Theaster Gates buys entire bank for $1 and transforms it into ..

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Stony Island Arts Bank

Stony Island Arts Bank, Chicago

Published: October 5, 2019

Last updated:

Introduction

Many people would have no future plans for a bank building that had been abandoned for close to a century. Not Theaster Gates; he saw the crumbling walls, collapsed roof and run down interiors as the perfect canvas. Like other buildings in Chicago that had no hope of ever being used again, the 1920s bank on Chicago’s South Side would most likely have been torn down for modern construction projects.

Stony Island Arts Bank

Stony Island Arts Bank, Chicago, photo: Steve Hall

Stony Island Arts Bank

Stony Island Arts Bank, Chicago, photo: Steve Hall

An entire bank sold to Theaster Gates for $1

Gates had an idea of what he would do to turn around the fate of the building, but no one else could see it. That could have been why the city authorities sold it to him for only $1.00. He acquired the 20,000-square-foot bank for close to nothing. No one would have thought that the building would be valuable again say for the piece of land it stood upon.

Stony Island Arts Bank

Stony Island Arts Bank, Chicago

Stony Island Arts Bank

Stony Island Arts Bank, Chicago, photo: Steve Hall

The Stony Island Arts Bank

After the restoration works were completed, the public was invited to this now new Stony Island Arts Bank. To merge the past and the present, the artist preserved aspects of the sever run-down condition of the building, such as damaged tiles on the ceiling and peeled paint on the walls. Visiting the new Stony Island Arts Bank, one gets the impression that this building has refused to flow with what has come to become known as convention. Once a community bank that offered savings and credit, this bank now sits at the center of a community that is thirsty for bold ideas. Gates offered a gift to his community that was for a long time been the subject that civic leaders would propose but never follow to implementation.

What happens inside of the bank building?

Currently, the Stony Island Arts Bank is used as a venue where site-specific art events are held. Gates must have thought that he was just being creative with an old building, but even he must be amazed by the attention this massive work of art is getting. The property is big enough for people to live in, and some artists actually have their residence there. Here is also where the Rebuild Foundation1 calls home – an organization that was founded by Gates in 2010 with a mission to promote culture and stimulate progress in low income neighborhoods.

Stony Island Arts Bank Interior

Stony Island Arts Bank, Chicago

Installation view of Intention to Know- The Thought Forms of Annie Besant at the Rebuild Foundation’s Stony Island Arts Bank, 2016, photo: Habib Bolat

Installation view of Intention to Know- The Thought Forms of Annie Besant at the Rebuild Foundation’s Stony Island Arts Bank, Chicago, 2016, photo: Habib Bolat

Exhibitions & artworks inside the bank

So, what can you expect to see at the art bank? If you have never set eyes on the vinyl of Frankie Knuckles, here is where to find the archive. At last, you get the chance to unravel where the name “Godfather of House Music,” came from. The bank turned art center is also home to 60,000 lantern slides made of glass that came from the Chicago University. Ever wondered who was behind the Ebony magazine? John H. Johnson, and luckily, all his personal magazines and books can be seen at this destination.

Library inside of Stony Island Arts Bank

Library inside of Stony Island Arts Bank, Chicago

Library inside of Stony Island Arts Bank

Library inside of Stony Island Arts Bank, Chicago, photo: Steve Hall

Stony Island Arts Bank

Stony Island Arts Bank, Chicago

Stony Island Arts Bank

Stony Island Arts Bank, Chicago

All images: Tom Harris/Hedrich Blessing for Theaster Gates/rebuild-foundation.org unless otherwise noted
  1. https://rebuild-foundation.org/
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