Almost two years ago, my colleagues Cassie Walker Burke and Elly Fishman profiled local artist Theaster Gates, who was at the time preparing for his first big solo exhibition in his hometown, which ran for five months at the MCA. His rise was fast—from a solo show at the Hyde Park Arts Center to a career-making turn at the 2010 Whitney Biennial, which raised his profile to an international level.
But in the meantime, the East Garfield Park native was investing his increasing renown (and wealth) right outside his front door in Grand Crossing on the city’s South Side, buying up some of the area’s ample abandoned property and transforming it into mixed-use arts centers. It was a synthesis of his life: the son of a roofer, educated in urban planning, with a burgeoning art career, winding those threads into a connective tissue across the neighborhood.
Gates’s ambitions have only continued to grow, and this month he was given a big stage on which to present them—the TED conference (technology, entertainment, design). He draws that thread from the tar kettle he inherited from his elderly father, to the art that it served as a foundation for, to the community-encompassing planning he’s building upon his art.