“The Rosa Parks House Project”

On view until June 3rd, 2018

Ryan Mendoza’s art installation “The Rosa Parks House Project” is on exhibition at the WaterFire Arts Center

“The Rosa Parks House Project” at the WaterFire Arts Center during our Celebrating Rosa Parks event on March 31st and April 1st. Photograph by Erin Cuddigan.

The exhibition will take place in the WaterFire Arts Center at 475 Valley Street in Providence, RI and will be open to the public until June 3rd, 2018 daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., unless otherwise noted. Check our calendar for specific days and times. There will be a more detailed set of programs and interpretive materials at the exhibition and online (which will include Fabia Mendoza’s award winning film ‘The White House’).

On Saturday, June 2, to celebrate the last weekend of “The Rosa Parks House Project” exhibition, the WaterFire Arts Center is hosting a Community Picnic & Party with food provided by Amos House and special performances by Rose Weaver, Len Cabral and Valerie Tutson of the Rhode Island Black Storytellers and more.  The admission free event starts at noon and is open to the public.

Thanks to support from a number of beneficiaries including WaterFire Providence and the Nash Family Foundation along with a wide outpouring of public support from members of the Providence community, the Detroit house Rosa Parks had taken refuge in after the tumultuous 1955 bus boycott has returned home to America. Ryan Mendoza’s “The Rosa Parks House Project” is an art installation that honors Rosa Parks and the struggles she faced due to her courageous leadership in the civil rights movement. The artwork was created with the support of the nieces and nephews of Rosa Parks and includes recreations of remembered details of her stay with them in that house.

The house, formerly owned by Rosa McCauley Parks’ only sibling Sylvester McCauley, speaks to issues of the centrality of family connection in the African American experience, of the Great Migration, of segregation, of red lining, of faulty mortgages and the housing crisis, of misogyny, as well as of the marginalization of black oral history. The McCauley family living in this house was the reason and hope that lead Rosa to move from the south to Detroit. Rhea McCauley repurchased the house back from the Detroit demolition lists in 2016 to honor Rosa Parks and to preserve the evidence of the precarious struggle of Rosa Parks to keep a roof over her head in the “Northern promised land that wasn’t.” Rhea entrusted the house and its message about Parks to the artist Ryan Mendoza, who had to move the house to Berlin and back, to accomplish his goals.

The house had been dismantled and shipped from Detroit to Berlin where it was rebuilt and warmly received. When it returned back again to the states, notwithstanding the unexpected cancellation of the show, the house was embraced by the local Providence community. About a thousand people visited the WaterFire Arts Center during the busy Easter weekend to attend a program of music, hymns and theater organized by Rose Weaver.

“It has been a great privilege to work on this project with Ryan and Fabia and the broader Providence community. When support for the project was jeopardized we worked hard to complete the installation and open the doors so that the Providence community could see this important art project over the Easter and Passover weekend. We are delighted now to be able to welcome many more visitors to see this artwork and to participate in a variety of programs and discussions about the issues raised in the arts project.” -Barnaby Evans, WaterFire Providence’s Executive Artistic Director

WaterFire Providence, the NAACP – Providence Branch, the ACLU, Project YouthBuild along with Rhode Island School of Design, Rhode Island College, and other professors and students have embraced “The Rosa Parks House Project”.

“We believe in art and its capacity to advance the public discourse about important subjects.  We stepped up when there was a danger of the house returning to Berlin unseen. We could not allow artist’s voices and black voices to be silenced.  We need more discussion about race in America.” -Barnaby Evans, WaterFire Providence’s Executive Artistic Director


“The WaterFire Arts Center is a place to welcome all the arts and the community to come together for important conversations, just as WaterFire does downtown on the river.”  -Peter A. Mello, WaterFire Providence’s Executive Managing Director


“The Nash Foundation is very grateful to Ryan Mendoza, the WaterFire Art Center and the many others who made this beautiful monument to Rosa Parks open to the American people. We remain committed to finding a permanent home in the U.S. for this memorial to a woman whose devotion to justice placed her on the right side of history.” -James Nash from the Nash Family Foundation, one of the original sponsors to the project


“The NAACP Providence branch feels strongly that the house where our former Secretary, Rosa Parks, of the NAACP Montgomery branch, lived in while she worked in Detroit must remain in Providence at this time!  In an effort to keep the “Rosa Parks House Project” here in Providence, the NAACP Providence branch has made a financial donation and stands ready to do whatever it takes to keep the house here.” -Jim Vincent, president of the NAACP Providence Chapter division, regarding the continuation of the exhibit


“I am thrilled to hear the news that the Rosa McCauley Parks House is staying in Providence! What a beautiful showing of community effort. I, personally, and the Rhode Island Black Storytellers, look forward to sharing stories inspired by this story, and the life and legacy of Rosa Parks — including the untold story of this safe home for her.” -Valerie Tutson, Brown University graduate, and acclaimed writer and storyteller


“I am delighted that the Rosa Parks house can stay in Providence for a bit longer. This humble structure has an amazing story to tell – about Rosa Parks and her family, about the Civil Rights Movement, about African Americans’ flight from the South to the Industrial North and the decline of Detroit – and, of course, of its own journeys to Berlin and Providence. Adolf Loos once said that architecture’s most noble task is to remind us to commemorate – and he was thinking of tombs and monuments. Instead, this simple working class house, ruinous as it is, is just as powerful an invitation to remember, to read closely, to explore its context and to understand the web of stories that intersect there.” -Brown University Professor Dietrich Neumann


“The obligation of artists and activists to stimulate the difficult conversations in our society has never been greater than it is today.” -Patrick Duff, researcher and social activist


“The temporary exhibition of the Rosa Parks House at Providence’s WaterFire Arts Center is important on many levels. From the viewpoint of art and design, the story of the house and its history since leaving Detroit is a demonstration of the new reach of preservation and the power of creative adaptive reuse. The recent controversy surrounding the house since its arrival in Providence provides us with a living case study in real time. Ryan Mendoza’s project to save the house and to preserve through art a significant moment in the history of civil rights – a brief sojourn for Rosa Parks after Alabama – raises important questions of what we as a people value and how much we are willing to stake to preserve them. The house’s extended stay in Providence will allow many more persons to experience this for themselves.” -Rhode Island School of Design Professor Liliane Wong


“Rarely does something powerful and enlightening come into our community that can change our lives and help us grapple with history. I am thrilled that thousands now may view the Detroit house Rosa Parks once lived in.” -Ray Rickman, Executive Director of Stages of Freedom, a Providence non-profit devoted to promoting African American culture


“Rhode Island is home to a wealth of American history, and this exhibit is a valuable addition to the state’s historical tourism story. This exhibit has channeled some of Rosa Park’s dignified persistence, and I am happy to see it in Rhode Island. I would encourage visitors and residents alike to pay a visit to this powerful project.” -Lara Salamano, Chief Marketing Officer, Rhode Island Commerce Corporation



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