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10 Socially Engaged Art Practitioners to Know: 3. Theaster Gates

Theaster Gates

Theaster Gates was born in Chicago in 1973. He first encountered creativity in the music of Black churches on his journey to becoming an urban planner, potter, and artist. Gates creates sculptures with clay, tar, and renovated buildings, transforming the raw material of urban neighborhoods into radically reimagined vessels of opportunity for the community. Establishing a virtuous circle between fine art and social progress, Gates strips dilapidated buildings of their components, transforming those elements into sculptures that act as bonds or investments, the proceeds of which are used to finance the rehabilitation of entire city blocks.

Gates’s non-profit, Rebuild Foundation, manages the many projects in his Chicago hometown—including the Stony Island Arts Bank, Black Cinema House, Dorchester Art and Housing Collaborative, Archive House, and Listening House—while extending its support to cities throughout the American Midwest. Many of the artist’s works evoke his African-American identity and the broader struggle for civil rights, from sculptures incorporating fire hoses, to events organized around soul food, and choral performances by the experimental musical ensemble Black Monks of Mississippi, led by Gates himself.

Theaster Gates attended Iowa State University (MS, 2006; BS 1996) and University of Cape Town (MA, 1998). Gates’s awards and residencies include the Kurt Schwitters Prize (2017), American Academy of Arts & Sciences Award (2016); Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for Social Progress (2015), Artes Mundi Award (2015), honorary doctorates from the San Francisco Art Institute (2015) and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2014), Knight Foundation Grant (2014), Creative Capital Grant (2012), United States Artists Fellowship (2012), Graham Foundation Grant (2011), and the Joyce Award (2009). Gates has had major exhibitions at Art Gallery of Ontario (2016); Kunsthaus Bregenz (2016); Istanbul Biennial (2015); Venice Biennale (2015); MCA Chicago (2013); Fabric Workshop and Museum (2013); and Documenta (2012), among others. Theaster Gates lives and works in Chicago, IL, USA.

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