Chicago artist’s Dorchester project, a hybrid art museum and cultural center
Theaster Gates and its mission to restore the Stony Island Arts Bank building – and more
CHICAGO — Theaster Gates has been called a Renaissance man. He is behind the restoration of an architectural gem in the city’s South Shore district that had been scheduled for the wrecking ball. A building that many of you have probably walked through hundreds of times. It is now a hybrid art museum and cultural center for all to enjoy.
Gates is not an architect. He is a world-renowned artist and urban planner whose mission is to bring back the beautiful architecture and culture of our black community, one building at a time.
Gates grew up on the West Side. And from childhood, he began to appreciate architecture and his passion for turning trash into treasure.
His “Dorchester Project” is a series of buildings that were to be demolished. Gates bought them and brought them back to life.
Retreat at Currency Exchange is just one of the buildings. It’s a reimagined cafe in Washington Park built to be a haven for artists who can’t find work or who escape the racial inequalities of the industry. It is also a place where the community can escape.
But the crown and glory of the Dorchester project at present is the Stony Island Arts Bank building.
It is located at 69and Street and South Stony Island Avenue, close to the future site of the Obama Library. It is a monster of alabaster architecture that seems to belong to the ruins of ancient Rome.
It sat vacant for generations, until Gates bought the building from Mayor Rahm Emanuel for a dollar.
A magnificent museum awaits you inside. From its carefully preserved ceilings to its one-of-a-kind historical art collections.
More information at
Rebuild the foundation
A floor-to-ceiling library houses more than 15,000 books from the “Ebony” and “Jet” archives of Johnson Publishing, the legendary black-owned company founded by John and Eunice Johnson in 1942.
And upstairs, the Edward J Williams collection of “Negrobilia” contains 6,500 pieces.
But the collections don’t stop there. Also on display is the collection of autographed albums and handwritten notes from legendary House Music DJ Frankie Knuckles.
But Gates has not forgotten the exhibitions and collections of promising young Chicago artists. He believes he is committed to creating a gateway to other artists to achieve greatness.
And I hope they will respond in kind.
The Stony Island Arts Bank will be open Thursday through Sunday all winter, 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Suggest a fix