Reshaping Community and Culture

The art of physically, socially, and conceptually transforming the world around us

An internationally recognized artist, Theaster Gates is well versed on how to shape materials into meaningful forms. But Gates applies those principles to more than just art …

“If it’s clay, then I have to learn a lot about the minerals that are in the earth. And what happens when two chemicals work together in relationship to heat? How does heat work in relationship to time?”

But, unlike most artists, Gates goes further, into a whole other realm. Just as we learn to reshape clay into pots, he says, we might learn to reshape buildings and neighborhoods into a revitalized urban life.

Artist Theaster Gates turns Chicago’s empty spaces into incubators for culture | PBS NewsHour

Theaster Gates, a potter by training and a social activist by calling … shares his fervent belief that culture can be a catalyst for social transformation in any city, anywhere.

I’m a potter, which seems like a fairly humble vocation. I know a lot about pots. I’ve spent about 15 years making them. One of the things that really excites me in my artistic practice and being trained as a potter is that you very quickly learn how to make great things out of nothing; that I spent a lot of time at my wheel with mounds of clay trying stuff; and that the limitations of my capacity, my ability, was based on my hands and my imagination … that process of learning has been very, very helpful to my life. I feel like, as a potter, you also start to learn how to shape the world.

How to Revive a Neighborhood: With Imagination, Beauty and Art | Theaster Gates

What are the structures by which artists can be really successful at being change makers in a neighborhood? … What we found is that people wanted to be wherever artists were and, that if artists could manage some of that cultural capital that we had, that we could be the real transformers of communities.

Creating Heat – The Artist as Catalyst: Theaster Gates at TEDxUNC | Theaster Gates