How to revive a neighbourhood: with imagination beauty and art

August 26, 2021

Released in 2015, Theaster Gates TEDtalk on ‘activating buildings and places through re-imagining their use as cultural hubs’ is a poignant example of the ability creatives and creativity have to offer in making something out of nothing and reshaping cities.

Theaster Gates is a Chicago based artist and community activist working to question and mitigate issues of racial and economic inequality. He began his career studying urban planning, religion, ceramics and city design. His work now bridges the gap between life and art.

In 2009 he started the Dorchester Projects, the renovation of an abandoned two-story property using repurposed materials from all over Chicago to create a library and kitchen. What was a mostly derelict neighbourhood with few public spaces began to attract a community and others from outside, changing the perception and opportunities for the South Side of the city and making room for further development.

In his own words, “Those people that are often passionate about a place are often disconnected from the resources necessary to make cool things happen or disconnected from a contingency of people that can make things happen.”

Through the experience of developing or breathing life back into abandoned buildings in Chicago he has learnt the power of culture and creativity in placemaking and community building. His first building, now known as ‘The Archive House’, has made way for the development of ‘The Listening House’ and ‘Black Cinema House’. All three demonstrate how we can wake up disused buildings using culture, and in turn how this can revive neighbourhoods.

When asked how you could do this on your own Theaster notes that to revive and develop neighbourhoods effectively you must give “…thought not just to the individual project but thinking about the relationship between your project and the organisations and places around it, can you get those organisations and people talking?”

We are working to bring together stakeholders from across property, arts and local government to support artists, creatives and the communities that surround them. We encourage you to watch this TEDtalk and learn more about the power of culture and creativity in community development.