Professor Theaster Gates, a distinguished Chicago-based artist and professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University, is leading a new joint venture between the UChicago Arts and Public Life initiative and the Harris School of Public Policy Studies’ Cultural Policy Center.
This merging of the Arts and Public Life initiative and the Cultural Policy Center will fuse the former’s creative place-based practices and the latter’s commitment to cultural policy and evidence-based analysis. Gates’s team of experts, Place Lab, will use arts and culture oriented, place-based projects to promote neighborhood transformation on the mid-South Side of Chicago.
“The work undertaken by the new partnership will help inform public policy and development decisions made by local, state, federal, and international policymakers, while also training the next generation of policy leaders to create more vibrant, people-centered, artist-led cities,” said Ronia Holmes, assistant director of communications for the Arts and Public Life initiative.
Place Lab and the Harris School collaborated before on ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen, a partner project currently underway in Indiana that is “repurposing an underutilized space in downtown Gary as a culinary incubator and café” to reinvigorate the city and create jobs.
Much of Place Lab’s Chicago-based work has focused on supporting and documenting Gates’s expanded work in two of Chicago’s South Side communities, Washington Park and the Greater Grand Crossing. “The partnership not only continues this type of community-focused, ethical social practice right here at home, but also elevates Chicago’s global profile. It is our aim that the new partnership will reveal a new kind of process for mindful city building, while providing access points for scholars, residents, artists, and practitioners of all sorts,” Holmes said in an e-mail.
The expanded Place Lab will also promote public assemblies, private conferences, and leadership development for professionals exploring the important function of arts and culture in the successful reshaping of urban neighborhoods.
Gates is the founder of the nonprofit Rebuild Foundation, which aims to reconstruct the cultural infrastructures of underinvested neighborhoods. Gates’s previous space-development projects include an art collection in a former bank building and an arts bookstore in Washington Park.