At the height of a cultural reckoning that exposed the lack of diversity throughout the design trades, artist Theaster Gates has continued his decades-long pursuit to carve out space—both literal and abstract—for Black and brown creatives. Gates, who co-chairs Prada’s diversity and inclusion council, is paving a new path for underrecognized and underrepresented design talent with the Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab, launching today.
In partnership with the Prada Group and Gates’s Rebuild Foundation, the artist is pioneering a three-year incubator for emerging designers of color in fields of furniture, industrial, fashion, and graphic design. The Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab will invest in, develop, and amplify the work of rising young designers and creatives across the country.
“Practitioners of color grow when they have opportunities to make, debate, and ask hard questions within and outside of their fields,” Gates tells AD PRO. “If people are forced to work alone and in silos, that development often takes more time. It’s so important that we share our experiences, connections, and resources with the next generation.”
It’s a mission Gates has been invested in since founding the Rebuild Foundation in 2009 to encourage creative communities in Chicago’s underinvested neighborhoods with art programming and the revitalization of abandoned properties. Pursuing the mission further, he launched Dorchester Industries, the design and fabrication branch of Theaster Gates Studio, in 2016 to bolster the design community in Chicago’s South Side. With an apprentice program that partners interested community members with local millworkers, artists, and landscape architects, the Dorchester Industries uses locally sourced materials, such as trees damaged by destructive forest pests, to produce quality goods, from furniture to hardwood flooring.
For its inaugural year, the Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab will host public programming anchored on Chicago’s South Side, with activations in New York City and Los Angeles. Nominated by luminaries throughout design disciplines, participating designers will receive financial support through the Design Lab Awards, and awardees will have the opportunity to tap into a robust network of design leaders. The program’s inaugural class will be announced in October.
This latest development comes on the heels of the revelation that Gates will become the first non-architect to design London’s Serpentine Pavilion in 2022. The multihyphenate creative has long harnessed his training as a ceramicist, sculptor, and urban planner to demonstrate the impact of ambitious cultural initiatives on Chicago’s South Side. Driven by his study of space theory, he has reclaimed and transformed abandoned structures into visually striking community assets for local artists, designers, and residents.
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