The Midwest: if there’s one thing it has in abundance, it’s abandoned buildings that recall a more comfortable economic time.
Such was the case with a 1923 bank designed by architect William Gibbons Uffendell at 68th and Stony Island in Chicago’s South Side. Once a savings and loan building, the bank closed in the 1980s and moldered over the following decades. Chicago artist Theaster Gates, whose social activism is as much a part of his art as his ceramics, purchased the building for $1. Then, with the help of The Rebuild Foundation, Gates transformed the space into an art center that will host site-specific commissions, exhibitions and a media archive. According to Slate, the Stony Island Arts Bank opened this month as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. To raise money for the massive project, Gates removed salvaged marble from the building and carved them into “bank bonds” that were sold at Art Basel in 2013.
Slate states of the project:
“The South Side and the West Side of Chicago are bereft of great cultural institutions in the black space,” Gates told me about the project when I interviewed him for Fast Company last year. “It’s part of an evolving way of reimagining that culture should be central to the way our cities and neighborhoods work.”
In a press release, Gates described the project as “an institution of and for the South Side,” “a repository for African American culture and history, a laboratory for the next generation of black artists,” and “a space for neighborhood residents to preserve, access, reimagine and share their heritage, as well as a destination for artists, scholars, curators, and collectors to research and engage with South Side history.”
The center comes at a time when foundations dedicated to a specific building or artist legacy are having trouble staying afloat. It’s been suggested that such places would benefit from diversifying their offerings to the public and creating programs that expand the fine arts world rather than memorialize it. It will be interesting to see where Theaster and Rebuild go with this project. Hopefully it will inspire other successful artists to use their notoriety to benefit the next generation of creatives.
Bill Rodgers is the General Editor of CFile.
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