If you’re in town for the Chicago Architecture Biennial, be sure to visit the newly-opened Stony Island Arts Bank, a formerly derelict 1923 bank structure on Chicago’s South Side that has been transformed into a spectacular center for exhibitions, artist residencies, and the preservation of archival collections of black culture. The building’s rebirth was made possible by artist Theaster Gates’ Rebuild Foundation, which has renovated three other buildings in the area as part of its program of “culturally driven redevelopment.”
The Arts Bank’s opening, said Gates, offers the Biennial “a way of understanding that great things can happen anywhere if we make the investment.” In this case Gates (who bought the building from the city for $1 and then raised hundreds of thousands for its renovation) worked with his team of architects, bringing out the character of each room organically. Some parts were restored, others left as-is, and others made new. “If you’re patient with the program, the building has so much to offer,” said Gates.
The heart of that program, outside of amazing rooms for artists and scholars, is the storage and display of the extensive archives of the Johnson Publishing Company, which printed black lifestyle magazines like Ebony and Jet. That collection is housed in a cavernous 2nd floor library whose books seem to reach to the sky. In other rooms and hallways you can see the Frankie Knuckles collection of the “godfather of black house music: and the Edward J. Williams Collection of more than 60,000 glass lantern slides.
On display in the first floor gallery is an appropriately makeshift (and beautiful) installation by Portuguese artist Carlos Bunga. Other Rebuild Foundation buildings include Black Cinema House (also home to Gates’ studio), the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative, and Dorchester Projects.