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Prada & Artist Theaster Gates: Lifting Emerging Designers of Color in a Neglected Niche

PhenomenalMAG Staff  |  Fashion Me In Style

The largest community arts initiative undertaken by Theaster Gates' foundation, Rebuild Foundation, has just begun.

The former St. Laurence Elementary School on Chicago's South Side is being transformed by Rebuild into a 40,000-square-foot incubator for artists and creative entrepreneurs of color. Prada launched a collaboration with Gates and Rebuild in September of last year to further address imbalances in the design industry. A multinational group of recipients of the first EDL awards represent industries as diverse as food and design. The nominees for the creative industries were selected by Ava DuVernay, David Adjaye, Virgil Abloh, and Miuccia Prada.

In some ways, design completes the realm of imagination and creativity. The only true distinction between designers and artists is the markets in which we choose to employ our skill sets. Right now, it seems as though all boundaries are a little flimsy; it's like a time when there are no boundaries. We are able to live on the periphery of things, to move between them, and to live at their frontiers. To promote the work of designers and artists of color, Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab (EDL) was established in collaboration with Prada.

When and where it is practicable, Dorchester is committed to converting surplus into access. The lack of exposure and opportunities has always existed in communities of color, not a shortage of creative talent. The Experimental Design Lab should serve as a platform and a pipeline for extraordinary designers of color, in my opinion. From fashion to food, the first cohort of recipients represent a diverse spectrum of industries. Yemi [Amu] is researching the agricultural heritage of her family and considering how Black people have long had a connection to the earth.

While agreeing that a Black woman wants to look well when she goes out on the town, Kendall Reynolds is interested in high-end luxury shoes. Black artists were pushing the boundaries of what it meant to be creative in unique ways, and I believe that while I was developing my vision and practice, the design community started to take notice. Today's Black artists drive demand and influence culture, yet we still lack efficient systems for identifying, appreciating, and acknowledging the work of upcoming designers of color. The investigation of their practices can only be beneficial to design. Making appropriate use of existing technologies—technologies that could help the average person—was in some ways a political and aesthetic mission for design.

Design became a term that had gatekeepers after World War II and gave design a name and a style. Aside from the more formal postwar canonization of design, however, there were also individuals who had lived in the South who were consistently developing new farming and agricultural technologies. Workers in factories and on assembly lines were improving the efficiency of the latter. The Experimental Design Lab is present wherever artists are creating art around the world. It is a place, but it is also a notion and a cohort.

The former St. Laurence Elementary School on the South Side is currently being restored by our team at Rebuild Foundation. This 40,000 square foot area will be transformed into an incubator for creative entrepreneurship once it is finished.

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