Chicago Architecture Biennial 2015. Artist, urban planner and social activist Theaster Gates Jr. founder of non-profit Rebuild Foundation gave new life to an abandonded bank crumbling away for decades in a low-income neighbourhood of Chicago. The Stony Island Arts Bank has now became an art center with a focus on black culture.
Theaster Gates Jr. says: “Chicago has a history of discrimination, segregation and racism against black and brown people. Stony Island Arts Bank aims to become an institution of and for the South Side districts, a repository for African American culture as well as a laboratory for the next generation of black artists and culture-interested people”.
Designed by William Gibbons Uffendell and built in 1923, the bank at 68th Street and Stony Island Avenue was once a vibrant neighborhood hub but had fallen into disrepair by the 1980s, remaining vacant for decades.
Non-profit Rebuild Foundation by Theaster Gates Jr. bought the over 17.000 square-feet building from the City of Chicago for just 1$ and has independently raised substantial funds in support of the architectural renovations. The thoughtfully restored venue serves now as a space for neighborhood residents to preserve, access, re-imagine and share their heritage.
The Stony Island Arts Bank hosts site-specific cultural events and scholar residentships. In conjunction with the first Chicago Architecture Biennial, the building opened with an installation by Portuguese artist Carlos Bunga and a new courtyard designed by Mexican architect Frida Escobedo.
“This is a new kind of cultural amenity, a hybrid gallery, media archive and library, and community center. A platform to showcase future leaders – be they painters, educators, scholars, or curators” comments Theaster Gates, Jr.
Indeed, the Stony Island Arts Bank guests the collection of Edward J. and Ana J. Williams featuring “negrobilia” dating from the Civil War era to the present. The collection was acquired in an attempt to remove offensive materials and stereotypical images of black diaspora from circulation.
The venue hosts also the vinyl collection of iconic producer, remixer and DJ Frankie Knuckles, one of the first to master the art of mixing records. The extensive vinyl collection of the so-called Godfather of house music will be activated through artist commissions, scholarly residencies, and youth DJ workshops.
The art centre will also serve as the home to several prominent collections including: the Johnson Publishing Company’s archives and more than 60,000 glass lantern slides donated by the University of Chicago and School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Photos: courtesy of Chicago Architecture Biennale.