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Theaster Gates

Dorchester Projects

Chicago, US

2009 -- ongoing


Since 2009, Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates has created a breath of possibilities by transforming and expanding a group of 30 abandoned buildings into a cultural and social space for the community in his best known work, Dorchester Projects[1]

Among the buildings of Dorchester Projects, the main focus is the Stony Island Arts Bank, which was built in 1923 and remained vacant and deteriorating since the 1980s when it closed. Gates purchased it for $1 from the city government, and he renovated it into a space for the neighbourhood community. It is now a gallery, media archive, library, and community centre. It also holds a number of collections that would not otherwise be possible to retain, including:  


  • 50,000 books and periodicals donated by the Johnson Publishing Company, publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines

  • 60,000 slides of art and architectural history from the Paleolithic to Modern eras;

  • 4,000 objects of “negrobilia”—mass cultural objects and artifacts that feature stereotypical images of black people.


Reopened in October 2015, the radically restored building serves as a space for neighbourhood residents to preserve, access, reimagine, and share their heritage—and a destination for artists, scholars, curators, and collectors to research and engage with South Side history.[2]


This is not simply an urban regeneration project but a complete step change from bottom up, and one that took years of commitment to achieve. In 2009, Gates founded the Rebuild Foundation. In attempt to revitalise his hometown after the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008, he began by purchasing a disused two-storey building in South Side Chicago and renovated it into a multi-functional space by making use of repurposed scrap materials in the nearby neighbourhood. Each of the spaces has a different theme. The Archive House shelves 14,000 books from a closed-down bookstore, and the Listening Room holds an inventory of 8,000 vinyl records from a former record store. 

Through these projects, Gates has gradually brought changes to the area by reactivating the sites and engaging people’s imaginations in the living environment, in which the entire strategy is based upon hope. In a 2015 article in The Guardian, Tim Adams writes about Gates that “through his practice, the first ‘strategy of hope’ lies in a philosophy of pride in things done well, made well, but also in the principle or metaphor of always, always finding use for what seems discarded or broken or abandoned, make do and mend at the scale of the object and also at the scale of the city.”[3]


What is also noteworthy is that how Gates developed a financing model for these projects. Over the years, he has used his influence in the art world to channel money from the high-end art market to the community. Gates was ranked by ArtReview among the top thirty most influential people in the contemporary art world in 2018.[1] As a leading figure in the art world, his work is able to fetch a very high price in the art market. By selling artwork made from scrap materials from renovation projects, he was able to fund and expand the project by purchasing new properties in the neighbourhood, which led to a term that he developed known as “circular ecological system.” This financing model proved instrumental to the success of his projects, as evidenced by the subsequent interventions and commissions by the local authority.

[1] Hilarie M. Sheets. “Using Discards to Build Art (and Rebuild a City).” New York Times [online], 2017.


[2] Rebuild Foundation. “Stony Island Arts Bank,” 2019.


[3] Tim Adams. “Chicago Artist Theaster Gates: 'I’m hoping Swiss bankers will bail out my flooded South Side bank in the name of art.'” The Guardian [online], 2015.


[4] ArtReview. “Power 100” [online], 2018.

自2009年,特斯特·蓋茨(Theaster Gates)知名的作品《多徹斯特計劃》(Dorchester Projects),就改造了社區內的30個廢棄建築,發展成文化和社交空間。 (Sheets 2017)石島藝術銀行(Stone Island Arts Bank)在這些建築物中成為在焦點,建於1923年,自80年代關閉以來一直空置、受到破壞。蓋茨從市政府以$1美元的價格購買大廈,並將其改造成了一個社區空間,現在已成為圖庫、媒體檔案、圖書館和社區中心的混合體,甚至擁有一些本來無法保留的館藏,包括:

  • 由莊臣(Johnson)出版社(Ebony和Jet雜誌的出版商)捐贈的50,000本書籍和期刊;

  • 從舊石器時代到現代的60,000幅藝術和建築歷史圖片;

  • 4,000件「negrobilia」(此字由negro和memorabilia合併而成,意指與黑人有關的通俗紀念品)展品,大量製造的文化產物,塑造黑人的刻板印象。


這經過徹底修復後,這座建築於2015年10月重新開放,是當地社區居民保存、獲取、重新構想和分享文化遺產的空間 ;也是藝術家、學者、策展人和收藏家研究和接觸南區歷史的地點。 (重建基金會2019)

這不僅僅是一個城市重建項目,而是一個自下而上、經過多年策劃才能實現的計劃。2009年,蓋茨成立了重建基金會(Rebuild Foundation)。2008年次貸危機後,他致力振興他的家鄉,在芝加哥南區購買一棟廢棄的2層樓房,並回收再利用附近街區的廢料,將其改造成多功能空間。每個空間都有不同的主題。檔案館收藏了一家倒閉的書店的14,000本書籍;聆聽室收藏了一家倒閉的唱片店的8,000張唱片。(Mohamoud 2015)



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