While much of Chicago’s large-scale public housing has been demolished, a small, abandoned 36-unit Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) property on the South Side has been reborn as an innovative mixed-use project bringing art-interested public housing residents and practicing artists together. Dorchester Art+Housing Collaborative transforms the former Dante Harper housing project into a mixed-income community and a place for arts creation, performance, education, and display. Last week Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined the CHA, Brinshore Development, and artist Theaster Gates to formally kick off the grand opening for the new development.
“For years, this was an abandoned housing project but thanks to Theaster’s vision, this land has been reimagined, reinvented, and revitalized as a place for residents to live and for artists to create,” said Mayor Emanuel. “The Dorchester Art+Housing Collaborative proves that investing in art and culture can bring both economic revitalization and a sense of community to every neighborhood.”
Located in Chicago’s Grand Crossing Neighborhood, the gut rehab project consists of 32 total residential units (10 market rate, 11 affordable, and 11 public housing) for individuals and families as residencies and long-term rental opportunities and is centered around a new art center complete with dance studio, public meeting space, and community garden. All buildings were restored to their original modern design, with the addition of an Art Center composed of four former townhomes in the center of the development. For Gates and Landon Bone Baker Architects, reusing the existing buildings is important.
“The full obliteration and re-creation of neighborhoods is not natural,” said Gates, referring to wholesale destruction of vast tracts of public housing in Chicago. “How do we work with the existing fabric of a neighborhood and dream what we want the neighborhood to be?”
Under the leadership of Gates’ Rebuild Foundation, the Art Center offers arts and cultural programming for Dorchester Art+Housing Collaborative residents and the surrounding community. A unique quality of the development includes the selection of artists to live in five of the townhomes. These five artists commit to 10 volunteer hours per month to further realize Rebuild Foundation’s mission: to catalyze neighborhood revitalization through artistic practice, individual empowerment, and community engagement.