Theaster Gates, a community activist, educator, and installation artist who has exhibited and performed at some of the most prestigious galleries and cultural institutions across the globe while maintaining a deep and unfaltering connection with his native Chicago, has been awarded the 2023 Vincent Scully Prize. Named for the famed Yale art and architecture historian (also the inaugural prize recipient in 1999), the annual honor is presented by Washington, D.C.’s National Building Museum (NBM) to individuals demonstrating “excellence in practice, scholarship, or criticism” in the fields on architecture, historic preservation, and urban design.
With NBM executive director Aileen Fuchs noting that his “pioneering approach to cultural preservation and community building aligns so well with the Museum’s institutional Pillars of Innovation and Equity,” Gates joins an esteemed group of past former prize recipients including Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Phyllis Lambert, Robert A.M. Stern, Paul Goldberger, Mabel O. Wilson, and 2022 awardee Dolores Hayden. “Through the expansiveness of his approach as a thinker, maker, and builder, Gates extends the role of the artist as an agent of change,” reads the 2023 prize announcement. “His performance practice and visual work find roots in Black knowledge, objects, history, and archives.” Currently a professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago, Gates is founder and artistic director of Rebuild Foundation, a community-empowering, blight-erasing public arts platform that has saved more than 40 forsaken properties on Chicago’s South Side since it was first established in 2010, all the while supporting local artists and makers. These sites have since been transformed into art incubators, neighborhood cultural hubs, and community gardens. Gates has also participated in multiple past cycles of the Chicago Architecture Biennial.
Perhaps best known internationally as (the first non-architect) designer of the Serpentine Pavilion with 2022’s Black Chapel, Gates will be celebrated at a November 3 public ceremony at the NBM. The event is set to include an award presentation as well as a conversation between Gates, architect Germane Barnes, and Jessica Bell Brown, curator and Department Head for Contemporary Art at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Gates has received numerous awards and accolades in the past for his interweaving of public art and urban planning including most recently the 2023 Isamu Noguchi Award. In 2021, he was granted an honorary fellowship from the Royal Institute of British Architects and inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.