Bemis Center For Contemporary Arts

Theaster Gates: Town Hall + Carver Bank

Carver Bank, 2012. photo: Mike Sinclair

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Theaster Gates | Town Hall + Carver Bank | In Development

Theaster Gates is a Chicago-based artist, cultural planner, and performer known for work that directly engages issues of race, class and place with an uncommon generosity and sense of inclusion. With projects spanning performance, urban interventions, micro-development, social experiments and installation, Gates is adept at “driving the wedge” into potentially divisive subjects with a welcoming throw of grace. Gates has said that his work begins with his “right to reenvision place ... not just as an art project, but as a way of living.” To develop this renewed sense of place he initiates myriad “conversations with institutions about race” and seeks out spaces of “urban ecstasy.”

Omaha is a segregated city that houses extreme disparities between class and opportunity. Omaha claims the greatest number of millionaires per capita, yet is also home to the highest percentage of black children living in poverty of any city in the country. These demographic conditions are starkly present in North Omaha, the poorest and most concentrated African-American community in the city. Although a contemporary art organization is unlikely to provide a cure-all to these conditions, the Bemis Center is keen to support artists who bring us boldly to its frayed edge.

Theaster Gates’ Town Hall project is an effort to develop a new cultural space for North Omaha, Nebraska. The process and project aspires to form unforeseen models and possibilities for our city. The Town Hall project includes multiple parts. Town Hall began in late 2010 with a series of dialogues and dinners with artists, stakeholders and potential partners, and this listening process continued throughout 2011. Gates and the Bemis Center hosted a series of free public events in North Omaha, ranging from informal dinners to public forums that asked the questions:

• What are the needs of the black creative community in Omaha?
• How can new public spaces in North Omaha be creatively cultivated?
• Can Gates and the Bemis Center help?

Currently underway, the renovation of the Carver Bank building marks the beginning of the second phase of Town Hall. Carver Bank, at 2416 Lake St., is the site of the first African American-owned bank in Omaha. The project’s goal is for the site to become a space of public participation and cultural adventure, and serve as a hub for the creative and public life of its neighborhood and community. Opening this winter, Carver Bank will house exhibition and performance space, artist studios, a Big Mama’s Kitchen sandwich shop, and a transformed exterior landscape.

Gates approaches the Town Hall process with the hybrid perspective of an urban planner, artist, developer and community organizer. Gates is interested in the sculpture that continues to produce: in this case, the building or neighborhood is the sculpture, which emerges from listening and imagining the needs of creative people in North Omaha. Gates said, “I want to create a place and find the group of people who can create solutions for North Omaha internally.” By inviting diverse individuals to work together, Gates proposes to create an urban anomaly that highlights existing gems of knowledge within North Omaha.

Critical support for Carver Bank is provided by Alex Priest, Bemis Center’s exhibition assistant.

Jessica Rial Scheuerman, Carver Bank Program Coordinator, is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Carver Bank Program.

Carver Bank is curated and organized by Hesse McGraw, Bemis Center chief curator.

Clay In My Veins and Other Thoughts, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, March 30, 2011. Photos by Chris Machian

Carver Bank installation process, 2012. Photo: Larry Gawel

About the Artist
Theaster Gates is an artist and catalyst among artists, activists and audiences. His work engages issues of race, class and place through performance, site interventions, micro-development and sculpture.

Gates earned a BS in Urban Planning and Sculpture from Iowa State University, a MA in Fine Arts and Religious Studies from the University of Cape Town, and a MS in Urban Planning, Public Sculpture, and Religious Studies from Iowa State. He is the inaugural Director of Arts and Public Life at the University of Chicago. He is a recent Loeb Fellow in the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University.

In 2009, Gates initiated the Dorchester Projects, which encompasses a cluster of formerly abandoned buildings on Chicago’s South Side. Gates renovated sites of neglect into a vibrant cultural locus that include a Listening House, Library House, Soul Food Pavilion, and Black Cinema House.

Gates’ current and recent solo exhibitions include My Labor is My Protest at White Cube in London; Listening Room at the Seattle Art Museum; An Epitaph for Civil Rights at The Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Temple Exercises at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; and To Speculate Darkly at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Current and recent group exhibitions include 12 Ballads for Huguenot House in dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, Germany; FEAST: Radical Hospitality and Contemporary Art at the Smart Museum of Art, Chicago; Cosmology of Yard at the 2010 Whitney Biennial; and Urban Alchemy at The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in St. Louis, Missouri. Gates participated in Hopey Changey Things at the Bemis Center in 2010. Gates is represented by Kavi Gupta Gallery in Chicago and White Cube in London.

About Rebuild Foundation
Rebuild Foundation provides architectural and design support, as well as development support for the emerging program coordinator role, for Carver Bank in Omaha and for projects in Saint Louis and Chicago. Rebuild Foundation is a not-for-profit, creative engine focusing on cultural and economic redevelopment and affordable space initiatives in under-resourced communities. In each city, Rebuild’s projects enlist a team of artists, architects, developers, educators and community activists, who work together to integrate the arts and alternative entrepreneurship into a community-driven process of placemaking and neighborhood transformation.

Founded by Theaster Gates, Rebuild engages an artistic practice which uses as its medium the urban fabric of under-resourced districts, bridging the creation of art with renovation and adaptive reuse, recycling of building materials, and community-driven initiatives for neighborhood revitalization.

