Patrick L. Pyszka, City of Chicago


theaster gates renovates chicago transit hub, adds dj booth

April 10, 2019
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If you needed a good example of why cities should turn to local artists — as opposed to real-estate developers or bullsh*t urban planners — in spearheading civic works projects in their own neighborhoods, let us point you to Exhibit A on the South Side of Chicago.

There, this past Monday, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) unveiled new additions to the recently renovated 95th Street Terminal, the southernmost stop on the city’s Red Line trains and a focal commuting point for the predominantly Black and Brown community that lives here. One central figure in the design of the new terminal was Theaster Gates, a Chicago multi-disciplinary artist who has a long track record of tying his art practice with neighborhood development and infrastructure. It was Gates who, in addition to creating art pieces specifically for the building, convinced the CTA to outfit the transit hub with a performance space and…wait for it…a DJ booth with a radio broadcast signal.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (4th from left) and artist Theaster Gates (5th) behind a battle-ready Technics 1200 (Photo: Patrick L. Pyszka, City of Chicago)

The radio station is called An Extended Song of Our People (AESOP), and the press release from the city mayor’s office called it “the first of its kind public broadcast studio/disc jockey (DJ) booth…[with] programming [that] will be broadcast over the 95th Street Station’s public address system, and possibly via an internet radio station sometime in the future.” It is expected to be a helpful resource for commuters, providing riders with real-time programming, news and service announcements by way of an on-site DJ.

Yet the mere sight of a public DJ booth in a prominent location on the South Side of Chicago — one of the great epicenters of not only 20th century Black music in American and the world, but birthplace of Chicago house music and the modern DJing — can’t help but spark feelings of potential musical joy set to take place in a most unlikely location. And that potential, of a Red Line stop which might turn into a party, can be traced directly back to Gates’ involvement.

“I am honored every chance I get to create art in my community,” said Gates said at the unveiling. “My goal for the installation was to create a work that could absorb the memories and hopes of riders through music, and shift what we imagine a work of public art should be. It’s not only monumental objects. Public art can also be a way of harnessing the many voices of our people. The radio station will do that.”

(L-R): Theaster Gates and Mayor Rahm Emanuel (Photo: Patrick L. Pyszka, City of Chicago)

Also displayed at the South Terminal is Gates’ visual piece, america, america, a pair of tapestries made from decommissioned fire hoses. (Much of Gates’ sculptural work utilizes recycled materials previously used in public service.) The tapestries “formally materialize the history of the civil rights struggle in the U.S.,” according to a press release from the city mayor’s office, and “serve as a reminder of struggle and acknowledgment that the work of equity and equality is an ongoing effort not carried by one people but by all.”

Comparatively speaking, the work hanging on the wall, which represents the largest public artwork project in the CTA’s history, was the B-side.

(Photo credits: Patrick L. Pyszka, City of Chicago)