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The NYPL Podcast, Images and Sounds from The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Podcast #189: Theaster Gates—"I'm Trying to Create an Intimate Moment with Our Most Treasured Assets."


The New York Public Library Podcast features your favorite writers, artists, and thinkers in smart talks and provocative conversations. Listen to some of our most engaging programs, discover new ideas, and celebrate the best of today’s culture.

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theaster GatesToday’s episode is from a conversation last week at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on a theme dear to the Library’s heart: archives. It’s a topic that may at first sound decidedly unsexy to anyone without an MLS, but you will find your mind quickly changed by the passion and forward thinking of this panel, centered around Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates. Gates is a multi-disciplinary artist as well as a professor at the University of Chicago, though he is probably best known for work like the Dorchester Projects or the Stony Island Arts Bank, which have transformed an under-appreciated section of Chicago’s South Side into a vibrant center of art and culture. Stony Island, his most recent project of this type, has been described as “a vision of culture as an urban change agent.” A few years ago Gates bought an abandoned bank from the city for one dollar and remade it into a hybrid gallery, community center, library, and archive where “neighborhood residents…preserve, access, reimagine, and share their heritage” and which serves as a “destination for artists, scholars, curators, and collectors to research and engage with South Side history.” Among its archives are books and periodicals donated by the Johnson Publishing Company, publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines, over 60,000 slides of art and architectural history from the University of Chicago, and the record collection of house music godfather Frankie Knuckles.

The conversation explored the future of one our more ancient humanistic traditions. Where beyond libraries, universities, and museums are the new homes for archives? What kinds of materials should archives be collecting? How can access be expanded to new publics while methods of preservation can be maintained? Gates was joined by artist and educator Nettrice Gaskins and Howard University professor Greg Carr. The conversation was moderated by Alexandra Mitchell, who is a Reference Librarian & Archivist at the Schomburg.

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