Over the last few years, I’ve focused my attention on making art and developing a small arts organization (Dorchester Projects). Dorchester Projects started out as a series of conversations around small community projects and has now become the topic of much conversation itself. When I moved to the 6900 block of Dorchester Avenue (minutes from my job at the University of Chicago), I simply needed a place to live and wanted my home to be Chicago’s Southside. My intention was to create a totally recycled/repurposed material clad living space that I could invite my artist, and art loving friends to for dinner, music, and conversation. I wanted to live in a place that fostered creativity, made neighbors more than usually comfortable, and could serve as a meeting place for those interested in community engagement, cultural programming, and celebrating diversity in the arts. As I embarked on the journey of turning a once neighborhood candy store into a living space for me and the beautiful objects I wanted to live among, I began to fill my home with many interesting finds and materials that I came across – an old copper sink, wooden floors from a shut-down local bowling alley, and ceramic vessels that held the stories of my travels and life as a potter. Then came the albums – 8,000 LPs from the closing of Dr. Wax Records in Hyde Park. Next came the books -14,000 architecture and design books to be exact from the closing of the Prairie Avenue Bookstore. Then came the Glass Lantern Slides from the University of Chicago Art History Department – all 60,000 of them – and before I knew it, I had on my hands more than just a few small projects. The archives that were now housed in Dorchester took things to an entirely new level and now my neighborhood, my house, my block, just might someday be added to that list of important places that anchor communities and cities alike – my neighborhood might someday be seen as an artistic hub for creative cultural happenings on the South Side of Chicago. Mix these special archives in with an Artist Residency Program and arts programming for the young people on my block and you have a recipe for change, and the capacity to impact and rebuild an entire neighborhood.
The work of Dorchester Projects has led to the establishment of Rebuild Foundation, a not-for-profit and creative engine focusing on cultural development and affordable space initiatives in under-resourced communities. We currently manage projects in Omaha, St. Louis, and Chicago; each city enlisting a team of artists, architects, developers, educators, and community activists who work together to integrate the arts and alternative entrepreneurship into a community-driven process of creative placemaking and neighborhood transformation. This summer, we ran a Design Camp for middle schoolers in St. Louis, Urban Expressions, and it was so successful, that we want to bring it to Chicago in 2012.
I’ve found a new ‘practice’ for my art outside of making objects and generating experiences behind museum walls, and it is this idea of rebuilding communities from the foundation upwards – through bringing diverse groups of people together, employing various creative placemaking strategies, and allowing my team at Rebuild Foundation do what they do best – build bridges, reveal connections, and transform communities from the foundation up.
As this year comes to a close, I am so grateful for your wonderful support. The work that Dorchester Projects and Rebuild Foundation does is made possible by the generous support of committed individuals, corporations, and foundations, who have enabled us to rebuild homes and communities, engage young people with creative arts programming, and connect our neighbors with new opportunities, experiences, and people from all over the world. Thank you! Keep an eye out for upcoming projects and let us know if you would like to be involved!
bye for now!
Theaster Gates, Jr.