Houston Artist Rick Lowe Among 2014’s MacArthur Genius Grant Recipients

Rick Lowe at the Project Row Houses in Houston, Texas. Photo courtesy of MacArthur Genius Grant.

The 2014 MacArthur Fellows have been announced, reports the Wall Street Journal, and Houston artist Rick Lowe is among the 21 recipients of a $625,000, no-strings-attached award commonly known as a “genius grant,” meant to enable artistic, intellectual, and professional pursuits and distributed over a five year period.

As reported by the Houston Chronicle, Lowe actually ignored several calls from the MacArthur Foundation, which has a totally anonymous nomination, evaluation, and selection process, before he picked up the life-changing phone call.

He is the founder of the Project Row Houses in Houston’s Third Ward. Over the last 20 years, Lowe has revitalized 71 dilapidated buildings across six blocks of the historic neighborhood, offering locals community spaces, social services, and a chance to make art in an area once overrun with drug dealers and addicts.

“Rick pioneered a form of art that had no name,” Project Row Houses executive director Linda Shearer told the Chronicle. “Now his concept is taught in undergraduate and graduate art programs. It’s called ‘creative place making’ and ‘social practice.’ What’s remarkable is that Rick was on this track of socially engaged art and developing community long before anybody thought about it. He imbued those shotgun houses with value that people respect and treasure today.”

The MacArthur grant is not the first national recognition Lowe has received, as he was appointed to the National Council on the Arts by president Barack Obama—not that it’s something he’s likely to talk about. “Rick doesn’t call attention to himself,” said Shearer, “and he’s not an egomaniac. He’s all about being a catalyst and asking, ‘How can we transform our communities through art?'”

“I have to be thoughtful about the best way to use the money,” Lowe told the Chronicle. “This is not something I’ll play around with and throw away. I do want to have a big impact. And a lot of the money will go to the Third Ward.”

Vermont-based cartoonist and graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel, who created the well-known Bechdel Test for female characters in works of fiction, is also among this year’s grant recipients.

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