Two-year engagement includes Seminar Series, Publication, and Presentation on Dorchester Projects at Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons The New School for Design

Theaster Gates, Dorchester Projects, Black Cinema House Interior, 2012. Photo Sara Pooley.
NEW YORK, November 12, 2012 – The Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School for Public Engagement has named Theaster Gates the inaugural winner of the biennial Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics. Marking the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Vera List Center, the prize honors an artist who has taken risks to advance social justice. Rather than a one-time award, the prize represents a two-year commitment to an artist’s practice. Selected by an international jury, Gates’ The Dorchester Projects will provide a platform for extended educational and public programs across the university, including the presentation Reflections on the Dorchester Projects at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons The New School for Design in Fall 2013.

"Theaster Gates' project of historical reclamation, interrogation of archival legacies, and social construction of memory and cultural agency has it all tied together,” said Okwui Enwezor, acclaimed curator and Vera List Center Prize jury chair. The Dorchester Projects “is extraordinary. The installation layers a meditation on the present by connecting it to the haunted remains of the American past, making links with narratives of race consciousnesses, the Civil Rights Movements, but ultimately probing how the African American experience is enlivened by ongoing processes of testimony. Entering that installation is like entering a haunted space."

Gates began The Dorchester Projects in 2006 by transforming two buildings on Chicago’s South Side into community gathering spaces with a library, slide archive, performance space, and soul food kitchen. The ongoing piece examines urban renewal and social justice through the lens of arts, spirituality, and community engagement. Says the artist, “The Dorchester Projects grows out of my deep roots in the specifics of my neighborhood. The Vera List Center Prize allows me to consider for other environments what I have learned and developed here. I’m deeply honored, and eager to expand the project.”

As part of the Vera List Prize, Gates will come to The New School in Fall 2013 for a seminar series, a presentation of The Dorchester Projects conceptualized for New York, and a public conference on the themes that arise in the project. Deeply embedded in the university, Gates’ work will be the intensive focus of scholarship, teaching and learning for new local, national and international audiences.

"Since its founding the Vera List Center has fostered art that unites personal expression with political action. The Vera List Center Prize extends this tradition by providing multiple platforms to explore the artist’s role as a catalyst for social justice,” said Carin Kuoni, director of the Vera List Center. "A bold American artist with a global vision, Theaster Gates and his work expand and problematize the discourse of political enfranchisement and social inclusion. We are thrilled to welcome Theaster, his work and the conversations it will inspire to The New School.”

Throughout his career, Gates has explored issues of race, history, and belonging in sculpture, installation, and performance. He has had solo shows at dOCUMENTA 13 (2012), the New York Armory Show (2012), the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (2011) and the Milwaukee Art Museum (2010); and group shows at the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution (2012), the Whitney Biennial (2010), and the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art (2009). Gates has received grants and fellowships from Creative Commons, the New York Armory Show, the Joyce Foundation and other organizations. He holds an MA in Fine Arts and Religious Studies from the University of Cape Town and an MS in Urban Planning from Iowa State University.

Gates was selected for the prize by a jury consisting of Okwui Enwezor, director of Haus der Kunst, Munich; Lydia Matthews, Professor of Visual Culture and Director of the Curatorial Design Research Lab at Parsons The New School for Design; Susan Meiselas, photographer and editor; Dorothy Q. Thomas, independent human rights consultant; and Carin Kuoni, director of the Vera List Center. Prize nominations were provided by the Vera List Center Prize Council, a global group of twenty leading visual and performing arts professionals who include Negar Azimi, Bassam El Baroni, Ana Longoni, Bisi Silva, and Pooja Sood.

Founded in 1992 and named in honor of the late philanthropist Vera List, the Vera List Center for Art and Politics embodies The New School’s historic commitment to the arts. It is a forum for discussion on the role of the arts in society and their relationship to the sociopolitical climate in which they are created. The Center organizes public programs, seminars, workshops, performances, exhibitions, classes and publications that respond to some of the pressing social and political issues of our time. It focuses on cultural production that emerges from within and outside the traditional art world and seeks to intervene in contemporary political debates. Positioned where scholarship develops into resource, policy and civic engagement, the center calls on the university community, the people of New York, and national and international audiences to explore new possibilities for civic engagement. Learn more at

The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center is an award-winning campus center for Parsons The New School for Design. The mission of the Center is to generate an active dialogue on the role of innovative art and design in responding to the contemporary world. Its programming encourages an interdisciplinary examination of possibility and process, linking the university to local and global debates. For more information, visit

The New School, a leading progressive university in New York City, was founded in 1919 as a center of intellectual and artistic freedom. Today The New School is still in the vanguard of innovation and experimentation in higher education, with more than 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students in design and the social sciences, the humanities, management, and the performing arts and thousands of adult learners in continuing education courses. Committed to public engagement, The New School welcomes thousands of New Yorkers yearly to its celebrated public programs and maintains a global presence through its online learning programs, research institutes, and international partnerships. Learn more at






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