Theaster Gates is knocking down walls, tearing out floorboards, and proving that art can change the world.
Gates is the founder of the Rebuild Foundation, whose mission is to transform abandoned buildings into much-needed community spaces. Along the way, the foundation creates bridges between the contemporary art world and the physical reality of American cities.
The idea began in Chicago, when Gates renovated a Southside building to be his studio. As the project evolved, a radical new vision emerged: Theaster would buy the house next door and transform it into a neighborhood arts space. Today the Dorchester House is the home of an architecture library, the Dr. Wax Archive of 8,000 blues and soul records, and an urban garden workshop.
Rebuild Foundation applies this same model to neglected neighborhoods across the country from St. Louis to Omaha.
Step 1 Buy abandoned real estate that has character and history.
Step 2 Enlist local artists and community leaders.
Step 3 Train local workers, and use recycled materials to transform abandoned buildings into vibrant public arts spaces.
Theaster takes the raw materials produced by these gut renovations, and uses them to create installation pieces, like his series of shoe shine chairs. Look for Gates’ work at the 2012 Armory Show, where he is the commissioned artist creating a visual identity for this year’s fair.