Artist Theaster Gates creates platforms. In Chicago, Gates’ leadership of artist-led spaces has catalyzed an evolution in perceptions of poorer parts of the city and their human and cultural resources. Beginning with interventions in small-scale residences, now known as Dorchester Projects, Gates’ houses in Greater Grand Crossing became a nexus for globally engaged experiments in structures of individual and collective living, working and art-making. Launched into the international art world as 12 Ballads for Huguenot House at Documenta 13, the houses embodied a new system of values not only in the austere yet inviting atmosphere incorporating once-discarded materials as design elements, but in the ongoing, flexible use of the spaces and the creation of new relationships and opportunities among artists, visitors and students.
As evident in the synergistic design process of his mindful building practices and persistent challenging of organizational structures, Gates’ development projects function as an extension of his studio work. Gates takes on the problem of Black space as a formal exercise, reminiscent of Beuys concept of social sculpture. The latest example of this work is the Stony Island Arts Bank, set to open for the Chicago Architecture Biennial in October 2015.
At the University of Chicago where he is a professor and the Director of Arts and Public Life, Gates leads the Arts Incubator in Washington Park. Gates also leads an urban research initiative known as the Place Lab—a team of social scientists, architects, creative professionals and business leaders. With support from the Knight Foundation, Gates and his team will create frameworks for reimagining the role that culture plays in the redevelopment of transforming African American communities. Gates is helping to define the future of artistic place-based efforts, in research and practice.