Where art meets urban planning

31 May


The inside of the abandoned Anheuser-Busch distribution center is warm and dark. Theaster Gates struggles to lift one of the enormous garage doors a few inches to let in enough light to illuminate the exposed brick walls and hard-worn concrete floors.

Built in 1907, this building is more than 100 years old. But it’s easy to visualize its potential: 25,000 square feet of artist’s studio and a collection of small neighborhood shops.

This is the south side of Chicago, Theaster’s hometown. It’s here that he created the Dorchester Projects: buildings located on Dorchester Avenue and 69th Street set aside to celebrate the work of artists of color and to honor art as a function of its environment.

The Projects started simply enough. In 2006 Theaster was looking for a home to buy, and he found one that looked like a good candidate for conversion to an artist’s live/work space. Three years later, his neighborhood deteriorating, he began to think he could transform the whole block.

By then, the ISU graduate (’96 community & regional planning, MA ’05 interdisciplinary graduate studies) was an arts administrator for the University of Chicago as well as a rising star in the art world. (The Chicago Reader called it “a meteoric rise.”)

“As my ambition increased, my access to funding increased,” Theaster said. In addition to the Anheuser-Busch building, he’s working to transform 36 Chicago Housing Authority units into artist live/work spaces.

“I have a really great job,” Theaster says of his position as director of arts program development in the University of Chicago’s Office of the Provost. “Being an artist at an academic institution, they value my time in the studio. The way I solve problems is different than other people.”

One Response to “Where art meets urban planning”

  1. Maureen Hurd Hause June 2, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

    Hi, I also just read the Jan. 2014 New Yorker article about him–fascinating. :),M

    Date: Sat, 31 May 2014 22:01:33 +0000 To: maureenhurd@hotmail.com

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