Stony Island Arts Bank

10 September 2019

The Johnson Library at the Stony Island Arts Bank.

 

On Chicago’s South Side, an old bank found a new life as a vibrant community-focused hub for the arts. Stony Island Arts Bank is a short ride from 1000M, giving residents easy access to an important new cultural treasure with a storied past. 

 

A Bank and Back

The building that houses Stony Island Arts Bank was designed by William Gibbons Uffendell and constructed in 1923. Located at 68th Street and Stony Island Avenue, the impressive structure was a bank in its former life, serving up community loans and savings that unified and strengthened the surrounding community. In the eighties, the branch shut down, leaving the building abandoned. 

Enter Theaster Gates: a local Chicagoan and social practice installation artist. His work focuses on urban development and preservation, redeeming spaces that have been left behind; Gates also sees the “life within things,” and considers black space as a formal practice. He purchased Stony Island Arts Bank for only $1. 

 

Stony Island Arts Bank

The doors to Stony Island Arts Bank reopened in October of 2015. Gates was able to raise $3 million to renovate the building by selling recovered marble blocks as “bank bonds” at Art Basel as well as hosting a gala within the impressive recovered space. Still, the building exists in juxtaposition, with crumbling walls visible next to a stunningly cared-for library on the second floor. The intent? To physically merge past and present. 

The Stony Island Arts Bank aims to lift up the surrounding community through the arts and cultural development, with exhibits centered on black excellence and the black experience. The 17,000-square-foot space includes hybrid gallery, media archive, library and community center, as well as housing the nonprofit Rebuild Foundation’s archives and collections. 

Alongside its gallery shows and collections, the bank hosts live music, DJs, film screenings, exhibitions and events including readings, talks and performances.

 

Stony Island Arts Bank is located at 6760 S Stony Island Ave, Chicago, IL 60649. Hours and access to the space are limited ⁠— you can learn more about planning your visit on their website.