Washington Park Arts IncubatorChicago, IL
Led by artist Theaster Gates and University of Chicago, the Washington Park Arts Incubator will serve as a powerful catalyst for neighborhood revitalization by creating a new hub for artistic production and community engagement on Chicagoʼs South Side.
ARTPLACE: What has been the thorniest issue you’ve faced to date?
GATES: Our challenge now is one of communication. It is really important that we are clear about what the Incubator promises to deliver to its varying constituents. At the Incubator’s core is a desire to amplify the practices of artists of color and women, and create a platform for artistic practices to succeed. While the Incubator promises to be an important anchor in the community, it will not be able to solve all of the challenges necessary for a healthy community; the Incubator is a catalyst and not a cure all.
ARTPLACE: How have you tackled these issues head on?
GATES: In this moment, the Arts and Public Life team spends a lot of time with the community and with our internal partners (strategic initiatives, communications, civic engagement, faculty and other departments) consistently stating the goals of the project and its first year’s scope, talking about why culture and art matters and how there is a need for additional initiatives that address issues of health, small business development, housing and jobs. We are working on developing ways to share the stated goals of the space. By consistently communicating our goals and desire to have partners growing with us in this most dynamic moment, I am confident that the next several months will yield an increased public presence, more walk-throughs of the space, small and large group discussions on best uses, and connections with key stake holders and best caterers for all of the fun that will happen once the space opens!
ARTPLACE: Tell us more about your internal process and people.
GATES: It has been amazing to see the tremendous support that the Incubator has received from the varying parts of the University of Chicago. We just created a steering committee that will help us work through communication and fund raising initiatives, unveilings and other forms of outreach. In order to be successful, it requires support from a lot of different departments. These meetings and sometimes very frank conversations help us sharpen our ambition and better share with the larger community. It’s hard to talk about the internal support without talking about our external partners — in Washington Park, there are a number of key leaders who also keep this project sober and connected to real people. From community leaders, to the varying alder-people, to the potential artists and vendors who we hope to eventually attract, the support for the Incubator far outweighs the thorns that sometimes prick us.
PHOTO: Left to right; Kennedy Smith, Walter Hood, and Carol Coletta at Art of Placemaking Conference, November 2012