Theaster Gates: Reimagining Home

The home is not just the four walls where we sleep – the idea of “home” is a cultural and mental construct.

Who better to re-imagine the home than the creative, dissenting voices; the dangerous minds that traverse the traditional paradigms. Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates has not only challenged the construct of the home, he has re-conceptualised the foundations of community and the urban landscape.

In the TED talk below, Theaster, a trained potter, reflects on the simple ceramic processes; such as making something out of nothing and the capacity to shape things. It is what he learnt from those simple artistic processes that led to the larger projects combining urban planning and artistic vision, and essentially the re-imagination of his home and community.

“In ART we trust”

Living on the South Side of Chicago, Theaster had a vision for a derelict historic bank building that had been abandoned for decades (shown above). After speaking to the local Mayor, the city agreed to sell the crumbling building for $1 – the only catch was that Gates had to come up with $3.7 million to fund its renovation.

Once in, he mined the original marble of the building and created individual ‘bond certificates’ which read ‘In ART we trust’. These tablets, which sold from between $5000-$50,000, made up a portion of the money needed for the renovations. He then went on to transform the building into a space for performance, exhibitions, archives and artists initiatives.

Rebuilding homes and communities

Since acquiring the bank, Gates has purchased and creatively restored more than a half-dozen other properties in the neighbourhood, now known collectively as the Dorchester projects.

Public housing is a large and critical component of the Dorchester Projects; units house mixed-income residents and emerging artists, including Gates himself.

Local derelict buildings are also transformed into community assets. One was converted into a library of 14,000 books on art and architecture, rescued from a closed bookshop, another houses vinyl from a record store that went out of business. There’s even a Black Cinema House showcasing films relevant to the community.

Theaster Gates

This is just a small snapshot of projects run by Gates’ Rebuild Foundation. This creative re-imagining of the home and the community has grown into an entrepreneurial social sculpture that reinvests in local skills and talents to bring about community change. It’s a potent reminder that our “homes” can extend beyond our four walls, and that our communities are our homes as well.

Image credits, top to bottom: Theaster Gates’ Rebuild FoundationJames W. Toftness via Contemporary&

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