Here are a few of the ideas that Nick and I constantly wrestle with that came up last night.
Agency: When and where and who can have the space to dole out "assistance", "help", "programming"? And when is it wanted? We have never been ones to say "I'm here to help you because...." even though we've seen it done and believe me, it is so awkward. When an underserved population presents a problem, can people outside of the situation come in and tell them what it is that should be done? I don't think so. I can't be one to prescribe it but I can create something compelling through art, social awareness, activism that sparks the curiosity of a child or adult and let them participate as they wish. That's our responsibility as an artist, I think. To enable others to step in when they choose.
Stretching it out: This one has been huge with me lately. I've been less "busy" and more about thinking and drawing and writing. Theaster's point was that rather than building it as quickly as possible, making the deal as quickly as possible, what if, we just drew it out. We let it linger and see what came out of it. For him, redeveloping the space wasn't just giving people a place to live. Or in the case of Dorchester Projects, a place to exchange ideas, share food and jam out to records. It was the process and what was created on the way to the product, which is the unimportant thing.
Process: This one is really important. If you look at his work, Theaster is all about process. He was a potter originally, which is steeped in steps, waiting, reassessing, reworking. Like any artistic endeavor, the path is meandering to create finality but the learning along the way is what creates the space for exploration and deviation the next time around.
When Nick documented the moving of glass slides from University of Chicago and the donation of thousands of books from Prairie Books (which was this precious art and architecture book store in Printers Row) to Dorchester Projects, I saw it as an amalgamation of things. But when you step into that house in southside Chicago, you realize it's not the things but how they're used, how they make you feel, how the access of having them revives questioning in this unfamiliar and ironic environment that is at once so academic (book and resource filled) and yet elegantly brutish, assemblages of wood and ceramics and metal reimagined and living together in a space that assembles people in the same way, organically and organized in a way that only Theaster can. That's all part of the process.
Gentrification: This one is bigger than I can get into right now but I did take away one piece of what he said last night about neighborhood shifts. There's a social place for everyone during the process of change in your community. If you like to see the new businesses, storefronts, then support them. If you want to hold on to the things that matter to you, protect them, groom them to be more of that thing. Of course, sometimes it's not as easy as just that, but it's better than the alternative, atrophy and ultimately, loss.