Make The Connection

January 29, 2019

Ohio Wesleyan student Josh W. Martin used an OWU Connection small grant to explore how Project Row Houses works to fulfill its mission of enriching lives through arts in Texas. (Photo courtesy of Josh W. Martin)

Using Art to Enrich Lives

Ohio Wesleyan Student Explores Impact of Project Row Houses in Texas

By Cole Hatcher

Name: Josh W. Martin ’20
Majors: Theatre
Minors: Film Studies Film Studies, Sociology/Anthropology, Social Justice,
Hometown: Apex, North Carolina
Experience: Exploration of Project Row Houses in Houston, Texas

Martin was awarded a small project grant through The OWU Connection to explore how the nonprofit Project Row Houses (PRH) fulfills its mission to enrich lives through art with an emphasis on “cultural identity and its impact on the urban landscape.”

Why This Opportunity?

“Being an arts activist and student pursuing Theatre, Social Justice, Film/Media Studies, and Sociology/Anthropology, it meant a lot to be funded by The OWU Connection to explore the site of an internationally significant contemporary social resistance. …

“Commonly referred to as Project Row Houses, this social mobilization of artists to enrich and preserve the culture and history of the Historic Third Ward in Houston, Texas, has as its defining feature the use of art. The implementation of which I was fascinated to study.

As I have begun to develop a similar recognition of the importance of the civic practice of art to influence social change and systemic redevelopment, I sought to explore this exchange of art and social action, by asking the question ‘Does Art Hold the Key to Successful Community Revitalization?’

Lessons Learned

“Revitalization, as opposed to gentrification, excites infrastructure and economic redevelopment without displacing established minority residents. Project Row Houses pursues this through the vision of discovering the role art can play in neighborhood revitalization, historic preservation, community service, and activism. …

“Their presence in one of the oldest African-American neighborhoods in Houston, with a cultural identity firmly established by the purchase of land by newly emancipated slaves in the 1860s and maintained by a thriving epicenter of black commerce and creativity in the 1900s, made me concerned to discover that the area, helped by the forming of Project Row Houses 25 years ago, is yet again facing the threat of gentrification.

“Today, growing ever more rapid, the gentrification of the area is quickly displacing current residents and threatening the erasure of the 3rd Ward’s culture and history. The way Project Row Houses uses their model of intersecting art and community-level engagement is revolutionary and inspiring for Houston’s Third Ward neighborhoods and for the future of art and activism.

My OWU Connection

“Through the successful funding of my small grant … I was able to experience good examples of arts impact on this ongoing community transformation and cultivate a deeper understanding of the project. I count this experience as an extremely meaningful one that has continued to stimulate further inquiry about the role of art in community discourse.

“Visiting these meaningful artistic monuments and opening dialogue with current residents and current local artists about the revitalization effort and continuing pressures of gentrification in the area, was the goal of the experience. However, it left me with so much more.

“This experience will serve as a step in a greater journey towards discovering creative solutions for the complex exchange of economic inequality and systemic injustice.”

Why I Chose Ohio Wesleyan

“I chose Ohio Wesleyan for the ample opportunities to pursue multidisciplinary fields of study and their commitment to funding experiences for students that put the theory from the classroom into practice. I value the liberal arts model and the small school atmosphere, which has allowed me to develop personal relationships with my professors and lasting friendships with classmates.”

My Plans after Graduation

“I am starting a theatre company that explores the intention and application of theatrical craft. Through the company and additional research opportunities, I hope to find ways theatre can act as a mechanism for discovering/implementing solutions for international peace and conflict resolution.”