Rebuild Foundation’s mission is to activate creative community resources to build vibrant neighborhoods. Rebuild Foundation acts as a catalyst in local economies by integrating small business incubation, creative architectural rehabilitation, hands-on education, and artistic intervention.

About Big Mama's Sandwich Shop
Patricia “Big Mama” Barron is the founder and owner of Big Mama’s Kitchen and Catering, a full-service restaurant and caterer specializing in soul food and traditional American cuisine. Big Mama’s Kitchen opened December 2007 at 45th and Bedford Streets in North Omaha, Nebraska. It has received international attention as a destination restaurant and has been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (Food Network), 101 Tastiest Places to Chow Down (Travel Channel), and Ludo Bites America (Sundance Channel).

A second location with a new menu, Big Mama’s Sandwich Shop will open this winter in Carver Bank’s 275–square-foot storefront. The goal of the sandwich shop is to be a local food heaven in the Near North Side neighborhood. The menu is inspired by Big Mama’s childhood memories of growing up in the area and will include sandwiches such as the “Lake Street,” the “North Omaha Dog,” and the “Gangster Wrap.”

Big Mama is an advocate for community empowerment and the arts-driven revitalization of the Near North Side neighborhood. As a business owner, she envisions that the Carver Bank project will attract more consumers and businesses to the area, which will provide needed employment opportunities for existing residents.

The Bemis Center and Theaster Gates would like to acknowledge the extensive efforts of the Bemis Center and Rebuild Foundation’s board of directors, staff, interns and community partners in realizing this project. The organization would particularly like to thank the City of Omaha Planning Department, Charlie Vinz, Sean R. Ward, Steven Schmiedeskamp, Cameron Conlon, Wesley Dancy, Drew Pauly, Rob Phillips, Manne Cook, Jannette Taylor and Impact One, Gabrielle and Sharif Liwaru and Malcolm X Foundation, Tim Clark, Janet Ashley and Love’s Jazz and Art Center, Michael Maroney, Annette Artherton and Omaha Economic Development Corporation, Jim Beatty and Great Plains Black History Museum, Othello Meadows and 75North, Richard Sciortino and Brinshore Development, Brigitte McQueen and the Union for Contemporary Art, Leo Louis, Gerard Pefung, Pamela Berry, Deb Bunting, Antwain Foster and Dara Epison for their ongoing efforts and support.

Carver Bank + Town Hall Sponsors
Carver Bank is supported by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation’s Artistic Innovation and Collaboration Program, which supports fearless and innovative collaborations in the spirit of Robert Rauschenberg.

The Town Hall process and Carver Bank project are supported by Paul and Annette Smith, a National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grant, Joyce Foundation, the City of Omaha, the Harpo Foundation, the North Omaha Historical Grant Committee, Big Mama’s Kitchen and Catering, Chef Patricia “Big Mama” Barron, Chef Cornell Austin, Impact One Community Connection, Education Power | Bob Webber, Rybin Plumbing, Davis Erection Company + Crane Rental and Rigging, Min | Day + FACT, Sandy Matthews, Mike Sinclair.

Exhibitions Presenting Sponsor | Omaha Steaks
Sponsors | Amber M. Allen, Justin V. Allen Design + Development, Clark Creative Group, Davis Erection, Echo Tech, Education Power | Robert Webber, ,Larry Gawel Photography, Chris Headley /, Min | Day, Nebraska Arts Council, Nebraska Cultural Endowment, Quail Distributing, Roots & Wings, Rybin Plumbing & Heating, Sherwin Williams, Upstream Brewing Company, Visions Custom Framing, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Warren Distribution

Students tackle historic project in North Omaha | KMTV 3 Omaha | 10.13.12
Designs for Life | | Frieze Issue 149 | September 2012
“Carver Bank” project finds potential in North Omaha “gems” | KVNO News | 08.23.12
South Side artist’s latest project: Saving long - abandoned bank | The Chicago Tribune | 08.05.12
Theaster Gates: Radical Reform with Everyday Tools | Afterall | Summer 2012
North 24 Revivalists: A synergy in North Omaha harkens a new arts-culture district for the city | The Reader | 07.12.12
Art Show as Unruly Organism: Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany | The New York Times | 05.14.12
The Accidental DIY Developer | The Atlantic Cities | 3.26.12
Theaster Gates: Anthropologist, urbanist, activist - the 21st-century artist | Art Review | 1-2.2012
Theaster Gates In the Studio | Art in America | 12.2011
Creative Rebuild, Theaster Gates in Hyde Park, St. Louis | Art 21 Blog | 8.1.2011
Dorchester Projects, Chicago Film Archives team for movie nights | Chicago Tribune | 7.9.2011
In Grand Crossing, a House Becomes a Home for Art | New York Times | 4.7.2011
House Plans | Chicago Weekly | 3.9.2011
Lessons from the Superfly Machine | Archinect | 10.2010
High Spirits | New City Art | 3.30.2010
An Artist and a Citizen | Art 21 Blog | 10.30.2009

Clay In My Veins and Other Thoughts, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, March 30, 2011. Photos by Chris Machian

Carver Bank installation process, 2012. Photo: Mike Sinclair

Gym Floor material reuse, Carver Bank, 2012. Photo: Mike Sinclair

Carver Bank installation process, 2012. Photo: Mike Sinclair

Carver Bank installation process, 2012. Photo: Mike Sinclair

Carver Bank installation process, 2012. Photo: Mike Sinclair

Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts
724 South 12th Street
Omaha, NE 68102
Admission and Parking: FREE
Phone:: 402.341.7130