Critical Encounters Potluck (Part 3): Dorchester Project and Conclusions

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The Critical Encounters Potluck series concluded on Chicago’s south side in the appropriate fashion for such an intense week–quiet, warm, and fulfilling. Dorchester Project, headed by artist and cultural planner Theaster Gates, was the final site for our whirlwind tour of culture, history, and cuisine in the city. The evening party recapped how much terrain the CE group had covered, and how much we have planned from here on out. A little nostalgia with cheers for the future, one could say.

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But first, some words on Theaster and his architectural initiatives. Mr. Gates is an accomplished visual and performing artist, in both a gallery and neighborhood context. The CE group experienced firsthand the renewal and renovation his energies have brought to several buildings there–from the finished Dorchester Library and Archive to the future Black Cinema House in mid-construction.

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The goal is to reinvigorate the neighborhood with new purpose while preserving as many of the historical nuances of each building. It is a tricky task, requiring skills of balancing preservation and innovation in how architecture functions with community. Mr. Gates and his Rebuild Foundation have not only managed this balance, but have mastered it with grace and a sense of modern classic cool for the twenty-first century.

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Building architecture aside, there were other monuments to the South Side’s history to experience with longtime neighborhood residents. The CE group had the privilege of listening to a trio of African-American “life historians”–including Theaster Gates, Sr. (above, center)–whose minds & bodies are imprinted with the past. Each recounted episodes of racial tensions, marriage, love, divorce, loss, and excitement for the future. Their intimate stories made me wonder about the definition of an archive–here we had living records of the past residing in a building dedicated to preserving all other records. Histories within histories. A desire to learn of our shared culture from every source imaginable.

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The desire to connect, whether to empathize, debate, or converse, is the underlying emotion behind motiroti’s lead in the Critical Encounters cause. Sure, the same issues arise as they did during the Stone Soup event: how much needs to be done before we can honestly say we’ve made social change? 

Follow-through seems to be the name of the game here.

We have to apply ourselves, as individuals and as a group, in maintaining the relationships we have just started with this Potluck Week. As a collective, the CE group has already launched many social media platforms to stay in touch with each other and coordinate the next events with our sponsors of Hull House, Dorchester Project, and En Las Tablas. Tim and Ali, the motiroti team, leaving Chicago for the UK hardly spells the end of communications and momentum for the Rights, Radicals, and Revolutions. In fact, motiroti achieved exactly what it set out to do: they collaborated to build a community from disparate peoples and, now unified, mobilizing them to take action.

We can only follow-through with our labors to see what new communities we can create through winter and into the spring semester.

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