PLAT | FORMS introduces the work of Place Lab, a catalyst for mindful urban transformation and creative redevelopment

October 20, 2014

PLAT | FORMS is a conversation-focused exhibition invested in new thinking around design, community development, and artistic agency in cities. The exhibition is an introduction to Place Lab, a strategy-based component of the Arts + Public Life initiative that works with artists, designers, and organizations in the cities of Akron, Chicago, Detroit, and Gary. Place Lab structures innovative opportunities for cultural growth, economic vitality, and space reinterpretation for cities, organizations, and artists.

PLAT | FORMS is an exhibition rooted in materializing conversations about the hard questions that arise when change begins. It invites South Side residents, experts in fields related to urban development and transformation, and a city of artists and designers to discuss the complexities of change in places that have been under­resourced. Conceived as a multifaceted exchange of ideas, the exhibition consists of three participatory stations—a talking chamber to record stories and interviews, an information kiosk about the Place Lab project, and a resource library—all united by a selection of designed objects produced by artists and designers who are invested in Chicago and the South Side. Among the individuals whose works are featured are David Adjaye, Stephen Burks, Felicia Ferrone, Jonathan Muecke, Sara Pooley, and Norman Teague.

In addition, Stephen Burks will lead a group of local makers in a participatory design project during the week of October 20, culminating with a reception on October 24. The workshop is loosely modeled on his acclaimed and ongoing Man Made project, a series of collaborative efforts that has linked artisans from the developing world to global design brands and that has explored relations between local artistic production and global supply and manufacturing chains. Continuing strands of the Man Made project have been shown at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Milan Furniture Fair, and other venues.

With the future of Washington Park as its principle concern, PLAT | FORMS brings together varied modes of idea exchange and creative expression, and functions as a laboratory for reimagining place.

Envisioned by the Arts + Public Life initiative at the University of Chicago and funded by the Knight Foundation, Place Lab is a creative think tank that researches, collects and evaluates data, and engages neighborhoods to create and test a model of community development driven by arts and culture to be shared with cities and neighborhoods across the country. PLAT | FORMS is supported by generous contributions from the Knight Foundation, Knoll Inc., Roche Bobois, Dedon, Parachilna, Volume Gallery, Michael Jefferson, and Missoni.

Place Lab

Despite daunting challenges, cities contain the seeds for their success. Where there is the will for community transformation, Place Lab suggests a way. To catalyze this work, a Knight Foundation grant assists Place Lab and its efforts to document the principles, best practices, and innovative strategies of an urban arts-and-culture-driven model of neighborhood development and place-based reinvestment, guided by its residents and stakeholders. Place Lab seeks to reveal how the process of community-led placemaking inherently includes and must contend with the unruly nature of art and the missteps of previous redevelopment initiatives along with historic suspicions of transformation and resistance to change by community residents.

By studying current arts-and-culture­driven placemaking projects that Theaster Gates—artist, urban planner, faculty member of University of Chicago’s Department of Visual Arts, and Director of the University’s Arts + Public Life initiative—has developed in recent years in Chicago, St. Louis, and Omaha, Place Lab works to export and adapt the successes of these projects into community-led development efforts in Akron, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; and Gary, Indiana. Gates leads a multidisciplinary team to demonstrate a particular model of urban revitalization. Place Lab tests the strategy of centering arts and culture to transform systemically divested and devalued neighborhoods, and to promote equitable and livable cities.

Place Lab’s efforts are grounded in an ethos of transparency and reestablishing residents’ social trust in community institutions and in each other. A fundamental tenet of Place Lab is that placemaking should not be viewed as simply building-focused. Theaster Gates observes, “Place has to do with people and not buildings.” Placemakers are people who see the tremendous opportunity in spaces others have deserted. Placemakers demonstrate what can happen in under-animated districts by making roots in certain areas, establishing homes, and developing a sense of place and a sense of a better future.



Conversations In Place

Oct 24, 2014–Jan 2, 2015


Designers + Makers
Fri, Oct 24, 6–8 pm
Igniting Conversation
Wed, Nov 19, 4–6 pm


Public Housing + Design:
 Wed, Nov 19, 6–8 pm
Public Art + Design:
 Wed, Dec 3, 6–8 pm
Public Schools + Design:
 Tue, Dec 9, 6–8 pm

Admission Free



More information

Arts Incubator
301 E Garfield Blvd
Chicago IL 60637

For more information about the exhibition, visit

PLAT | FORMS exhibition and programs are presented by the Arts + Public Life initiative and UChicago Arts.