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Theaster Gates, a Chicago artist known for his engagement with urban issues, is coming to Waterville, Me., a city with a population of roughly 16,000.

Colby College announced Wednesday that Mr. Gates has been appointed the first distinguished visiting artist and director of artist initiatives at the Colby Museum of Art’s Lunder Institute for American Art, a research center.

“I said yes because I was really just excited to be in a place where things are quiet, where I could actually not be distracted by the big city,” Mr. Gates said in an interview.

“I think that sometimes the challenge is that, as a black artist or as an artist who works in the city or someone who has a public practice, it’s hard to take off the public profile,” he added. “If the art practice is going to continue to grow, I need time to retreat and so one of the things that I’m excited about is that I get a chance to retreat.”

In 2017 Mr. Gates did a four-day residency at the Lunder Institute, so he is familiar with the school and the area. When asked about being a black artist in a predominantly white state, he said: “There’s a part of me that understands that one of the truths of Maine is that this area where I’m going to be is white. It doesn’t bother me because I’m not going there looking for blackness. I’m going there looking for rest.”