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Last Saturday, the Rebuild Foundation held its inaugural BUILD | REBUILD benefit at the newly restored Stony Island Arts Bank on the South Side of Chicago. The organization, which was founded in 2010 by artist Theaster Gates, celebrated the opening of its most ambitious project to date, which was also the site of the benefit. The Arts Bank joins the Black Cinema House, Dorchester Projects, and Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative sites that make up the active sties of the foundation.
Upon entering the former bank (a once-dilapidated site Gates purchased from the city for one dollar in 2012), guests got a first look at the newly renovated space – with many of its original details, like the vault downstairs, kept intact – that will open to the public on Saturday, October 3 with a “Night of Illumination” opening celebration. It was also a first chance for attendees to see a site-specific installation “Under the Skin” by Portuguese artist Carlos Bunga, part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial that opens next week. And while the Stony Island Arts Bank will continue to host exhibitions and events, it also offers multiple cultural and historic resources the organization hopes the community will use. Over drinks, guests had the chance to explore the site’s second floor and impressive library of the Johnson Publishing Archives and collection of more than 60,000 glass lantern slides from The University of Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which range in subject from Primitivist art to the Modernist period.
Rebuild’s CEO, Ken Stewart, along with Gates, were joined by over 150 guests, for what felt like a very intimate gathering of artists, philanthropists, cultural and community leaders, both from Chicago and abroad. At a long center table of the bank’s atrium, between towering steel beams, sat artists like Kerry James Marshall, Hank Willis Thomas, Glenn Ligon, Nick Cave, Chris Ofili, Cheryl Lynn Bruce, and Carrie Mae Weems (who gave her very own toast after Gates gave his). There was architect David Adjaye with his wife, in town for the opening of his exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago the previous evening, sitting next to curators, museum directors, and gallerists like Okwui Enwezor, Thelma Golden, Sarah Herda, Anne Pasternak, Michael Darling, Naomi Beckwith, Tony Karman, Rhona Hoffman, Jay Jopling, and Shaun Regen.
The family-style dinner, enjoyed on tables, chairs, and pottery designed specifically for the occasion by Gates’ studio, was created by chef Erick Williams of mk restaurant in Chicago. Williams and Gates are frequent collaborators, and the chef volunteers as a a mentor and educator for local youth. On Saturday night, a prailine and mustard green salad was followed by blackened shrimp Americaine, marinated trumpet mushrooms, cider-braised short ribs, sharp cheddar grits, late summer corn salad, spiced summer squash, and buttermilk biscuits with a whipped strawberry rhubarb butter.
After the delectable meal and a couple of lively toasts, Meshell Ndegeocello performed amid the Johnson Publishing archive library, followed by an intimate performance from jazz pianist Jason Moran on the third floor. Later, DJ Alan King turned the evening into a dance party spinning vinyl records from legendary house music DJ Frankie Knuckles’ collection (also housed on the third floor of the Arts Bank, alongside the collection of Edward J. Williams featuring “negrobilia” dating from the Civil War era to the present, acquired in an attempt to remove offensive materials and stereotypical images of black diaspora from circulation).
Rebuild goes beyond the art and design world in scope, and so the evening was hosted by honorary co-chairs Amy Rule and Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel, and a committee that included Anita Blanchard, Lisa Yun Lee, Liz & Eric Lefkofsky, Sandy Reynolds, Cari & Michael J. Sacks, Chelsea & James Smith, and Chance the Rapper.
The lucky few in attendance left feeling energized and invested in Rebuild’s future on the South Side of Chicago and beyond.
Rebuild Foundation is a nonprofit organization that endeavors to rebuild the cultural foundations of underinvested neighborhoods and incite movements of community revitalization that are culture based, artist led, and neighborhood driven.