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VOL. 128 | NO. 222 | Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Gates to Share Creative Vision at Crosstown

ERINN FIGG | Special to The Daily News

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Internationally acclaimed installation and social practice artist Theaster Gates will be in Memphis this week to share some of the beliefs and perspectives that fuel his creative vision.

Theaster Gates' Nov. 16 lecture, "A Way of Working," will be the last public event held in the Sears Crosstown building before renovations begin next year.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

Gates’ free, public lecture, “A Way of Working,” will be Saturday, Nov. 16, at Sears Crosstown, 495 N. Watkins St.

Part of a visiting artist series curated and managed by Crosstown Arts, Gates’ presentation will be the last public event in the Sears building – which has been empty since 1983 – before Crosstown Development begins renovation work in early 2014.

Todd Richardson, co-leader of the Crosstown Development team and assistant professor in the University of Memphis art department, said Gates is the perfect fit for the project milestone.

“His work incorporates forgotten objects and abandoned places and puts new life into them, and those are concepts that are near and dear to our hearts in terms of reusing the Sears building,” Richardson said. “When Theaster talks about his work, he says, ‘I want to make the thing that makes the things.’ It’s really an important concept – engaging other people and allowing them to participate in the creative process. And it’s what we’re doing with Crosstown Development and Crosstown Arts — we’re creating an infrastructure in which people can engage themselves and each other.”

What’s a thing that makes a thing? It’s an empty house transformed into a soul food kitchen and a library. It’s an old townhouse that’s now a cinema. It can be a former candy store reincarnated as an event space and reading room. And it can be a bank doomed to demolition, rescued and reborn as home to the archives of the Johnson Publishing Co., the first African-American publishing house. The examples are components of one of Gates’ most notable endeavors, the Dorchester Projects in Chicago’s South Side.

As the artist’s website describes it: “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.”

Creating spaces where culture and productivity can flourish is a purpose that aligns neatly with that of Crosstown Development and future tenant Crosstown Arts, a contemporary arts organization dedicated to furthering the creative community in Memphis, particularly projects that connect people. To introduce the public to Gates’ work, Crosstown Arts recently hosted workshops in which participants combined found objects with new site plans of the Sears Crosstown building to illustrate their visions for the future of the Crosstown neighborhood.

Richardson’s own vision for the neighborhood and the $180 million Crosstown Development Project is a bright one. Preserving Memphis’ history while combining three of its strongest assets – arts, education and health care – in the redeveloped 1.4 million-square-foot space should infuse new energy into a vital part of the city, he said.

“It’s taking what’s probably the biggest blight in the state of Tennessee and turning it into a mixed-use vertical urban village where 2,500 people will be every day,” he said. “It’s hard for anyone to fully imagine the positive impact this project will have.”

Updates on the project are progressing steadily, Richardson said. Most recently, the redevelopers received a $50,000 grant through the Mid-South Regional Greenprint and Sustainability Plan to extend the 1.7-mile V&E Greenline trail about half a mile to connect to the building. They also received $200,000 from the Delta Regional Authority for the Crosstown Creative Commons, a community space in the main atrium designed to foster connectivity through educational programs, exhibits and other initiatives.

Construction plans should be finalized this week, and the bidding process will take place over the next couple of months, Richardson said. According to an economic impact analysis commissioned by the city of Memphis and completed in January by RKG Associates, the redevelopment will create nearly 1,000 construction jobs and put more than $50 million in construction wages into the city’s economy.

Post-construction, the building should house more than 1,300 jobs, of which 875 are new full-time positions, contributing more than $37 million in wages.

The developers still await word on a request for $15 million in funding from the city for infrastructure developments. Richardson said the group remains “confident and optimistic.”

Experts will share and discuss details of the project’s architecture and landscape plans, as well as the vision behind the redevelopment, during a panel discussion Saturday following Gates’ presentation. Along with Gates, the panel will include landscape architect Walter Hood of Hood Design, as well as Frank Ricks, principal of architectural design firm LRK Inc. Richardson will moderate the discussion.

After a 5:30 p.m. reception, Gates’ lecture will begin at 6 p.m., followed by the panel discussion at 7 p.m. Admission is free. Visit crosstownarts.org/theaster-gates for more information and to RSVP.

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