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Rebuilding Chicago

An innovative project that is redefining how we look at urban spaces and reinforcing the transformative power of art.

Theaster Gates, Founder of Rebuild Foundation
Theaster Gates, Founder of Rebuild Foundation

Rebuild Foundation was founded in 2009 by artist and social innovator Theaster Gates. Founded with the intent to empower communities and support emerging artists, the Rebuild Foundation is a platform for art, cultural development, and neighborhood transformation.

The foundation is part of a network of organizations created to uplift the South Side of Chicago. Their vision is based on using art and culture for progress and development.

“Our mission is to demonstrate the impact of innovative, ambitious, and entrepreneurial cultural initiatives and is enriched by three core values: Black people matter, Black spaces matter, and Black objects matter.” -Theaster Gates

The foundation empowers the community through different initiatives by providing free art programs, creating new cultural spaces, and developing affordable housing, studios, and work spaces for the community of South Side Chicago. They restore old historical buildings to create new community spaces, blowing life into old forgotten places and inspiring the potential within the community. 

The face behind the foundation

Theaster Gates is a potter by training and a social activist by vocation. Just like his pottery, Gates enjoys shaping things and the process of turning nothing into something beautiful. His works focus on sculpture, performance, and urban planning and preservation.

An international award-winning artist and professor at the University of Chicago in the visual arts department, Gates is a visionary in redefining how we look at urban spaces that serve our communities. The way that Gates blends art & culture with social practice shows us that there are multiple perspectives we can use to look at community engagement and how we connect with art. There’s something quite poetic about reutilizing spaces that are damaged and forgotten by time in hopes of lifting areas that are often damaged and forgotten by society. 

Theaster Gates, a potter by training & a social activist by vocation
Theaster Gates, a potter by training & a social activist by vocation

Stony Island Arts Bank

Stony Island Arts Bank, Chicago by Rebuild Foundation
Stony Island Arts Bank, Chicago

One of the first projects of the Rebuild Foundation was the Stony Islands Arts Bank. An abandoned old bank built in the early 1920s that was restored and repurposed to serve the community of South Side Chicago.

A multi-purpose space for art and cultural events, it is used today by local artists and members of the community. It includes an archive collection with a vast variety of media, such as a collection of over 60,000 glass lantern slides covering art and architectural history throughout times and books and publications from the African American Publisher, Johnson Publishing Company, with copies dated since the 1940s.

It also includes the personal vinyl collection of Frankie Knuckles, known as the godfather of house music, and the Edward J. Williams Collection, a selection of over 4,000 items of stereotypical images of Black people throughout history. They also host programs like the Arts Bank cinema, a free weekly cinema screening of African American films, and exhibitions from local artists. A place where art, culture, and community meet, promoting engagement between the three parts and allowing residents to access, expand and share their creativity, knowledge, and history.

Dorchester Art and Housing Collaborative (DAHC)

Dorchester Art and Housing Collaborative by Rebuild Foundation
Dorchester Art and Housing Collaborative
Dorchester Art and Housing Collaborative by Rebuild Foundation
Dorchester Art and Housing Collaborative

Another project of the foundation, in partnership with Brinshore Developers, architects Landon, Bone, Baker, and the Chicago Housing Authority, is based on the idea of creating a living space for locals. In hopes of responding to the continuous abandonment of the neighborhoods in South Side Chicago due to extreme poverty, the project comprised 32 housing units, including a shared space for theater and dance, aimed at residents that receive low-income housing support in the area.

On his website, Gates reflects on the importance of these types of interventions, “As a life practitioner, the possible interventions and engagements are endless. Rather than only intervening with these subjective, museum-based projects, I had to try to do something that had weight in concrete space; black space. While it remains one of the least discussed projects of my practice, DAHC is one of the most relevant and fulfilling for me.”

Experimental Design Lab

Hoping to impact the fashion and design industry, the Experimental Design Lab project was built in 2021 from a partnership between Prada, the Rebuild Foundation, and Dorchester Industries, a design and manufacturing platform from Gates.

The idea with the Experimental Design lab was to support emerging designers of color from Chicago and beyond by expanding their visibility, promoting mentorship and collaboration, as well as building a network of important connections that could potentially support and enhance the works of these artists. From a variety of areas, from fashion to dance, to product design, to culinary arts, the participants of the project were nominated based on their creative potential in their industries. This project is an 18-month fellowship where the participants receive financial and leadership support for their creations.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribute, Gates reinforced the need for projects such as the Experimental Design Lab,

“For too long, there has been an evident pipeline and visibility barrier for designers of color working across the creative industries, and the Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab not only challenges the notion that Black talent is hard to identify but also serves as an inescapable answer to it. It is a tremendous honor to be able to celebrate, support, and amplify the work of these designers working to enrich our collective understanding of and interactions with design.”

Experimental Design Lab by Rebuild Foundation
Experimental Design Lab
Experimental Design Lab by Rebuild Foundation
Experimental Design Lab

How you can support the foundation

Two people in the studio looking at the art
People in the Studio
Art wall with 10 frames of paintings
Wall art

The Rebuild Foundation is currently working on its biggest project so far, the transformation of a former elementary school in Chicago into a new Arts Incubator space. A 40,000 square foot building set to open in 2023 that will include classrooms and co-working spaces and will offer different programs, MasterClasses, feature art exhibitions, and create a multi-purpose space that will allow people to learn new skills and crafts, learn about entrepreneurship and how to create a business. 

To support the Rebuild Foundation, you can donate on their website: and contribute toward initiatives that have a powerful impact on the community, culturally, socially, and economically.


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