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Virtual Conversation: Theaster Gates and Louise Bernard



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    This event will be recorded, and the recording will be available on the Art Institute's YouTube channel soon after the event.

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Join Theaster Gates, Chicago artist and social innovator, and Louise Bernard, founding director of the Obama Presidential Center’s museum, for a discussion about art and democracy on the occasion of The Obama Portraits.

About the Speakers

Theaster Gates lives and works in Chicago. Gates creates works that engage with space theory and land development, sculpture and performance. Known for his recirculation of art-world capital, Gates creates work that focuses on the possibility of the “life within things.” His work contends with the notion of Black space as a formal exercise—one defined by collective desire, artistic agency, and the tactics of a pragmatist.

In 2010, Gates created the Rebuild Foundation, a nonprofit platform for art, cultural development, and neighborhood transformation that supports artists and strengthens communities through free arts programming and innovative cultural amenities on Chicago’s South Side. 

Gates has exhibited and performed at Tate Liverpool, UK (2020); Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany (2020); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, US (2019); Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France (2019); Sprengel Museum Hannover, Germany (2018); Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland (2018); National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, US (2017); Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada (2016); Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy (2016); Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK (2013); Punta della Dogana, Venice, Italy (2013); and dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany (2012). 

In 2020, Gates received the Crystal Award for his leadership in creating sustainable communities. He was the winner of the Artes Mundi 6 prize and a recipient of the Légion d’Honneur in 2017. He was awarded the Nasher Prize for Sculpture 2018, as well as the Urban Land Institute’s J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development. Gates is a professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Visual Arts and serves as the senior advisor for cultural innovation and advisor to the dean at the Harris School of Public Policy.

Louise Bernard is the founding director of the Obama Presidential Center’s museum. As a senior content developer and interpretive planner in the New York office of the museum design firm Ralph Appelbaum Associates, she worked on the design team that developed the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, along with other national and international projects. She previously served as director of exhibitions at the New York Public Library, as curator of prose and drama for the Yale Collection of American Literature at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, and as assistant professor of English at Georgetown University. She received a BA Hons in drama from the University of Manchester; an MA in theater history and an MA in English literature from Indiana University, Bloomington; and a Ph.D. in African American studies and American studies from Yale University. Her current research engages with the literary archive, material culture, museology, public history, and interpretive planning and design. She serves on the advisory council for the Johnson Publishing Company Archive, and is a recipient of the 2021 College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award from Indiana University.

This program will be livestreamed on YouTube and you will receive the event link when you register. We recommend using a laptop or desktop computer to enjoy this program. You can submit questions for the speakers in advance or during the program using the Google Form below. This event will also be recorded, and the recording will be available on the Art Institute’s YouTube channel soon after the event.

If you have any questions about virtual programming, please reach out to

Closed captioning will be available for this program. For questions related to accessibility accommodations, please email


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