An Arts Incubator Opens to Revive a Dead Corner in Washington Park

Artist Theaster Gates spoke this morning as the University of Chicago opened the new gallery, performance, and workshop space.

Photograph: michael tercha / chicago tribune

The brand new Arts Incubator at the University of Chicago opened this morning. Accolades are already pouring in, including from Michelle Boone, the city commissioner for the arts. Both Boone and arist Theaster Gates, who spearheaded the project, celebrated the opening of the new arts incubator space just west of Washington Park this morning.

“Four years ago, I rode the train up to Milwaukee with Theaster,” Boone said in remarks. She pointed to Theaster Gates, who sat behind her on the stage clad in a sleek beige suit jacket. “He was in gray, thrift store sweater and torn jeans. And look at him now! This is what the arts can do for you!”

Gates, who serves as the director of Arts + Public Life at the University, led the charge for the new space which houses artist residents, art classes, community-based projects, exhibitions, and performances. UChicago invested $1.85 million in the new space and Artplace kicked in another $400,000. Gates has big plans for the space, including over 10,000 square feet of performance and gallery space, as well as spots for five artists-in-residence.

The airy, bright, vibrant building stands on the corner of Prairie Avenue and Garfield. The corner, according to Alderman Pat Dowell, “had been dead for a very long time.” It may be a University building, or as Dowell put it a “big elephant” building in a “small elephant” neighborhood, but the space has got Gates’s name written all over. From the big open rooms to one of his tapestries on the back wall (some of which sold for over $100,000 at Expo last fall), the arts incubator feels a lot like a dressed up Dorchester Projects (Gates’s creative placemaking project in Greater Grand Crossing).

As Gates’ himself put it, “Artists are key to the expansion of cultural opportunities in places like this. This place is where change is going to happen…For those that live in other parts of the city, you’re going to miss out!”

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