighborhood just east of NorthPark Center, into a large art project. And considering his track record, it will likely become much more than art.
The project is part of a multi-million grant program called Nasher Xchange, for which the Nasher, in celebration of its 10th anniversary, has commissioned 10 contemporary artists to produce 10 public art projects for 10 sites across Dallas.
The artists were announced last month and hail from as close as North Texas (installation artist Vicki Meek and Denton's Good/Bad Art Collective) and as far as the Netherlands (multimedia artist Lara Almarcegui). They weren't given specific sites but were toured around Dallas in search of inspiration. Before last night, little was known about which neighborhoods might play host to their work. Then Lowe, after speaking mostly about his past endeavors, casually unveiled his new canvas.
See also: - The Remaking of Vickery Meadow - How Artist Rick Lowe, Who's in Dallas Today, Helped Transform Houston's Third Ward - The Nasher Will Spend Several Million Dollars on a Dallas-Wide Public Art Installation
Speaking in bcWorkshop's tiny space off Ervay Street, tucked between a parking lot and a Subway, Lowe started by giving examples of all the places across the globe that his projects have taken root, putting the power of neighborhoods back in the hands of their neighbors.
His crown jewel is Houston's Third Ward, which before his Project Row Houses was basically on death row. Lowe not only granted it a stay of execution but rehabilitated it into a shining example of community, knocking down old shotgun houses and, with the citizenry's help, rebuilding it and stocking it with galleries, community centers and more. The project earned him international acclaim.
But there were also slideshows last night of projects from Florida to Korea, filled with people young and old, college students and business owners, all invested in the same thing: their communities. He showed them busting their collective asses to save their neighborhoods.
Now Lowe has turned his attention to Dallas and Vickery Meadow. While others look at the neighborhood and see "just a bunch of old apartments," Lowe said, he sees a community unlike any other in the world, a refuge for refugees with a diverse tapestry of tradition and a choir of over 19 languages filling the streets. (Read our 2012 cover story on the neighborhood here.)
Lowe wants to translate the success of Houston's Project Row Houses to Vickery Meadow, injecting art and commerce into the neighborhood while preserving the multi-cultureness that makes it special. He was light on specifics -- the project is still in its infancy and will require major buy-in from the neighborhood and beyond -- but he did mention the idea of creating a central market where street vendors could sell their wares.
Lowe knows he can't do it alone -- which is exactly why he was in Dallas last night. His talk was a call to arms, an invitation to join something bigger than a book club. Because in order for this project to work, he's going to need the help of those living inside Vickery Meadow, those in the industry who see it as potential commercial property, and others. Lowe has proven over the years that he's not afraid to get his hands dirty. The question he wants to ask is: What about the rest of us?