On September 14th, 2016, the Akron Museum of Art hosted a musical performance, “A Cultural Revival,” featuring Theaster Gates and two members of the Black Monks of Mississippi. The experimental ensemble Gates has put together combines elements of Eastern, gospel an soulful blues influence. Theaster Gates is an artist who works in a disparate practice that combines skills in urban planning, architecture, community organizing and building, activism and ceramics. The Akron Art Museum’s programming with Gates is part of their “ongoing initiative to inspire new relationships between organizations and community members, and create enhanced social, cultural and economic opportunities through art experience.”
Theaster Gates was in Akron to speak at the The Akron Roundtable on “The Importance of an Artist as an Entrepreneur.” The event was co-sponsored by the Akron Art Museum, Downtown Akron Partnership and GAR Foundation. You can download this talk from the Akron Roundtable website: https://www.akronroundtable.org/speakers/theaster-gates/3203
The following review of the performance is a re-post from CoolCleveland.org by Anastasia Pantsios.
The trio entered through the audience to launch its hour-long performance, which opened with Gates taping to the floor large sheets of paper with handwritten words and short phrases, the sort of thing produced by brainstorming group workshops.
The performance itself featured some traditional soul and gospel harmonizing, mingling with spoken word and the use of sounds such as humming, moaning, chanting and droning. Although it was largely a vocal performance, it also featured some cello playing from member Khari Lemuel.
Gates also moved around the performance area, interacting in different ways with the other two members, busting out some dance steps and displaying some of the large sheets of paper. The poignancy and beauty of the music offered a contrast to Gates’ lyrics needling of the groupthink processes which often pass for civic and community engagement. At one point, he headed out into the crowd and began to distribute bottles of water to the audience, another standard trope of such civic meetings.
As Gates mentioned during the Q&A following the performance, he’s had some learning to do as far as making his projects a reality. His first major community initiative, the Dorchester Projects, involved buying some homes in the blighted Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood and turning them into artist studios and other informal cultural hubs. He’s gone on to bigger things.
A few years ago, he purchased an old neoclassical-style bank building in the Woodlawn neighborhood from the city for $1 and turned it into the Stony Island Arts Bank, with exhibition space and libraries of African-American literature, art & architecture slides, and vinyl owned by the late house DJ Frankie Knuckles. It opened last fall, hosting the opening event of the first-ever Chicago Architecture Biennial in what was surely the first visit to the south side by many in attendance. And he’s developing an arts incubator in partnership with the University of Chicago where he’s a professor.
And in early September, his Rebuild Foundation received the dismantled gazebo where Tamir Rice was shot at Cleveland’s Cudell Community Center in November 2014. It’s currently in storage for repairs, and he plans to put it on display at the Arts Bank or another location after discussions with the community about how to display it.