Three years ago, Chicago bank Stony Island Savings & Loan was nearly a century old and had been completely untouched since the 1980s. The roof had caved in and weather took hold of the crumbled infrastructure. To most, it may have seemed best to tear the once-beautiful building down, but Chicago artist Theaster Gates Jr. had other plans.
Gates purchased the derelict building for a single dollar from the city of Chicago in 2012 and got to work. He managed to raise considerable funds to help restore the bank through a number of initiatives, including salvaging marble from the bank and selling it in rectangular pieces called "bank bonds" at Art Basel. After intensive renovations, the 17,000 square foot building opened to the public on October 6.
Under the new moniker Stony Island Arts Bank, the building is now home to art installations, artists, scholars, and archives on art history, architecture, and black culture. It also houses the Rebuild Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Gates to invest culture in underdeveloped neighborhoods.
“This is a new kind of cultural amenity, a new kind of institution—a hybrid gallery, media archive and library, and community center. It is an institution of and for the South Side—a repository for African American culture and history, a laboratory for the next generation of black artists and culture-interested people; a platform to showcase future leaders—be they painters, educators, scholars, or curators,” Gates said in a press release.
The bank, meant to be a space for black artists and community members to interact and share with the South Side community, is planning a number of future projects. In conjunction with the opening, it is currently spotlighting an installation by Portuguese artist Carlos Bunga called Under the Skin, which features tall cardboard columns. Visitors will also be able to enjoy a number of art exhibits and texts. The University of Chicago and School of Art Institute donated over 60,000 glass lantern slides that cover everything from Primitivist art to the Modernist period. And the building will also be home to a good chunk of Johnson Publishing's library, meaning the public will have access to publications like Jet, Ebony, and Negro Digest. You can visit the new art space Tuesdays through Saturdays free of charge, but donations are always welcome.
All images courtesy of Rebuild Foundation.