Theaster Gates: Chicago's Entrepeneurial Artist

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 09:30
Location: Hörsaal 14 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Julia ROTHENBERG, Queensborough Community College, USA
Theaster Gates stands at the crossroads of controversies surrounding arts and neoliberal urban restructuring.  In addition to debates about arts’ use as an instrument of financial speculation; the role of the creative sector and the “university industrial complex” in urban development; arts driven gentrification and the displacement of low-income community residents and the role of non-profits as partners with the urban growth machine, Gates’ (who is himself African American) activities intersect with issues pertaining to race and culture in Chicago, one of the most segregated cities in the United States.

Gates, whose work engages the post-industrial fragment, racism, and the Black experience, is an international art star. He is also the director of Arts + Public Life at the University of Chicago, implementing the university’s goal to create a thriving cultural life in Hyde Park, the Chicago South Side community which was once a center of black life and culture, but, due largely to the university’s “Negro Removal Projects” throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, developed a reputation as a staid academic outpost, surrounded by impoverished black ghettos.

Gates has purchased properties with money from his art sales in the blighted, African American community of Woodlawn just south of the University’s campus, converting them into studio and exhibition spaces and winning acclaim and funding for his “creative place-making” and community revitalization projects.  Residents there continue to battle depopulation, gangs, violence and a steady drain of employment and social services.

My study of the “Gates Phenomenon” deploys participant observation and interviews with members of his organization, university representatives, artists, and other community members to shed light on how discourses concerning the arts, community, heritage, and culture are harnessed to legitimate and push forward economic development and at what costs and benefits to community members such agendas are put into place.