Theaster Gates

On Sept. 19 – 22, 2017, Colby welcomed the renowned Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates to Waterville as the inaugural Lunder Institute for American Art artist in residence.
Theaster Gates and the Lunders

Paula Lunder D.F.A. ’98  and Peter Lunder ’56, D.F.A. ’98 with Theaster Gates.

Thanks to the generosity of Peter ’56, D.F.A. ’98 and Paula Lunder D.F.A. ’98, the Lunder Institute creates a unique space for scholarship, creative works, dialogue, and mentorship among visiting scholars and artists, Colby faculty and students, and the central Maine community.

Anchored by the remarkable Lunder Collection, the institute facilitates global institutional exchange and trains future leaders in the field of American art through the Colby College Museum of Art and partner institutions. It also separates Colby as the only liberal arts college with an institute embedded within its museum.

It was an honor to welcome Gates as the inaugural artist in residence whose practice and spirit embodies the same multidisciplinary approach at the core of the Lunder Institute.

About Theaster Gates

Theaster Gates is an American social practice installation artist. He was born in Chicago, Ill., where he still lives and works. Gates’s work has been shown at major museums and galleries internationally and deals with issues of urban planning, religious space, and craft. He is committed to the revitalization of poor neighborhoods through combining urban planning and art practices.

Inaugural Lecture

Students, faculty, alumni, and community members filled Given Auditorium Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, to hear Gates speak about his artistic practice and approach to solving big problems through creativity. His lecture came on the eve of the announcement that Gates had won the prestigious Nasher Prize, an accolade that further acknowledges the significance of his multifaceted artistic approach and social practice. For more images of his lecture, please visit here.

Theaster Gates lecture at MuseumPresident David Greene
Photos: Gates’s inaugural lecture Sept. 19, 2017. (Jason P. Smith)

In the Classroom

Students in economics, sociology, and American studies engaged with Gates about his artistic practice during his residence. His involvement with Colby’s students is slated to continue through a partnership with Visiting Assistant Professor of American Studies Ben Lisle’s course Art, Urbanism, and Community. In this course, Colby students will examine urban change and the built environment, with a particular focus on how art and culture shape cities and communities. This course is in collaboration with a concurrent course at the University of Chicago featuring Gates. In both, students examining these issues will pay particular attention to ways economic, political, social, and cultural power are expressed and resisted through urban spaces.

Classroom discussionClassroomPhotos: Theaster Gates visits Professor Ben Lisle’s class Art, Urbanism, and Community Sept. 20, 2017. (Gabe Souza)

Community Involvement in Waterville

At the center of Gates’s artistic and social practices lies his ability to immerse himself into communities to understand their specific needs. In that vein, Gates met with members of the South End Neighborhood Association at the South End Teen Center to drive conversation about this Waterville neighborhood. (His presence resulted in overwhelming community response, which led to the meeting being moved outside.) 

Organized by South End Neighborhood Association Coordinator Jackie Dupont ’04, Gates heard concerns about sidewalks — the passable, and the nonexistent. Other residents raised concerns about garbage in the neighborhood. While Colby students and Gates will continue to collaborate with community residents for long-term creative solutions in the neighborhood, Colby has already committed student volunteers to help the South End Neighborhood Association in a community-wide cleanup effort.

Photos above: Theaster Gates tours Waterville’s South End Sept. 20, 2017. (Gabe Souza)

Photos: The crowd for Theaster’s public meeting about the South End Sept. 20, 2017. (Gabe Souza)


In this short video, Theaster’s presence at Colby is captured from his inaugural Lunder lecture, his tour of Waterville, and his experience with Colby students in professor Ben Lisle’s class Art, Urbanism, and Community Sept. 20, 2017. (Milton Guillen/Colby)

Theaster Gates in the News

During his residency at Colby, Gates was awarded one of the art world’s most prestigious awards—the Nasher Prize.

New York Times, Theaster Gates Wins $100,000 Nasher Prize for Sculpture

Waterville’s Morning Sentinel followed Gates’s visit to the city and his ideas around how to revitalize neighborhoods., Finding creative solutions to challenges in Waterville’s South End