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Theaster Gates

Based in the South Side of Chicago, Theaster Gates is an artist, professor, social innovator, and founder of Rebuild Foundation, which reimagines the potential of vacancy and abandonment through the power of arts, culture, and creative empowerment by building a constellation of spaces that unearth the value and beauty in Black space.

Trained as a potter, sculptor, and urban planner, in 2010, Gates founded the Rebuild Foundation as a non-profit platform for artistic intervention, cultural development, and social transformation in Chicago’s Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood. Rebuild’s work focuses on predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago that have suffered decades of disinvestment. Its mission is to demonstrate the impact of innovative, ambitious, and entrepreneurial arts initiatives. The Foundation leverages the potential of communities, buildings, and objects that have been discarded. Art and culture are used to strengthen community, and the work is informed by three principles: Black people matter, Black spaces matter, and Black things matter.

Rebuild’s most celebrated project is the Stony Island Arts Bank, a former loan and savings bank – and symbol of Black wealth – that sat abandoned for years. Gates purchased the bank from the City of Chicago for one dollar and through a combination of fundraising and the sale of “bank bonds,” raised funds to transform the building into a site of creative exploration, cultural preservation, and artistic engagement. Re-opened in 2015, the Bank is now a gallery, media archive, library, and gathering space. 

In 2016, Samaria Rice, the mother of 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was shot and killed by a Cleveland Police Officer, asked Rebuild to create a temporary home for the deconstructed gazebo near where Tamir was murdered. In 2019, Ms. Rice joined Gates and the Rebuild team to erect the gazebo in its full form on the Stony Island Arts Bank lawn. The Tamir Rice Memorial Gazebo now stands on the South Side as a reminder, a monument, and a call to action for systemic justice.

The Foundation also operates a Kenwood Gardens, a public garden that was transformed from thirteen contiguous vacant city lots. The gardens hold a retreat at Currency Exchange Café, a currency exchange turned not-for-profit café and incubator for culinary and hospitality artists of color; Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative, affordable art and housing collaborative with space for public arts programming; and a community hub for creative entrepreneurship at a former elementary school.