Watts House Project (WHP) is an artist-driven neighborhood redevelopment organization, wherein artists and design professionals, in collaboration with the Watts Towers area residents, employ art as an economic and community development engine to promote and enhance the quality of residential life in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. WHP brings residents together in a creative partnership with artists, architects, design professionals, and volunteers to revitalize the neighborhood and re-imagine the environment through inventive programming, community involvement, and functional and creative housing renovations.
The Watts House Project (WHP) is inspired by the iconic Watts Towers built by Simon Rodia and the history of the neighborhood in which they exist. WHP understands that art and architecture play a fundamental role in community and economic redevelopment in the immediate Watts Towers community, and seeks to enact the shared visions of neighborhood families by:
-Focusing on the renovation of existing housing, including the improvement of residential landscaping by
partnering families with artists and architects
-Facilitating partnerships with existing city-wide resources to meet the needs of families in the project area
-Reducing the ecological footprint, maintenance and operating costs of area properties; and
-Attracting reinvestment in the Watts Towers neighborhood area
WHP does not dictate a vision for the neighborhood, but sees itself as a facilitator, mediating conversation among creative professionals, families, and local stakeholders. WHP is a process for working with many disparate groups, and is primarily a connector and facilitator. Some immediate pressing concerns voiced by residents that WHP is currently addressing include eliminating parking obstacles that diminish financial resources; creating passive and active recreation spaces; and establishing spaces that attract and increase tourism that will financially benefit the community at large.
Rick Lowe, the founder and director of Project Row Houses in Houston, Texas, conceptualized Watts House Project in 1996. Lowe had been invited to replicate Project Row Houses in Los Angeles and decided to focus on the neglected post-industrial commnity around the iconic Watts Towers. Edgar Arceneaux, then an art student, worked with Lowe on community organizing efforts and the creation of a strategic plan.
When Lowe left the project in 1999, Edgar Arceneaux stayed on and became the new manager of the project. Working on facade improvements such as designing a fence, pouring a driveway, and painting murals, contributed to Edgar’s commitment to creating a nonprofit that could carry on artist redevelopment work in the Watts area.
Arceneaux officially re-launched Watts House Project in 2007 with Sue Bell Yank, the support of the Hammer Museum’s Artist Residency program, and a team of Watts residents, artists, organizers, and scholars. WHP undertook its first remodeling projects in 2008 and was granted nonprofit status in 2009.