Black Artists Retreat

“An enormous dreamer canny enough to make his outlandish ideas for the neighborhood a reality…[he is] a civic treasure on par with Chicago’s skyline and downtown museums.”
The New York Times

“…one of the most iconoclastic, and intellectually supple, figures in the contemporary art world”
The Financial Times (UK)

Theaster Gates, a charismatic figure in the contemporary art world, with a practice situated both within and without gallery walls, vacillating between aesthetics, urban planning, and activism, hosts his renowned Black Artists Retreat for the first time outside of Chicago.

For this year’s retreat, Gates, an Armory Artist-in-Residence, welcomes black artists and allies from Chicago, New York, and beyond for a weekend of communion, celebration, and multi-disciplinary exploration of this year’s theme: sonic imagination.

Retreat guests will be invited to actively think about the role of sound in the human experience and in art-making: the capacity to dream, feel, motivate and activate through sound, to think through and love through sound, to incant, incite or invoke using the invisible energy of wind and body to materialize form that moves us.

Through presentations, formal and informal conversations, side-bars, sharings, tributes, screenings, and meditations, the Retreat will explore how artists, performers, curators, historians and other leading thinkers in the fields of art production, cultural production, music, film and video, sound engineering, and the adjacent technical crafts of sound production, play, pray, worship, commune, entertain, interrupt, celebrate, heal, mourn and invite unity.

This gathering also celebrates the completion of the replacement of the wooden flooring of the Wade Thompson Drill Hall, which includes recycled pine planks milled by Gates’s workforce and repurposed from his Chicago urban manufacturing renewal project, Dorchester Industries, amongst other sources.

Opening Celebrations
Friday, October 11, 2019, 7:30pm–12:00am
Wade Thompson Drill Hall

7:30pm: House Opens
8:30pm: Welcome to Black Artists Retreat by Theaster Gates
Opening Conversation with Theaster Gates, Nona Hendryx, Darren Walker, Esperanza Spalding, and Romi Crawford
9:30pm: State of Grace Performance by Nona Hendryx and Co.
To kick off the Black Artist Retreat 2019, Nona Hendryx, Esperanza Spalding, Tamar-kali, Nik West, Kimberly Nichole, Ultra Naté, Illustrious Blacks and Toshi Reagon join Theaster Gates for a magnificent tribute to Grace Jones and our long lineage of sonic trailblazers. Also featuring performances and readings by Carl Hancock Rux, Lynn Nottage, and Judith Casselberry. Band: Ganessa James (Bass), Kim Jordan (Keys), Crystal Vargas (percussion), Camille Gainer (Drums), and Felicia Collins (Guitar). The Gracettes, choreographed by Francesca Harper.
10:30pm: Venus X: DJ and Dancing

State of Grace is arranged by Etienne Stadwijk. Sound by Bill Toles. Lighting by Adam Macks. Project Management by Joy Collingbourne. Video Design by Katherine Freer. Technical assistance provided by Claire Lim.

Presented in partnership with Harlem Stage, as part of their Cosmic Synthesis of Sun Ra and Afrofuturism series.

Sonic Musings, Meditations & Testimonies
Saturday, October 12, 2019, 11:00am–6:30pm
Wade Thompson Drill Hall & Historic Rooms

Join Theaster Gates for a kaleidescopic exploration of BAR 2019’s theme: Sonic Imagination. Through film, presentations, conversations, meditations, testimonies, and special sonic moments we will explore the role of sound in our lives and practices, leaving space for a multitude of perspectives.

Conversations & Meditations
Theaster Gates
Thelma Golden
Tina Campt
and special guests

Art Films
Theaster Gates
Kahlil Joseph
Ja’Tovia Gary
Tony Lewis
Black Cinema House: An Artist Selection

More Information

Drill Hall
Theaster Gates, Do You Hear Me Calling? Mama Mamama Or What is Black Power?, 2018. Courtesy of the Artist.
Ja’Tovia Gary, Giverny I (Négresse Impériale), 2019. Courtesy of the Artist.
Ja’Tovia Gary, An Ecstatic Experience, 2015. Courtesy of the Artist.
Kahlil Joseph, Wildcat (Aunt Janet), 2016. Courtesy of the Artist.
Kahlil Joseph, Until the Quiet Comes, 2012. Courtesy of the Artist.
Tony Lewis, A Charlatan and A Boring Man, 2011. Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Black Cinema House
Samuel “Blitz” Bazawule, The Burial of Kojo (2018). Duration: 1:40. Courtesy of ARRAY
Ava DuVernay, Middle of Nowhere (2012). Duration: 1:40 Courtesy of ARRAY.C. Fitz, Jewel’s Catch One (2016). Duration: 1:30. Courtesy of ARRAY.
Djibril Diop Mambéty, Hyenas (1992). Duration: 1:53. Courtesy of Metrograph Pictures.
John Singleton, Poetic Justice (1993). Duration: 1:50. Courtesy of Swank Motion Pictures.

Theaster Gates acknowledges Ava DuVernay and the team at ARRAY for their generous support in realizing this special presentation of Black Cinema House organized around the theme of sonic imagination as part of B.A.R. 2019.

Founded in 2010 by Ava DuVernay, ARRAY is a film collective dedicated to the amplification of images by people of color and women directors. Now in its ninth year, ARRAY Releasing focuses on grass-roots distribution of feature narrative and documentary work by varied voices. Non-profit ARRAY Alliance expands on the organization’s deep roots in independent film with disruptive social impact and education initiatives. ARRAY Creative Campus serves as an epicenter for production and programming dedicated to marginalized voices. ARRAY Filmworks is the production company responsible for When They See Us, Queen Sugar, The Red Line and 13TH.

Carrie Mae Weems with DJ Spooky
Staceyann Chin
Dick Griffin
Tyehimba Jess
Imani Uzuri with Dawoud Bey
Black Monks with Savannah Harris, Warren Crudup III, Samora Pinderhughes, and Luke Stewart
Wadada Leo Smith and Miriam Parker
Luke Stewart with Thomas Stanley & Miriam Parker

Music & Live Sound
The Black Monks
The Heritage Signature Chorale
PitchMafia Choir
Mikaal Sulaiman

Sonic Soul Session #1: Roller Skating Party
Saturday, October 12, 2019 from 7:00pm–11:00pm
Wade Thompson Drill Hall

Put on your roller skates or dancing shoes and dance the night away in a Chicago-style James Brown infused skating party celebrating the completion of the wooden flooring restoration project in the Wade Thompson Drill Hall (which includes recycled pine planks milled by Theaster’s Chicago workforce). Featuring DJ Madrid, Soul Summit Music, and DJ Sunny Cheeba, and performances by skaters from Chicago and the tri-state area black skate scene. Complimentary skate rentals and protective gear available on site.


Black Artists Retreat 2019: Sonic Imagination is made possible by a generous grant from the Ford Foundation. Gagosian has provided major support for the Retreat. Sponsorship is provided by Toyota. The Armory’s Artist-in-Residence Program is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Image: Terry Adkins, Native Son (Circus), © The Estate of Terry Adkins / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Courtesy of The Estate of Terry Adkins, Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein


Opening Celebrations
October 11, 2019

Friday from 7:30pm–12:00am
Wade Thompson Drill Hall

Sonic Musings, Meditations & Testimonies
October 12, 2019

Saturday from 11:00am–6:00pm
Wade Thompson Drill Hall & Historic Rooms

Sonic Soul Session #1:
Roller Skating Party
October 12, 2019

Saturday from 7:00pm–11:00pm
Wade Thompson Drill Hall

2019 Season Sponsors: