Theaster Gates by Jason SchmidtPhoto by Jason Schmidt

Theaster Gates, center


An uncommon artist

Richman Distinguished Fellow Theaster Gates' culture-based, artist-led movement is revitalizing neglected public spaces

Chicago-based artist and social activist Theaster Gates, whose innovative art practice and urban interventions bridge the gap between art and everyday life, has been named the 2015-16 Fred and Rita Richman Distinguished Fellow in Public Life.

Interim President Lisa M. Lynch will award Gates the Richman Fellowship on March 23, at 4 p.m., in the Wasserman Cinematheque, Sachar International Center. Following the ceremony, Gates will give a presentation titled "A Cursory Sermon on Art and the City" on his urban development work, which illustrates his love and concern for cities, particularly for spaces that relate to black art and culture. During his residency, March 21-24, Gates will visit classes and give an informal talk at Rosebud, the Rose Art Museum's satellite gallery in downtown Waltham.

Theaster Gates: Brandeis Residency Highlights

Richman Fellowship Award Ceremony and Presentation
March 23, 4 p.m.
Wasserman Cinematheque, Sachar International Center

Video: Gone are the Days of Shelter and Martyr (2014)
March 3-April 3
683 Main St., Waltham

For a complete schedule of residency activities, visit Brandeis Events.

"Theaster Gates has a remarkable track record of creating art that is profound and socially significant,"says Lynch. "Across campus, we look forward to hearing his insights and views when he comes to Brandeis."

An internationally acclaimed artist, professor at the University of Chicago, and the Wall Street Journal's Arts Innovator of the Year in 2012, Gates could have been content to be an esteemed member of the elite global art world. Instead, he has chosen to devote his life to public service and to use his art for the common good. Gates invented an innovative art practice that advances creative, long-term social and cultural interactions in previously neglected public spaces. In the process, he has also opened up new ways of perceiving and conceiving the nexus between art and life, ethics and aesthetics.

"All my life I've been asking questions about how spaces can be better than they are,and what individuals can do alongside systems, governmental systems or whatever, to have an impact in a place," he told The New York Times in 2015.

Gates' endeavors create communal spaces of engagement and social responsibility that foster both quotidian changes and deep political transformations. He has described his practice as a "critique through collaboration," working with architects, researchers and performers to create projects that redefine accepted notions of art and re-imagine what art can be.

One noteworthy example is the ongoing Dorchester Project. In 2006, Gates purchased an abandoned building on Chicago's South Side, and collaborating with a team of architects and designers, gutted and refurbished the building using various found and recycled materials. This building and several more in its vicinity have become a hub for cultural activity, housing a book and record library and creating a venue for communal meals, concerts and performances. Gates describes this project as "real estate art," part of a "circular ecological system" that is financed entirely by the sale of sculpture and artwork that were created from the materials salvaged from the interiors of the revamped structures.

The Richman Fellowship recognizes individuals active in public life whose contributions have had a significant impact on improving American society, strengthening democratic institutions, advancing social justice or increasing opportunities for all citizens. Past winners include civil rights activist Julian Bond and PolicyLink founder Angela Glover Blackwell. The award was created by Brandeis alumna Dr. Carol Richman Saivetz '69 and her children, Michael Saivetz '97 and Aliza Saivetz Glasser '01, in honor of Carol's parents, Fred and Rita Richman.

— This story, which was originally published in the spring 2016 issue of State of the Arts magazine, appears here courtesy of the Office of the Arts.