Theaster Gates is often referred to by many as a “renaissance man”. He was responsible for the restoration of an architectural treasure in the city’s South Shore area that was scheduled to be destroyed. This is a building that many of us have seen hundreds of times. It is now a cultural and arts center that everyone can enjoy.
Gates isn’t an architect. Gates is an internationally acclaimed artist and urban planner who has a mission to restore the beauty and culture of our Black community’s architecture, one building at a time.
Gates was raised on the West Side. He grew up on the West Side and began to love architecture.
His “Dorchester project” was a collection of buildings that were originally scheduled to be demolished. Gates purchased them and brought them back into existence.
The Retreat at Currency Exchange is one example of many buildings. The cafe is a reimagined Washington Park cafe that was built to provide refuge for artists who are either escaping or struggling to find work. It is also a refuge for the community.
The Stony Island Arts Bank building is currently the crown jewel of the Dorchester project.
It is located at 69th Street, South Stony Island Avenue and a stone’s throw from the future location of the Obama Library. It is a massive piece of alabaster architecture, which looks like it belongs in the ruins of Ancient Rome.
It was vacant for many generations until Gates purchased it from Rahm Emanuel, then the Mayor, for $1.
Inside, you will find a magnificent museum. Its beautifully preserved ceilings and its unique art collection are just a few of the many highlights.
Floor-to-ceiling, the library contains more than 15,000 books from Johnson Publishing’s “Ebony”, and “Jet” archives. This legendary Black-owned business was founded in 1942 by John and Eunice Johnson.
Upstairs, you will find 6,500 pieces in the Edward J Williams collection “Negrobilia”.
The collections aren’t finished. Frankie Knuckles, the legendary House Music DJ, left behind a collection of autographed albums as well as handwritten notes.
Gates also includes exhibits and collections of young Chicago artists. He is determined to help other artists achieve their greatest potential.
They will hopefully respond in kind.
The Stony Island Arts Bank will remain open all winter, from Thursdays through Sundays, at 12 p.m. until 6 p.m.