Theaster Gates joins Colby community, accepts 3 year contract

Colby Echo (Charlotte Marratta)

Gates’ piece “Stony Island” (courtesy of Google)

Prominent Chicago artist Theaster Gates, known for his innovation and engagement with social and urban issues, has been appointed the first Distinguished Visiting Artist and Director of Artist Initiates at the Lunder Institute for American Art at Colby. This decision comes on the heels of plans for the new downtown arts center last month, and is a move that the College is making to increase Waterville’s engagement with art, hoping to make Waterville a premier destination for creativity.

Gates is a successful social practice installation artist, and aims to use art to enhance communities. In the past couple of years he has established himself as one of the world’s biggest stars in the fine arts. His work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Whitney Biennial, and the National Gallery of Art. Gates uses his artistic vision to turn run-down buildings into art, creating an aesthetic intersection between art, urban development and finance.

Economics major and art minor Devin Mullaney ’18 is thrilled that such an influential artist will be coming to Colby. “When he came to speak at Colby I was really interested in a project he talked about involving a bank. Gates transformed the inside of a bank into a beautiful space and explained how this would help develop the blocks surrounding the bank and help to enhance the overall status of the South Side of Chicago. As someone interested in both art and economics, Gates’ appointment is particularly exciting,” Mullaney said. The bank of which Mullaney is referencing is an incredible story, as he purchased it from the city for just $1 and flipped it into a gallery and community center that holds valuble resources for study of black history. His work far extends past the success of the bank as he and his team have rebuilt over 75,000 square feet of unwanted commercial space and turned them into a valuble area.

In 2017, Gates visited Colby for a four-day residency at the Lunder Institute. During his stay, Gates spoke in a variety of different classes and as the Lunder Institute for American Art’s inaugural speaker on Sept. 19.“I think it’s great that he’s coming here,” art history major John Egner ’18 said. “He has a lot of experience in artistic urban development and I think that’s something that Waterville would really benefit from right now.” Gates visited Egner’s class, “Art, Community, and Ethical Urban Development,” in the fall of last year, and accompanied the class on a tour of Waterville’s South End. Later in the course, Gates traveled with a number of students to Chicago to give them the opportunity to see his projects firsthand. Julia Grady ’20, also a student in “Art, Community, and Ethical Urban Development,” is very excited Gates will be returning to Colby, and commented, “When Gates entered our classroom, it became a brainstorming arena brimming with charm. He asked questions to help read his crowd, generated ideas amongst the group, and told stories that would spark inspiration beyond that class period.”

As the director of artist initiatives, Gates will work to bring artists and intellectuals to Colby, providing students and faculty with unprecedented opportunities. “We feel immensely fortunate to be able to bring Theaster Gates to Colby, to help us realize the ambitious mission of the new Lunder Institute for American Art,” Colby President David A. Greene said in a recent press release. Gates will reside at Colby for the next three years. In the near future, he will be setting up a studio downtown where he can continue his work, organizing art events for the summer and delivering the baccalaureate address on May 26 for the class of 2018. In 2021, the Colby College Museum of Art plans to install an exhibition of the work Gates creates throughout his time at the College.