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Artist and Planner Theaster Gates awarded Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development

Internationally acclaimed artist and urban planner Theaster Gates, whose rise to prominence began with his use of art and culture to revive underserved neighborhoods in his hometown of Chicago, has been named the 2018 recipient of the ULI J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development. Gates was awarded the prize by Michael Spies, ULI governing trustee and 2018 Nichols Prize jury chairman, during the opening general session of the 2018 ULI Fall Meeting.

Gates’s creative approach to revitalizing neglected urban neighborhoods—including the reuse of building materials and other items to transform vacant properties into usable space—is what earned him the Nichols Prize, the Institute’s highest honor. His studies in urban planning and sculpture have informed and inspired his work, which began on Chicago’s South Side, where he founded the Rebuild Foundation to transform neighborhoods and celebrate innovative artistic practices.

Spies noted that the selection of Gates is a recognition of the way visionaries whose work extends beyond traditional real estate disciplines are influencing the built environment. It also reflects a selection based on the potential, rather than the history, of the recipient’s work, he said.

“Many cities are looking to reinvent themselves, and Theaster’s work represents art and culture as important elements of reinvention. He recognized early on the important role his art could play in building a strong community. His model of readapting elements, of repurposing ordinary materials for works of art as well as rebuilding, is a model that clearly has huge potential to be replicated in communities around the world,” said Spies, who is senior managing director of Tishman Speyer in New York City.

“As ULI members, we should all be inspired by Theaster to think bigger about what we do with the small things, with the basic elements. It’s not just about building buildings; it’s also about building community and economic stability to improve the whole urban environment.”

Gates and the Rebuild Foundation have acquired more than 30 vacant buildings in Chicago for transformation into spaces for affordable housing and community amenities, catalyzing at least $45 million in new investment on the South Side. The foundation hires and trains neighborhood residents to work in construction trades, providing employment opportunities for people to improve the places where they live and instilling a sense of community pride that helps residents who otherwise might be disengaged become involved stakeholders.

Read more about Theaster Gates in the Urban Land article here.

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