Theaster Gates, an acclaimed social practice installation artist, will hold the first residency at the Lunder Institute for American Art at Colby College, officially opening the institute as its inaugural speaker at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19, in Colby’s Given Auditorium in the Bixler Art and Music Building, which is adjacent to the Colby College Museum of Art.

Gates, who revitalizes neighborhoods by combining art and urban planning, will engage with Colby students in their classes. Inspired by Gates’s innovative practice, Colby students will explore partnerships with Waterville community organizations and opportunities for arts-based projects in downtown Waterville, according to a news release from the college. He is known around the world for projects that range from reimagining and transforming vacant buildings into cultural spaces, and his art has been shown at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Whitney Biennial and, more recently, in a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Art. His upcoming installation at the 95th Street subway terminal in Chicago will be the Chicago Transit Authority’s largest art project in history.

“Theaster Gates is reshaping the field of art and reinvigorating communities through his innovative, creative spirit,” said President David A. Greene, according to the release. “His work, which is being exhibited in the world’s most prestigious galleries, allows us to see everyday and historical objects in new ways, challenging our appreciation of beauty in our lived experiences. And there may be no one more influential working at the intersection of art and community development. He sees possibility where others see despair. His outlook is just what we need right now, and we are thrilled to have him at Colby and in Waterville to launch the Lunder Institute.”

Gates is the first artist to be invited to the new institute, which was established through a major gift to the College by Peter ’56 and Life Trustee Paula Crane Lunder and has made Colby the only liberal arts college with both an innovative art museum dedicated to cross-disciplinary study and a global research center for American art.

“I cannot afford to just be an artist in this moment,” Gates said, according to the release. “I have to use my art and my brain to try to imagine solutions.” Gates has been called a “social sculptor” and an “international superstar,” and his work has been featured in the New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and the PBS NewsHour. In 2012 he was named “Innovator of the Year” by the Wall Street Journal, and he has been included on Chicago Magazine’s Most Powerful People in Chicago list multiple times.

In residency the third week of September, Gates will spend time in Colby courses in economics, American studies, African-American studies, sociology and art, working with students and presenting lectures. For the remainder of the semester, students in an American studies class, led by Visiting Assistant Professor Ben Lisle, will continue their collaboration with Gates.

Lisle’s course, Art, Community, and Ethical Urban Development, explores how buildings and neighborhoods can be platforms for art, culture, and community and how urban spaces can be ethically redeveloped. Case studies in the class include Chicago’s Washington Park and Waterville, where Colby has invested significantly in revitalizing the city’s historic downtown.

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