NCECA is thrilled to bring Theaster Gates to Milwaukee to deliver the 2014 keynote address, Yamaguchi, Soul Manufacturing Corporation and A Potter Named Dave. The Need for Blackness Within Contemporary Ceramics.

Theaster Gates is an artist whose creative endeavor represents a critical enlargement on familiar realms and roles of artistic practice. He produces installations, performances and discreet objects that explore notions of self, resilience, home and community set in the context of racism and poverty in America. Gates also works to create positive change in disenfranchised communities in his home city of Chicago and other cities across the country. The Director of Arts and Public Life at the University of Chicago, in 2010 Gates founded the Rebuild Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that concentrates on creative use of space in underserved black neighborhoods in Chicago, St. Louis, Omaha, and Detroit.

Through his imagination, influence and prodigious work ethic, Theaster Gates is making cultural impact within and beyond the art world, rapidly gaining widespread attention. In the past few months alone, Theaster Gates has been the subject of feature length articles in the New York Times Sunday Magazine and the New Yorker magazine.  A bold American artist with a global vision, he has presented recent solo exhibitions at galleries and museums in Chicago, Philadelphia, London, Sao Paulo and Hong Kong to name just a few.

Gates studied ceramics, theology and urban planning; all of which play critical roles in his work as an artist. At its core, his practice is grounded in African-American history and culture, and in his own experience growing up in Chicago.  Slavery, industrial exploitation, and the Civil Rights Movement feature prominently in his sculptures, installations, urban interventions and performances.  He has said, “I think I’m a full-time artist, a full-time urban planner, and a full-time preacher with an aspiration of no longer needing any of those titles,”

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Not easily categorized, in all instances the work Gates creates pushes us to think deeply and expansively, encouraging creative solutions to real world problems. One example of this can be found in Dorchester Projects, located on Chicago’s South Side. Housed in a cluster of formerly abandoned buildings, Gates has renovated several structures that now provide space for a cinema house, soul food kitchen, a listening room containing nearly 8,000 vinyl LPs comprising the final inventory from Dr. Wax Records, a store formerly located in the nearby Hyde Park neighborhood; and a reading room and temporary home for the Johnson Library, a comprehensive collection of Ebony and Jet magazines founded by John H. Johnson.

Using repurposed materials from all over Chicago, the aesthetic of Gates’s Dorchester Projects is both practical and poetic, bridging the creation of new art with the adaptive reuse of resources. Within this multi-functional and growing space, community-driven initiatives and experiences foster neighborhood revitalization and serve as a model for greater cultural and socioeconomic renewal. Dorchester provides its neighbors and local youth the opportunity to perceive built and living environments as spaces worth constructing, exploring and critiquing. It empowers community members to engage in the movement of radical hospitality by physically transforming their surroundings and filling them with beautiful objects, diverse people and innovative ideas.  – Theaster Gates

Gates also directs and performs with The Black Monks of Mississippi, an experimental music ensemble of Chicago-based vocalists and musicians founded in 2008, producing music and spoken performances influenced by diverse traditions, including Gospel, Blues and Buddhist and Zen chants. Yaw Agyeman, principle vocalist for the Black Monks of Mississippi will join Theaster Gates for what is sure to be an extraordinary evening and a wonderful start to the 48th annual NCECA conference. “Yamaguchi, Soul Manufacturing Corporation and A Potter Named Dave. The Need for Blackness Within Contemporary Ceramics” promises to be a meditative and thought provoking reflection on the legacy of makers that has never gone away, love for the hand, and its embodiment in people’s cultures and conceptual practices.

Thanks to the Chipstone Foundation for their generous support of this keynote presentation.


Theaster Gates (b.1973) lives and works in Chicago, Illinois. His work has been included in solo and group exhibition internationally.  Selected exhibitions include:  The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Pulitzer Museum of Art, The Whitney Biennial and Documenta 13, Kassel, Germany among many others. Gates has received awards from the Joyce Foundation, Driehaus, Artadia, and the Graham Foundation.  He was the inaugural recipient of the Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics and a Loeb Fellow at Harvard Graduate School of Design.

He is represented by Kavi Gupta Gallery in Chicago and White Cube in London.

Don’t miss his Keynote Speech, Yamaguchi, Soul Manufacturing Corporation and A Potter Named Dave. The Need for Blackness Within Contemporary Ceramics, on Wednesday night, March 19 at 7:15pm in the Milwaukee Center Ballroom