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Photos: Inside Theaster Gates' Grand Stony Island Arts Bank

By Jessica Mlinaric in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 23, 2015 2:44PM

What can you get for a dollar these days? Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates, purchased a vacant 17,000 square foot building from the city for $1 and raised $4.5 million to convert it into a library and cultural center. The Stony Island Arts Bank (6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) opened Oct. 3 as part of the Chicago Architectural Biennial.

The former bank now hosts art exhibits and cultural events, including a film series centered on the African Diaspora. Its collections include a Johnson Publishing archive, 60,000 slides from the University of Chicago and the Art Institute, an assemblage of "negrobilia," collectibles, and the record collection of house music legend Frankie Knuckles.

“In some ways the bank represents a hub,” Gates stated in a TED Talk this spring. “We're trying to create a pretty hardcore node of cultural activity.”

The Stony Island Arts Bank has embraced its role as a cultural hub this fall serving as one of the official sites of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. The bank also hosted visitors as part of last weekend’s Open House Chicago. One docent estimated around 2,000 attendees visited during the two day event.

While this is not Gate’s first South Shore civic property, the Arts Bank is the first Rebuild Foundation space to offer regular public hours. On our visit we dove into a Robert Johnson biography in the reading room, marveled at the gorgeous library, and examined the way Carlos Bunga’s cardboard installation blended in with the 1923 building’s structure. Visitors should note that a 20 minute cataloging training is required to access the collections.

The Stony Island Arts Bank has only been open a few weeks, but if its level of engagement in the community and beyond is any indication, its value is top dollar.

The Stony Island Arts Bank is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.