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The Rosa Parks House Project at the WaterFire Arts Center

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 house speaks to issues of the centrality of family connection in the African American experience, of the Great Migration, of segregation, of redlining of faulty mortgages and the housing crisis, of misogyny, as well as of the marginalization of black oral history.  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.

“We were pleased that the WaterFire Arts Center was the first gallery in the United States to present Ryan Mendoza’s powerful art installation giving Rhode Islanders an opportunity to experience a timely work of art that addresses so many issues that Rosa Parks faced in her life and which continue to challenge many Americans today,”

— Peter A. Mello, WaterFire Providence’s Managing Director and coCEO

The Rosa Parks House Project was on display from March 31 through June 3rd in the newly renovated WaterFire Arts Center.

Fleeing death threats, for having sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, Rosa Parks headed North. The first house in which she took refuge was owned by her younger brother Sylvester McCauley. Almost ten years after Rosa Parks’ death, the house ended up on Detroit’s demolition list.  Rhea McCauley, Rosa Parks’ niece, purchased the house back from the Detroit demolition list in 2014 to honor Rosa Parks and to preserve the legacy of her precarious struggle to keep a roof over her head in what Rosa Parks calls the “Northern promised land that wasn’t.”

Rhea McCauley entrusted the house and its message about Parks’ history to the Berlin-based, American artist Ryan Mendoza. The house was carefully dismantled and shipped from Detroit to Mendoza’s studio in Berlin where it was rebuilt and warmly received.  The Nash Family Foundation provided a grant to return “The Rosa Parks House Project” to the United States and support an exhibition in the WaterFire Arts Center in Providence, RI.

When it returned back again to the states 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 and featuring Becky Bass, Ramona Bass-Kolobe, Delbert Collins, Elizabeth Ann Keiser, Angela Nash Wade, Raffini, Cathy Clasper-Torch, Kim Trusty and friends.

“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

To celebrate the last weekend of Ryan Mendoza’s The Rosa Parks House Project exhibition, the WaterFire Art Center hosted a Community Picnic Party and Concert on June 2nd, 2018, with food provided by Amos House and special performances by Rose Weaver, Len Cabral and Valerie Tutson of the Rhode Island Black Storytellers, Grupo Ondas Capoeira, Kim Trusty, Braxton Mason, the Manton Avenue Project, Phoenyx Williams, and more.

The Rosa Parks House Project at the WaterFire Arts Center was sponsored by and the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation. Funding is provided by the Nash Family Foundation. Additional support is provided by Amica Insurance honoring Cheryl Watkins Snead’s leadership in the Rhode Island community.  Other partners and contributors include the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, YouthBuild Providence, ACLU , NAACP, the University of Rhode Island’s Department of Art and Art History, Robert Dilworth and Jeanne Theoharis.

“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

You can find a larger gallery of images from the exhibition on our Flickr page.

About Ryan Mendoza
Artist Ryan Mendoza, born in 1971 in New York City lives and works between Berlin and Naples. To learn more about Ryan Mendoza and view his portfolio, visit

About the author

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I've worked at WaterFire Providence since 2003. For the first 9 years of my career, I worked in the Production Shop learning all of the details that go into the physical production of the event. In 2012 transitioned to the role of managing WaterFire's social media and web presence. I now head up WaterFire Providence's digital projects including, web, social, databases, and our physical IT infrastructure.

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