HYDE PARK — Artist Theaster Gates was awarded $3.5 million from the Knight Foundation Thursday morning to support his work using the arts to revitalize communities.
"From my artistic practice, I learned early on that art has the capacity to change people's perceptions — not only about a concept or an idea, but also about a place,” Gates said in a statement released by the university Thursday morning.
"What I've tried to do is leverage my understanding of art and how people view art to help them reimagine what can happen in poor neighborhoods.”
Gates is an artist now well known for his work turning vacant buildings in struggling Midwestern cities into places for the arts. As director of arts and public life at the University of Chicago, Gates helped create the university’s Arts Incubator at 301 E. Garfield Blvd.
"Theaster’s work on the South Side of Chicago has created neighborhoods that attract talent, bring people of different backgrounds together and foster spaces where ideas are exchanged,” said Carol Coletta, Knight Foundation vice president of community and national initiatives, in a prepared statement.
"It is a model that we want to scale, as a remarkable example of how smart and even modest interventions that lead with community engagement can spark new interest in disinvested neighborhoods.”
The grant will support the creation of the Place Project in a second-floor office space above a cafe Gates has planned at 305 E. Garfield Blvd. The project will serve as an incubator where neighborhood residents will come together with artists, designers and urban planners to work on revitalization projects through art.
Renovation of the university-owned space will start later this month and wrap up in November, according to the university. The cafe is not a University of Chicago project.
Once complete, the project will add more slots for artists' residencies and bolster arts education.