Work & Purpose

Artist Gives Downtrodden Neighborhoods New Life

He turns empty spaces into housing and incubators for culture

Part of the Vitality Arts Special Report

Theaster Gates is a successful artist on the international gallery scene. He’s also become a renowned urban developer on the South Side of Chicago. The connection between creating ceramics and creating community might be lost on most people, but Gates says the two are intertwined.

In a fascinating interview, Gates recently spoke to PBS NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown about his twin passions.

Gates told Brown that when he is creating his art, he has to think about the material he’s working with and consider its relationship with time, heat and so forth. “If you were to apply that to a city, you would say, what’s the relationship between a commercial district and a residential area? And how might those things be a collision at first?” Gates says in the interview. “But they need to slowly cool.”

This is the approach Gates has taken to transforming the South Side. He has purchased  buildings and turned them into places for the community to gather and enjoy the arts while creating space for low-cost housing.

“Not only do poor people have a right to beautiful things, but people have the right not to be poor anymore. And I think that that feels like it’s worth making art about and fighting for,” he says.

Now he has been tapped to tackle redevelopment projects across the country — including Gary, Ind.; Akron, Ohio; and Detroit.

Check out the video below to see more of the work Gates has done.

By Amy Knapp
Amy was formerly the associate digital editor for Next Avenue. She previously was an editor for InnoVision Health Media's consumer publicationNatural Solutions Magazine.  

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