Creative solutions to everyday problems

Artist/activist/advocate Theaster Gates offers some clear and compelling (although counter to current practice) insights about how art meets place in this interview with Carol Coletta of the Knight Foundation. While many ‘placemaking’ initiatives position art as beacon and bait (bold, obvious, spotlighted, central), Gates prefers local change where the “art” is small, malleable, and quietly evolving.

Theaster GatesGates is a globally known visual and performing artist in big-ticket venues, but his work in Chicago’s South Side has favored tactical, grounded efforts to transform the neighborhood. His foundation hired a full-time groundskeeper rather than a full-time administrator or grant manager to catalyze pride and positive action. The cultural construction has been frugal and adaptable, rather than iconic and permanent.

As an artist, he sees his part in this transformation not in making art himself, but in the “creative solutions to everyday problems” that come from an artistic perspective. And, as he says in the interview, he’s less concerned about whether his work in this neighborhood is art, and more about whether it is artful in forging real results for real people.

Worth a listen. And it’s great to have Carol (who used to host the fantastic “Smart City” radio/podcast) back on the air!


  1. Carol Coletta says

    Andrew, thanks so much for the kind words. In this interview, Theaster Gates gives the clearest advice on creative placemaking I’ve heard.

  2. says

    This is an interesting and enjoyable interview. The two descriptive words that come to mind are “humility” and “inventiveness.” And I think that any approach to solving the sort of urban problems that Mr. Gates is tackling is bound to be much more successful with these attitudes than what I would call the “legacy” approach of scientific modernism with its top down bureaucracy and “experts” armed with so-called empirical data. Ms. Coletta does a very good job in her thread of questions.