A Chicago born and raised African-American social practice artist Theaster Gates (born 1973), of whom a leading British art critic said ‘is the most enterprising individual I ever met’, represents a radical new economic model. He finds worthless materials (broken floorboards, chipped concrete blocks, old fire hoses) in decaying buildings, cleans, frames and sells them to rich art collectors for a lot of money.
Then, he re-invests that money back into buying and renovating the old buildings. Now owning a couple of streets in a poor deprived area of Chicago (some houses Gates bought for $1 (Sh100), he turns his buildings into top-class cultural centres, libraries, cinemas and art schools.
“An artist’s power,” Theaster says, “isn’t in the ability to monetise a moment, but in the capacity to change the world.” Calling his projects a ‘gut-rehab’, Theaster wants to provide an economic and social catalyst for his under-invested community. A one-man regeneration scheme, a cultural entrepreneur, a ‘Robin Hood’ of the artworld, Gates’s unique art, he says, is “to counter the acts of destruction with the acts of creation”.
Alla Tkachuk is the founder of Mask School for Creativity and Innovation. Email: [email protected]