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Theaster Gates Will Help Guide an Expanding Forman Arts Initiative

Theaster Gates, the American artist known for his wide-ranging social practice, sculptures and installations, will use his expertise in community cultural programming to help guide a new project from the Philadelphia-based Forman Arts Initiative (FAI) in a new multi-year partnership. The organization, founded in 2021 by art collectors Michael Forman and Jennifer Rice, has acquired nearly an entire block in Philadelphia’s East Kensington neighborhood that FAI plans to transform into an arts center complete with a gallery and an emphasis on community activation.

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Gates will work FAI’s director Adjoa Jones de Almeida, the Brooklyn Museum’s former deputy director of learning and social education, to shape the renovation and programming of the new campus. Located across three buildings and two lots, the 100,000-square-foot site will open gradually over the next two years. “This collaboration with Adjoa—who also comes from an art and community engagement background—gives us both an opportunity to build on the lessons we’ve learned from our previous respective experiences, and to develop a unique model for what a community-grounded, globally-relevant art space can look like,” said Gates in a statement.

View of empty building with white walls
An interior view of one of the FAI campus buildings. Photo: Isabel Kokko/Courtesy Forman Arts Initiative

Gates has pursued similar projects in the past. Through his Rebuild Foundation, the artist has spent years acquiring abandoned properties across Chicago and turning them into creative community centers for an initiative known as the Dorchester Projects, often using scrap materials to create new artwork that generates additional funds for the project. In 2021, the Rebuild Foundation partnered up with Prada to create the Dorchester Industries Experimental Lab, a Chicago-based three-year incubator emphasizing designers of color. There’s also Gates’ 2016 acquisition of the city’s shuttered St. Laurence Elementary School, which is set to transform into an arts incubator complete with studios, classrooms and labs.

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This won’t be the first time the artist has worked with FAI, which helped fund his 2022 installation Monument in Waiting at Drexel University and counts works by the artist among its collection. “Since meeting Theaster over seven years ago, Michael and I have been continually impressed by his expansive exploration of history, especially Black and Brown history, through social practice, performance, land art, and exquisitely crafted sculptures,” said Rice in a statement.

What is FAI’s place in Philadelphia’s art scene?

FAI’s current initiatives include its grantmaking program Art Works in partnership with the Philadelphia Foundation, which will distribute $3 million in funding over five years to community artists and organizations across Greater Philadelphia. As of last year, the organization partnered up with Mural Works to establish Public Works, a residency program that places artists with government agencies to develop artwork. FAI’s star consultants include board members like artist Rashid Johnson and expert advisors like Adam Pendleton and Jessica Morgan of Dia Art Foundation.

Three people stand atop staircase in empty room.
Adjoa Jones de Almeida, Michael Forman and Jennifer Rice at an event celebrating the new campus. Photo: Isabel Kokko/Courtesy Forman Arts Initiative

FAI’s new campus will include a gallery space to showcase the private art collection of Forman and Rice. Artists including Cecily BrownCindy ShermanSam GilliamMark BradfordAlma ThomasRomare BeardenGordon ParksKerry James Marshall and Lorna Simpson are represented in the holdings, alongside Philadelphia-based artists like Roberto Lugo and Alex da Corte. Operating as a nontraditional gallery, the artworks will be utilized in rotating exhibitions, public programs and partnerships with schools and youth development organizations.

Outdoor spaces and community engagement rooms at FAI’s new site will open later this year, followed by a larger programmatic space and gallery in 2026. Renovations will begin this summer, with campus design aided by architectural firms DIGSAU and Ian Smith Design Group. Meanwhile, the organization will speak with residents, leaders and activists across West Kensington and Philadelphia for input on how to utilize additional spaces to best meet the needs of local communities.

“Since its founding, collaboration and dialogue with Philadelphia’s diverse communities have been central to how FAI supports the city’s cultural landscape, and those are the principles that will guide the vision for what this campus will become,” said Jones de Almeida in a statement. “We understand that through this dynamic collaboration with Theaster along with the rich network of artists and communities already engaged with FAI, we have the potential to create something really unique for Philadelphia.”

Filed Under: ArtsMuseumsMichael FormanJennifer RiceAdjoa Jones De AlmeidaRoberto LugoAlma ThomasCommunity CentersRomare BeardenAdam PendletonJessica MorganAlex Da CorteLorna SimpsonGordon ParksSam GilliamMark BradfordCecily BrownKerry James MarshallTheaster GatesRashid JohnsonCindy ShermanArt CollectorsPublic Art


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