The Watts House Project (WHP) is an ongoing, collaborative artwork in the shape of a neighborhood redevelopment centered on East 107th St., across from the historic Watts Towers in Los Angeles. WHP is driven by the vision of local families, artists, and architects who work collaboratively to reimagine the neighborhood through housing renovations and community activism. By tapping into local resources, leveraging existing assets, and building a network of city-wide partnerships, WHP strives to become a model for innovative neighborhood associations regionally and nationally.
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 can play a fundamental role in community and economic development 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 Tower neighborhood area
WHP does not dictate a vision for the neighborhood, but sees itself as an open 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.
The Watts House Project is directed by Los Angeles artist Edgar Arceneaux, and launched as both an artwork and a full-fledged organization in September of 2008. The project was first conceived by artist and organizer Rick Lowe, founder and director of a similar neighborhood art organization called Project Row Houses in Houston, Texas. Lowe was invited to replicate Project Row Houses in Los Angeles for a show curated by Julie Lazar and Tom Finkelpearl called “Uncommon Sense” at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in 1996. Lowe came up with the idea to redevelop the neglected post-industrial community around the historic Watts Towers landmark.
Edgar Arceneaux, then an undergraduate at Art Center College of Art and Design, worked with Lowe to produce several projects in the community, including designing a fence with Genaro Alvarez, pouring a driveway with Felix Madrigal, and painting a mural with a group of Watts youth. Alvarez is now a full-time welder and one of the WHP’s main fabricators. After Lowe made the difficult choice to leave WHP in order to return to Houston and focus on the rapidly growing Project Row Houses, Edgar Arceneaux maintained close relationships with many of the residents on East 107th Street. As Arceneaux’s own reputation as an artist grew over the past ten years, he has been able to translate his experience, connections, and ideas to make Watts House Project successful.
With a team of dedicated artists, organizers, and scholars and funded by the Hammer Museum’s Artist Residency program, Arceneaux relaunched Watts House Project in 2007 with a clarified mission and collaborative structure that built upon his work with the residents years earlier. WHP has grown from there: progressing on four unique house collaborations since 2008, partnering with multiple art and community organizations, and in 2009 purchasing properties on 107th for office space and community programs. WHP became a 501(c)(3) non-profit in March of 2009.
Board of Directors
Joy Simmons, MD, Chair
Edgar Arceneaux, Executive Director
Rosa Maria Castillo-Kesper
Sue Bell Yank, Secretary
Tiffany Barber, Chair
Christine Y. Kim