Theaster Gates Jr. named Special Advisor to the President for Arts Initiatives

Theaster Gates Jr., professor in the Department of Visual Arts and the College and a world-renowned artist, has been appointed Special Advisor to the President for Arts Initiatives at the University of Chicago.

Gates is a social innovator whose work demonstrates the intricacies of Blackness through space theory, land development, sculpture, and performance. As Special Advisor to the President for Arts Initiatives, reporting to President Paul Alivisatos, he will build partnerships and plan the infrastructure for various arts initiatives, including those located off-campus in the neighboring University community. 

“Theaster is a world-class artist whose practice is situated in a city with a rich cultural legacy and a robust arts community,” Alivisatos said. “I look forward to working with Theaster in this new role as we work to leverage the city’s tradition of artistic excellence and advance arts practice at the University and more broadly.”

Since 2010, Gates has held significant leadership roles at the University of Chicago, including serving as founding Director of Arts + Public Life initiative and as Senior Advisor for Cultural Innovation and Advisor to the Dean at the Harris School of Public Policy. In this new role, he will work closely with David Levin, Senior Advisor to the Provost for Arts, to consider new initiatives and strategize about the role of the arts at the University, and in the University’s relationships across the city and around the world.

“Theaster is a brilliant artist and thinker whose work brings pressing issues into view in ways that are at once penetrating, revelatory and astonishing,” Levin said. “I am so excited to work closely with him on a host of new initiatives that will continue to demonstrate the critical role of the arts at the University of Chicago, across the city and around the world.”

In addition to his work at the University, Gates is founder and artistic director of the not-for-profit Rebuild Foundation, where he has developed an artist-led, community-based platform for art, cultural development and neighborhood transformation. He has raised more than $100 million in local and national support for arts programming, redevelopment efforts and artists grants. Gates’ diversified and influential work frequently involves restoring distressed buildings to use for community gathering, artist-centered programming and housing. 

Gates’ art practice has received international recognition, and his Serpentine Pavilion 2022 Black Chapel is currently on display in London. Other current exhibitions and recent commissions include those for the Tom Lee Memorial Park in Memphis; the 2022 Aichi Triennale in Tokoname, Japan; and Afro Mingei at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas. In addition, Gates’ major solo survey at the New Museum in New York City is slated to open later this fall.

“I remain excited about the work that I do on behalf of the community in partnership with the University of Chicago. In this new role, I hope to work with the Office of the President to create more cultural space and greater opportunities for artists at the University, city wide, and beyond,” Gates said. “Jackson Park, Washington Park, Grand Crossing, Kenwood, and the corridors of 53rd, 55th, 61st, Cottage Grove and Stony Island deserve more cultural investment and advocates that can restore these once bursting districts of culture to their original grandeur. There is no shortage of talent, but because of structural racism, segregation, and infrastructural divestment, the places for joy and celebration have dwindled. I want to be a part of changing that.”

Gates serves as the co-chair for the Prada Group's Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Council. Together with Prada and Rebuild Foundation, Gates has initiated the Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab, a program that aims to support and amplify the work of artists and designers of color.