The University of Houston’s newly created College of Arts didn’t have to hire a genius as its very first faculty member—it just worked out that way.

Rick Lowe, the celebrated artist and social activist whose Project Row Houses work led to the so-called “genius grant” as a MacArthur Fellow in 2014, holds the distinction of being the first teacher hired specifically for the just-launched college.

This fall, Lowe is teaching a course on social- and community-engaged art, an innovative class that embraces his belief in students learning through direct engagement. It is a vital first step in his commitment to help develop a minor focused on socially engaged art and College of the Arts-Third Ward Fellows. Ideally, it will complement the Project Row Houses development, that collection of 22 shotgun-style houses that provide local artists a venue for creating and showcasing new works.

“My reputation as an artist is built on my practice at Project Row houses, and I saw this faculty appointment as an opportunity to extend the relationship between the organization and campus,” said Lowe, who holds the title of clinical associate professor of art. “My goal with my class is encouraging students to be participants willing to learn from the community and not going there with ready-made ideas about how to solve things.”

Stressing the need for interaction, Lowe added, “So often, a university and the community are each doing their own things and rarely see what they are both doing to help each other. That’s a special niche the arts can fill, and my purpose is bridging that gap.”

Lowe’s recruitment reflects the college’s fundamental concept of a center of higher learning led by artists for artists.

“His addition to the faculty furthers UH’s ties to the Houston arts community and strengthens its mission to provide our students with core faculty who are recognized leaders in their field,” said Paula Myrick Short, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “Lowe’s social activism and artistic vision have transformed the city of Houston, and I’m confident he can have the same effect on our University.”