Theaster Gates, a visual artist with a background in urban art, will serve as a visiting artist and director of artist initiatives at the Lunder Institute for American Art at Colby College in Waterville. Sharon Corwin, director of the Colby College Museum of Art, announced the appointment Wednesday afternoon.

“Artists can often change our perspective of things, and they can help us see things differently. Theaster Gates will help us see our world very differently,” Corwin said. “We’re thrilled to have someone who thinks and creates in a wholly innovative way.”

His appointment is for three years, during which time he will maintain a studio in Waterville and convene artists and thinkers from around the world for retreats and other art-related activities involving students, faculty and the wider communities of Colby, Waterville and Maine, Corwin said.

The Colby museum established the Lunder Institute for American Art last year. Among the institute’s goals is providing time and space for artists to reflect, innovate, create and convene. Gates is best known for creating sculptures with discarded materials, and his art has been displayed around the world, including at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Gallery of Art and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Last fall, he won the $100,000 Nasher Prize, awarded by the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas.

Among his many appointments, he was part of the design panel for Barack Obama’s presidential library in Chicago, Gates’ hometown.

Colby President David A. Greene knows Gates from their time together at the University of Chicago, where Greene worked as executive vice president and Gates taught in the department of visual arts, a position he still holds. In a statement, Greene said, “Having known Theaster for many years and having witnessed how his innovative work has changed people’s lives, I am thrilled that he will soon add to Colby’s strengths in the humanistic and creative disciplines that are essential to the liberal arts.”


The Lunder Institute, named in honor of Maine philanthropists Peter and Paula Lunder, is a research center associated with the academic mission of the museum and college. In conjunction with the appointment, the museum will mount an exhibition in 2021 featuring work that Gates creates during his time in Waterville.

Gates was artist-in-residence at the Lunder Institute last year. He will deliver an address to Colby graduates in May and receive an honorary degree. The residency begins this summer.

In a statement, he said, “What I need at this stage in my career is time for reflection and research. This residency period allows me time to develop the most ambitious projects of my practice.”

His job as visiting artist will be to bring people together to talk about issues and help solve problems, Corwin said. “This is way more than a residency,” she said. “He will be bringing voices and minds together to take on the big problems facing the world today. We have to put artists and other intellectuals and other makers in dialogue together. When you put an environmental scientist next to a philosopher and then throw an artist into the mix, creative things happen. They allow us to look at everything differently and help us see the things we couldn’t see before. We are honored for the opportunity to work with one of the great artists working in the world today.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

Twitter: pphbkeyes

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