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.

2 minute read

December 12, 2018, 8:00 AM PST

By Camille Fink

Stony Island Arts Bank Chicago

Steven Vance / Flickr

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.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018 in Forbes

stack of books

Planetizen’s Top Planning Books of 2023

The world is changing, and planning with it.

November 24, 2023 - Planetizen Team

Close-up of 'Red Line Subway Entry' sign with Braille below and train logo above text in Chicago, Illinois.

Chicago Red Line Extension Could Transform the South Side

The city’s transit agency is undertaking its biggest expansion ever to finally bring rail to the South Side.

November 24, 2023 - The Architect's Newspaper

Green Paris Texas city limit sign with population.

How Paris, Texas Became a ‘Unicorn’ for Rural Transit

A robust coalition of advocates in the town of 25,000 brought together the funding and resources to launch a popular bus service that some residents see as a mobility lifeline—and a social club.

November 30, 2023 - Texas Monthly

Green painted bike lane on street next to modern mid-rise apartment buildings in Seattle, Washington.

Seattle’s Bike Infrastructure Hamstrings Growth

Design standards that call for minimal road space allocated to bikes are limiting the growth of cycling in the city.

1 hour ago - The Urbanist

Tall palm trees against bright blue sky with snowy mountains in background. Los Angeles, California.

Winter Fun at Los Angeles County Parks

L.A. County is offering a winter edition of its popular and award-winning Parks After Dark program, providing opportunities for residents to come together and have fun in safe and welcoming spaces.

2 hours ago - NBC 4

Bird's eye view of houses in midtown Sacramento, California.

Sacramento Council Approves Upzoning Proposal

If given final approval, the plan would increase the allowable floor area ratio to permit denser housing development in single-family neighborhoods and near transit.

3 hours ago - Sacramento Business Journal

Senior Planner

City of Kissimmee - Development Services

Planner II

City of Kissimmee - Development Services

Senior Travel Demand Modeler

Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

"Rethinking Commuter Rail" podcast & Intercity Bus E-News

Chaddick Institute at DePaul University

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.