DOUGLAS — Artist Theaster Gates is adding to his long list of projects with a new idea for an art center in a former police station.
Gates was at Monday’s 4th Ward meeting at Dunbar Career Academy looking for public support to revive the police station at 29th Street and Prairie Avenue as a $7.5 million arts center.
“Our hope is this will be part of our next three years of placemaking," Gates said.
The station closed in 2012 as part of a cost-saving consolidation by the Chicago Police Department that combined the Prairie and Wentworth districts.
Gates said he imagines it reopened as a place for artists who work in ceramics, metalwork, glass and other materials that would be an artistic complement to Dunbar’s focus on developing skills for students who want to be tradesmen.
“If we can get that started, it’s very easy to imagine jewelry classes,” Gates said.
The audience was largely supportive, but questioned Gates on how Bronzeville’s history and the community’s relationship with police would be incorporated into the project.
Gates said neither would be overtly part of the project, and both ideas would be better addressed through the art created in the building rather than the building itself.
“Simply reactivating the building feels like a step in the right direction,” Gates said.
Ald. Sophia King (4th) said she was initially supportive of the idea, but wanted to get a chance to discuss Gates’ plans in detail first and see how the community reacted before giving Gates the city-owned building.
“Theaster has a great track record in the city, and I would have to have him come into the community,” King said.
Gates said after the meeting that he's interested in the relationship between African-American communities and police, and he also wants to create a place for Bronzeville residents to have the conversations they want to have.
He brought up the gazebo where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot by police in 2014 in Cleveland while playing with a pellet gun. The gazebo was taken down last week and shipped to Chicago for Gates to use at his Stony Island Arts Bank or another location.
Gates said his Rebuild Foundation received the gazebo on Monday and it's going into storage for repairs while he talks to the community about how to best display it.
There are no plans for the gazebo to be part of the former police station or any other project he is working on, Gates said.
The city approached him about the old police station when it was clear the Stony Island Arts Bank would open, he said. His successful conversion of the former bank at 6760 S. Stony Island Ave. legitimized to many people his efforts to revive dilapidated buildings on the South Side as art centers, Gates said.
Gates said the city approached him more than a year ago with a long list of places it wanted to find new uses for and asked him to pick locations he wanted to work on.
Some of those spots are now part of a $10.25 million project sponsored by four major foundations to revive buildings in Grand Crossing and Garfield Park.
Gates said he wanted to include the police station in that project to revive former civic buildings with the arts, but was unable to get the city approvals cleared in time because Ald. Will Burns (4th) resigned in February.
He said the police station could still be reopened in three or four years, and he will raise the money separate from his other projects.
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