Theaster Gates, a potter by training and a social activist by calling, wanted to do something about the sorry state of his neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. So he did, transforming abandoned buildings to create community hubs that connect and inspire those who still live there (and draw in those who don't). In this passionate talk, Gates describes his efforts to build a "miniature Versailles" in Chicago, and he shares his fervent belief that culture can be a catalyst for social transformation in any city, anywhere.

The American artist Theaster Gates (American, b. 1973) is internationally renowned for his cross-disciplinary blend of social practice, performance, institution-building, painting and sculpting. His practice, deeply rooted in African-American history and culture, revolves around the transformation of objects, buildings and communities by catalyzing development through art and cultural activity. His most ambitious projects, like the Dorchester Projects and the Stony Island Arts Bank, transform buildings' raw materials into sculptures that fund their rejuvenation as radically reimagined centers for community activity.


Theaster Gates attended Iowa State University (MS, 2006; BS 1996) and University of Cape Town (MA, 1998), where he combined studies in ceramics, urban planning and religious studies. Gates has received numerous awards, including the Kurt Schwitters Prize (2017), the American Academy of Arts & Sciences Award (2016), and the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for Social Progress (2015). His work can be found in public collections worldwide, including the Menil Collection, Houston; the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; the National Gallery of Canada, Ontario; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Tate Gallery, London; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He currently serves as the Chairman and Founder of the Rebuild Foundation and as Director of the Arts and Public Life Initiative at the University of Chicago, where he also teaches. Gates lives and works in Chicago.

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