Theaster Gates Brings Together Planning and Art to Empower Communities

His work in Chicago has created spaces that protect and celebrate black lives and experience.
December 12, 2018, 8am PST | Camille Fink
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Artist and urban planner Theaster Gates was recently awarded the Urban Land Institute’s J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development, reports John Gose.

Gates founded Rebuild Foundation in Chicago and is behind numerous projects bringing together art, cultural development, and neighborhood revitalization to preserve African-American history and culture. The result has been over $45 million in investments on the city’s South Side through the transformation of more than 30 abandoned buildings into cultural and event venues and housing.

His projects include Black Cinema House, which hosts screenings of black films and offers video training to community members. The Stony Island Arts Bank is a renovated former bank branch that now provides space to artists, scholars, and curators. Gose describes another project housing a variety of important collections:

Gates also directed the renovation of a former candy store into Listening House, which provides space for community programs and serves as an archive for esteemed Chicago institutions of a bygone era, including Dr. Wax Records, which closed in 2010 after 30 years; Johnson Publishing Co., which sold its Jet and Ebony magazines to private equity firm Clear View Group in 2016; and the shuttered Prairie Avenue Bookstore, one of the last architecture book stores in the U.S. 

In addition to supporting the local community, Gates wants these spaces to connect people through art. "The events attract people who normally wouldn't consider venturing into places like Chicago’s South Side, he explains, and illustrate how active environments can positively influence perceptions," notes Gose.

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Published on Tuesday, December 4, 2018 in Forbes
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