October 14, 2016

Theaster Gates, UofC Collaboration Gets $5 Million

A $5 million grant announced last month will allow a University-related urban development collaboration to accelerate several projects on Chicago’s South and West Sides. 

Chicago Arts + Industry Commons (CAIC) received the grant from Reimagining the Civic Commons. A collaboration between Theaster Gates’s Rebuild Foundation, the University, and Space Fund, CAIC aims to leverage the arts and culture to promote urban development. CAIC will target the funds at three initiatives, aiming to foster a network of revitalized spaces in economically distressed neighborhoods. 

In the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood on the South Side, the site of the defunct St. Laurence Catholic School will be transformed into an arts education center. Nearby, CAIC is piecing 13 vacant plots of land into a community green space called Kenwood Gardens. On the city’s West Side, old horse stables and a former power station are being turned into an industrial arts hub neighboring the Garfield Park Conservatory. 

CAIC envisions a network of projects that will create momentum for reinvestment in neglected areas. 

“It’s hard to have one single public asset really bear the burden of having to spark adjacent development in a community when it’s been disinvested for years and years,” said Lori Berko, chief operations officer of the University of Chicago’s Place Lab. 

Reimagining the Civic Commons, the grantee, is a partnership between the JPB Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. The partnership aims to counter the economic and social fragmentation in cities through improved public spaces. In addition to Chicago, the partnership has awarded grants to Akron, Detroit, Memphis, and Philadelphia.  

CAIC’s pilot project, the Stony Island Arts Bank, opened in October 2015 as a community arts center. Once the site of a savings and loan bank, the neoclassical building had deteriorated into a state of disrepair since abandonment in the 1980s. Gates’s Rebuild Foundation purchased the building for one dollar from the city in 2012 to begin redevelopment. Adjacent to St. Laurence School and Kenwood Gardens, the bank will headquarter CAIC as the collaboration embarks on the next expansion of its revitalization network.