Theaster Gates’ Rebuild Foundation Receives $3.5M from Mellon Foundation to Support the Creation of New Collections Infrastructure and Establish Mellon Archive Fellowship Program – Black Enterprise
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Theaster Gates’ Rebuild Foundation Receives $3.5M from Mellon Foundation to Support the Creation of New Collections Infrastructure and Establish Mellon Archive Fellowship Program

(Images: Portrait of Corrine Bailey Rae. Photo: Ulrike Rindermann. Courtesy of Corrine Bailey Rae; Portrait of Ben Lamar Gay. Photo: Chelsea Ross. Courtesy of Ben Lamar Gay; Portrait of Honey Crawford. Courtesy of Honey Crawford and the University of Chicago; Portrait of Yaw Agyeman. Photo: Chris Strong. Courtesy of Yaw Agyeman)

Rebuild Foundation announced the launch of the Mellon Archive Fellowship Program — a multifaceted initiative supporting the creation of new research, scholarship, and artistic production through engagement with Rebuild Foundation’s archival collections held at the Stony Island Arts Bank.

Built nearly a century ago in 1923, the meticulously restored, formerly abandoned bank serves as a creative space for the preservation, redeployment, and amplification of art and cultural artifacts on the South Side of Chicago.

As part of a partnership between the Mellon Foundation and Rebuild, a $3.5 million grant will, over the course of two years, be put towards developing infrastructure for the archives and funding fellows’ projects. The four inaugural fellows are singer, songwriter, and musician, Corrine Bailey Rae, interdisciplinary performing artist, Yaw Agyeman; professor and historian of dance and movement, Dr. Honey Crawford; and composer and cornetist, Ben LaMar Gay.

(Image: Tom Harris. © Hedrich Blessing / Courtesy of Rebuild

Central to the Mellon Archive Fellowship is its aim to interrogate, disrupt, and expand the knowledge of histories connected to the African diaspora. Awards of up to $50,000 each will be distributed to the four grantees during the 18 month fellowship period; this support will allow the artists, musicians, and researchers to explore the archives and produce new work that can be presented publicly.

Of the $3.5 million Mellon commitment, $1.5 million will support archival initiatives and the newly-announced fellowship. The remaining $2 million will go towards the ongoing transformation of the shuttered St. Laurence elementary school on the South Side of Chicago into an arts incubator, an undertaking which broke ground this past May. The St. Laurence Arts Incubator will be Rebuild Foundation’s largest site to-date in its constellation of cultural spaces in Chicago, joining the Stony Island Arts Bank, Dorchester Art and Housing Collaborative, Retreat at Currency Exchange Café, and the recently opened Kenwood Gardens.

“Mellon’s commitment to embracing the intelligence of diverse communities of color is an extraordinary pivot in the organization’s ambitions. Their ongoing support of Rebuild’s archival initiatives has allowed us to be daring and innovative in our programming efforts,” says artist, Theaster Gates, founder of Rebuild Foundation.

The library at Stony Island Arts Bank. (Image: Tom Harris. © Hedrich Blessing / Courtesy of
Rebuild Foundation)

“From supporting the digitization of our material collections to empowering emerging local and internationally recognized scholars, this investment allows us to demonstrate the ways in which artist-led organizations can be amplifiers of lesser-known stories and creative conveyors of community-based scholarship.”

“Rebuild Foundation’s work will develop new infrastructure and platforms for artists, historians, and community members to engage with places and stories through the essential work of collecting, documenting, and caring for Black cultural heritage,” adds Justin Garrett Moore, Humanities in Place program officer at the Mellon Foundation.

“We hope these investments in preserving archival materials and the powerful ideas and expressions they hold will support and inspire those working to elevate their communities and culture today and in the future.”

Slides stored at Stony Island Arts Bank. (Image: Sara Pooley / Courtesy Rebuild Foundation.)

Rebuild’s four collections housed at the Stony Island Arts Bank each evoke different approaches to objecthood and cultural histories in Black space. They include a collection of more than 60,000 glass lantern slides; a collection of books and periodicals donated by the Johnson Publishing Company, publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines; the personal vinyl collection of, Frankie Knuckles, the godfather of house music; and the Edward J. Williams Collection, a collection of approximately 4,000 artifacts representing historical documentation of and reflections on the Black experience in America. The program will provide a platform for scholars and artists to examine and interpret these materials.

Records stored at Stony Island Arts Bank. (Image: Tom Harris. © Hedrich Blessing / Courtesy of
Rebuild Foundation.)

The Mellon Archive Fellowship Program will further amplify Rebuild’s mission to demonstrate the impact of innovative and ambitious cultural initiatives in the Greater Grand Crossing Neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago by advancing world-class discourse and artistic production through collaboration, amplification, and critique. Heralding an expansion of the non-profit’s activities, the program will introduce infrastructure for the support of individual artists while also providing the public with new methods of engagement with the organization’s significant archival holdings.

(Image: Dancin’ Minstrel with Tap Board, Edward J. Williams Collection / Courtesy of Rebuild

Throughout the duration of the fellowship, additional programming will present opportunities for the public to engage with the ongoing research and exploration taking place in the archives. A research cluster will be established, with select artists, curators, scholars, and other thought leaders convening monthly for discussion. Collection tours and a speaker series every two weeks will feature fellows and researchers showcasing and discussing select objects from the collections at the Stony Island Arts Bank. The program will include the production of a publication that highlights elements of the collections, illuminating their historical context through editorial and interpretive elements compiled in collaboration with artists, researchers, and fellows.

On Sept. 25, Rebuild Foundation will present the first in a series of public programs that allow audiences to intimately discover objects from the collections and explore their histories, context, and impact on culture more broadly.

To learn more about the Mellon Archive Fellowship Program, please visit