In 2012, publicly-minded artist Theaster Gates purchased (for $1!) what was previously Stony Island Trust & Savings Bank from the City of Chicago. The preservation of this decrepit landmark–– built in 1923–– was, from the beginning, a way of acknowledging and recycling locales within the Chicago black community’s history.
“When he acquired the building, it was much more about preserving this emblem of the middle-class black community in these neighborhoods—this symbol of the middle class and the Great Migration of the African American community that grew in these neighborhoods,” Ken Stewart, the CEO of Gates’s nonprofit organization Rebuild, said.
The project developed into the Stony Island Bank Arts Bank, and the building became a place with new import for contemporary art:
“This is a new kind of cultural amenity, a new kind of institution—a hybrid gallery, media archive and library, and community center,” Gates said in a statement. “It is an institution of and for the South Side—a repository for African American culture and history, a laboratory for the next generation of black artists and culture-interested people; a platform to showcase future leaders—be they painters, educators, scholars, or curators.”
The site now hosts community workshops and artist residencies, The archives of this renovated, community-based art gallery hold now 4,000 objects of ‘negrobilia”, mass-cultural artifacts with stereotypical portrayal of black people, a collection of the magazines Jet and Ebony, and an extensive vinyl collection chronicling black musicians throughout recent history.
Read more about the Arts Bank and their involvement today on the Rebuild website here.
Greenberger, Alex. “Theaster Gates Ambitious New Chicago Arts Center Will Open in October“. Art News. 11 Aug 2015.
Harris, Melissa. “First look inside Theaster Gates’ new Stony Island Arts Bank“. Chicago Tribune. 4 Sep 2015.