Chicago artist Theaster Gates, Director of Arts Program Development in the Office of the Provost and Faculty Artist in Residence, was recently featured on WBEZ’s business news program Venture as he discussed his newest artistic undertaking: the Dorchester Project.
Gates moved to the Grand Crossing neighborhood five years ago. He rehabbed an old candy store using recycled stone and salvaged wood, and this is now where he lives. However, as a result of the economic downturn and subsequent housing crisis, a third of his block is either empty lots or vacant buildings. To combat this cycle of disinvestment, he is buying several abandoned and foreclosed buildings to create space for artists to live and work in.
Gates is providing a way for others to stay and create a an artistic community by connecting the arts world he works in with the block where he lives. In addition to rehabbing abandoned spaces, Gates is also planning what he calls a soul food pavilion – a space for dinners, jazz, lectures – on an empty lot, which will create the type of neighborhood gathering spot Gates says his neighborhood lacks. Venture journalist Ashley Gross observes, “In essence, this stretch of Dorchester Avenue has become his latest work of art.”
Gate’s message is simple: with imagination, people can turn devastated neighborhoods into desirable places to live.