There are many worthy community arts organizations springing up around the country (and the world), reviving dilapidated streets with gardens and installations. The Watts House Project is particularly notable for it's connection to an extraordinary work of visionary art.
In 1921 an Italian immigrant named Simon Rodia bought a lot in the small farming town of Watts, in Los Angeles, and began working night and day on a project that would consume the next thirty-three years of life. He constructed three towers and surrounding sculptures out of salvaged metal and concrete, and decorated them with broken plates and bottles. At 100 feet tall, Watts Towers is the tallest structure ever built by one man, a feat made even more impressive by his lack of training as an architect or engineer. The towers have survived many earthquakes, and Rodia's invented building techniques have since been embraced by architects. Rodia spoke little English, and his cantankerous demeanor ruined his close relationships, but he titled his masterpiece "Nuestro Pueblo", suggesting the sense of community in Watts.
In 1965, the Watts Rebellion left the neighborhood in ruins, and government neglect destroyed what little infrastructure their was. Watts had changed while Rodia built his towers. Los Angeles' shameful policies segregated the city into privileged enclaves and ghettoes. Even in the face of violence and deprivation, art flourished in post-rebellion Watts, and the towers became a symbol of creativity as resistance.
Today Rodia's towers are recognized as a national monument, but the surrounding neighborhood is still neglected and underfunded. A few years ago, artist Edgar Arceneaux started the Watts House Project to extend the aesthetic spirit of the towers to the neighborhood. Arceneaux and a crew of artists, students, and architects work with people living near the towers to repaint and redesign their houses, hoping to revitalize the area through collaborative creativity. In a city where space is still segregtaed, and visual pleasure is often restricted to the wealthy, the Watts House Project affirms that art belongs to everyone. Simon Rodia would be proud to see his neighbors following his example.