Foundation series

Theaster Gates Rebuild Foundation receives $3.5 million from the Mellon Foundation to support the creation of a new collections infrastructure and establish the Mellon Archive Fellowship Program

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

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

As part of a partnership between the Mellon Foundation and Rebuild, a grant of $3.5 million will be dedicated, over two years, to developing the infrastructure of the archives and funding the projects of the fellows. The first four scholarship recipients are singer, songwriter and musician, Corrine Bailey Raeinterdisciplinary performing artist, Agyeman lace; 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

At the heart of the Mellon Archive Fellowship is its aim to interrogate, disrupt and expand knowledge of stories related to the African diaspora. Scholarships of up to $50,000 each will be distributed to the four scholarship recipients during the 18-month scholarship period; this support will allow artists, musicians and researchers to explore the archives and produce new works that can be presented publicly.

Of Mellon’s $3.5 million commitment, $1.5 million will support archival initiatives and the newly announced fellowship. The remaining $2 million will go toward the ongoing transformation of closed St. Laurence Elementary School on Chicago’s South Side into an arts incubator, a venture that began last May. The St. Laurence Arts Incubator will be the Rebuild Foundation’s largest site yet 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 Kenwood Gardens recently opened.

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

The Stony Island Arts Bank Library. (Image: Tom Harris. © Hedrich Blessing / Courtesy of
Rebuild the foundation)

“Whether supporting the digitization of our material collections or empowering emerging local and internationally recognized scholars, this investment allows us to demonstrate how artist-led organizations can be amplifiers of lesser-known stories. and creative vectors of community scholarship.

“The work of the Rebuild Foundation 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 heritage. black culture,” adds Justin Garrett Moorehead of the Humanities in Place program at the Mellon Foundation.

“We hope that these investments in the preservation of archival materials and the powerful ideas and expressions they contain will support and inspire those working to uplift their communities and their culture now and in the future.”

Slides held at the Stony Island Arts Bank. (Image: Sara Pooley / Courtesy of The Rebuild Foundation.)

Rebuild’s four collections housed at the Stony Island Arts Bank each evoke different approaches to objectivity and cultural histories in black space. They include a collection of over 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 and reflections on the black experience in America. The program will provide a platform for scholars and artists to examine and interpret these materials.

Documents held at the Stony Island Arts Bank. (Image: Tom Harris. © Hedrich Blessing / Courtesy of
Rebuild the foundation.)

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

(Image: Dancing minstrel with clapboard, Edward J. Williams Collection / Courtesy of Rebuild

Throughout the fellowship, additional programming will provide opportunities for the public to participate in ongoing research and exploration in the archives. A research group will be created, with selected artists, curators, scholars and other opinion leaders meeting monthly to discuss. Collection tours and a bi-weekly lecture series will feature fellows and scholars presenting and discussing selected objects from the Stony Island Arts Bank collections. The program will include the production of a publication that will showcase items from the collections, illuminating their historical context through editorial and interpretative material compiled in collaboration with artists, scholars and fellows.

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

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