Artist Theaster Gates' Rebuild Foundation expands leadership to support transformation of St. Laurence Elementary School

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Artist Theaster Gates' Rebuild Foundation expands leadership to support transformation of St. Laurence Elementary School
Former school chapel. Photo by Sara Pooley. Image courtesy of Rebuild Foundation.

CHICAGO, IL.- Rebuild Foundation—the nucleus for artistic innovation rooted on Chicago’s South Side has announced the expansion of its leadership team, hiring Racheal Allen as Nonprofit Operations Strategist, Heather Hummons as Special Collections Librarian, and Mileak Harper as Director of Finance. These appointments support the foundation’s growing community investments, including the transformation of St. Laurence, a shuttered and formerly vacant elementary school in Chicago’s Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood. St. Laurence is the latest project in Rebuild Foundation’s expanding assembly of redeemed indoor and outdoor spaces–all designed with the intention of supporting artists of color and their livelihoods, while bringing new cultural resources into the South Side community. The incubator will provide vital spaces for convening and cross-disciplinary practice for artists from Chicago’s South Side and those visiting from across the globe.

Theaster Gates and Rebuild Foundation purchased St. Laurence elementary school in 2014, and raised funds for renovation, saving the historic building from demolition after it was shuttered in 2002. Once open in late 2024, St. Laurence will become a new center for cultural exploration, entrepreneurship, experimentation, and creative education on the South Side. The 40,000 square foot space will be reimagined architecturally according to Gates’ vision, thoughtfully transforming the Art Deco and Prairie-Style brick school building with stone detailing into a space that will consist of artist studios, classrooms for creative entrepreneurship courses, co-working floors, a laboratory for archival research, and a home for objects in Rebuild’s collections and archives, making it the foundation’s largest single-building transformation to date. The restoration of St. Laurence follows the principles of ethical redevelopment and adaptive reuse shaped by Theaster Gates’ approach to architecture and art: an iterative process that finds new purpose in existing spaces, delivers cultural amenities to local residents, and allows for the use of the spaces to evolve over time.

“Central to the redemption of St. Laurence is to celebrate the artistic lives of the South Side and the larger Afro-diasporic community, ” said Theaster Gates, artist, Founder, and Executive Director of Rebuild Foundation. “With the leadership and support of our expanded team, we’ll be able to further our mission of providing creative resources, amenities, and programs to a community that has historically been denied access to them. In the process we’ll be able to connect the South Side’s history to the present while amplifying Black voices and Black art.”

As Nonprofit Operations Strategist, with 20 years of experience, Racheal Allen will support the development of community-focused programming for St. Laurence including workshops, mentorship programs, events, and performances. With Allen’s guidance, Rebuild Foundation will also engage aligned, mission-driven organizations and individuals in collaborations to further expand programmatic offerings while providing operational planning and support.

“I’m incredibly excited to partner with Rebuild Foundation to bring new life to St. Laurence because it’s so important that we preserve historic Black spaces,” Racheal Allen said. “The renovation of St. Laurence will allow us to create programming that not only serves the surrounding community, but also collaborates with artists, scholars, and curators from around the world.”

In addition to providing expansive programmatic resources for artists and the community, St. Laurence will be home to Rebuild Foundation’s four expansive archival collections, stewarded by Special Collections Librarian Heather Hummons. Hummons will manage the collection of glass lantern slides acquired from the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago; the books and periodicals donated by the Johnson Publishing Company; records from Frankie Knuckles’ personal vinyl collection; and the Edward J. Williams Collection, a collection of racist objects that have been removed from public circulation. Prior to joining the team, Heather served as the Head of Access Services for the DePaul University John T. Richardson Library and DePaul University College of Law Vincent G. Rinn Law Library.

The growth in the Foundation’s programs, including those operating at the transformed St. Laurence, will be supported by the appointment of long-time Chicagoan Mileak Harper as Director of Finance. Harper comes to Rebuild Foundation with 20 years of experience in accounting operations, analysis, and management, including his role as Controller for the City of Gary, Indiana.

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