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The gazebo where Tamir Rice was fatally shot by a police officer in 2014 could not stay in Cleveland. After initially requesting the demolition of the structure in agreement with the city, Samaria Rice, the deceased 12-year-old boy’s mother, had a change of heart. She wanted to see the gazebo preserved as a symbol of her immense loss. After all, it had become a community altar where candles, cards, and flowers devoted to the sixth grader became a memorialization for broader themes that have come to partially define living in America while Black: police brutality, racial injustice, and income inequality to name a few.
Dismantled shingle by shingle in 2016, the gazebo was carefully deconstructed. Through a family lawyer, Rice had enlisted the help of the artist Theaster Gates who, in turn, tasked his nonprofit, the Rebuild Foundation, with stewarding the structure’s legacy. Off the lumber went to Chicago’s South Side for a temporary exhibition at the Stony Island Arts Bank, an arts center created by the artist that’s just one star in a constellation of his projects that have propelled an investment of over $42 million into the neighborhood.
Next week, Rebuild will reconstruct the gazebo on the grounds outside the Stony Island Arts Bank in time for what would have been Tamir Rice’s seventeenth birthday, June 25. The deconstructed materials had previously gone on display inside the center for about three years while organizers searched to find the gazebo a permanent home. A museum in Cleveland had declined the offer, but there has been interest from other institutions to permanently take on the structure. Rebuild plans to exhibit the gazebo for about the next two years, surrounding it with a garden for the community to enjoy. Organizers also hope to install shrine memorabilia from Cleveland around the structure.
“We must remember that a person’s life was unfortunately taken away from us too soon. That’s why it’s important for us to tell these stories and ensure that something like this never happens again” said Tregg Duerson, chief operating officer for Rebuild, on a phone call with Hyperallergic. “These are issues we are grappling with throughout our nation and especially in Chicago. There’s a great deal of feeling and context that needs to be further discussed and explored.”
For more than a month, Duerson has overseen preparations for the gazebo’s installation. His organization is funding the project with additional support from Gates himself and American Airlines, which is helping fly guests into the city for the structure’s June 23 unveiling. Samaria Rice will be in attendance during the event, and Duerson says she has been in close conversation with the foundation for every step in the process.
“We are humbled to house and have the opportunity to construct a space for community healing and reflection that honors the life and memory of Tamir Rice,” said Gates in a statement. “The reconstructed gazebo allows us to interrogate the racial, political and economic crises of this country. It serves as a reminder of pain, while also reminding us of our resilience and shared history. We are honored to pay tribute to Tamir, and I am incredibly grateful for Samaria’s strength, activism and friendship.”