SOUTH SHORE — Artist Theaster Gates’ foundation broke ground on its “largest project to date” Tuesday morning: the transformation of the former St. Laurence Catholic school in South Shore into an entrepreneurship hub for creatives.
The Rebuild Foundation celebrated the construction of the St. Laurence Arts and Industry incubator, which repurposes the former school building at 1353 E. 72nd St., with a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday.
The 40,000-square-foot incubator will feature artist residencies, classrooms for artists to grow the business side of their craft and coworking space. Programs are set to be offered out of the incubator starting in fall 2023.
Gates also plans to host the Rebuild Foundation’s archives — including the Johnson Publishing Archive and the Edward J. Williams Collection of artifacts featuring racist depictions of Black people — on the building’s third floor.
“This project strengthens our ability to support artists and artisans with the tools, training and resources that will enable them to experiment and create innovative projects right in their own community,” Gates said in a statement. “St. Laurence is as much about preserving Black space as it is about giving new life to creative possibilities on the South Side.”
New windows had been installed and interior renovations were underway when Gates gave a press tour of the facility in September. Other aspects of construction were initially set to begin that October.
The estimated $10.35 million price tag — of which $7.6 million has already been raised, according to the foundation — is nearly $3 million more than the estimate given last fall.
“The St. Laurence renovation is a work of art in and of itself,” said Jennifer Litowitz, a director of the Litowitz Family Foundation and a donor to the project along with her husband, Alec. “Resurrecting this abandoned school building and transforming it into a communal space to nurture artistry and business enterprise is the ultimate creative act.”
The St. Laurence Arts and Industry incubator joins several other Rebuild Foundation developments in repurposing vacant South Side properties for creative functions.
They include the Stony Island Arts Bank at 6760 S. Stony Island Ave., the Dorchester Art and Housing Collaborative at 70th Street and Harper Avenue and Kenwood Gardens, which brought event space and native plant life to once-vacant lots near the train tracks that form South Shore’s western border.
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