Three years into my tenure at Virginia Commonwealth University, I have become accustomed to the ebb and flow of students and faculty moving to and from campus, popping into our satellite offices, and infusing our environment and planning with intellectual curiosity, creative challenges, and groundbreaking research. For some at VCU, summer brings with it a quieter, more relaxed cadence, and an opportunity to refresh.

At the ICA, this was our busiest season yet and the clock is ticking—very fast. With an expert senior team assembled from prominent art institutions around the country, we are now busy working on all aspects of planning from construction to curatorial, education to communications, fundraising to community engagement. We are still hiring additional staff to help us open our doors in 2017. We are hunkered down in offices throughout VCU, New York, and beyond, on target to finish the marathon that is building the ICA. The end is in sight. From conversations with architects and caterers to crunching numbers for multiyear budgets and operating plans, we are focused on more details than I have words to express. We often like to describe our experience as “building the airplane while flying it at the same time.”1 That gives you a good sense of how it feels to build a new arts space from scratch physically and conceptually.

During this transitional time, in addition to developing our many complex operating plans, we have also been designing our first three years of exhibitions and educational programs. In the midst of the long-term planning, we have continued to engage our community. Over the spring semester, we brought together VCU School of the Arts Interior Design alumni, faculty, and students to address design issues for the ICA. This kind of interdisciplinary collaboration, with an emphasis on providing real-world opportunities for students, is fundamental to our mission.

We also launched our first educational program with “Inventing ICA,” which brings museum professionals and industry thought leaders to VCU for public lectures to an audience including colleagues, students, and the general public. Visit our website at to learn more, from recommended readings to recorded lectures.

This fall we are conducting community and campus-based focus groups that will ensure diverse perspectives to help shape our values, programming, and operations. Additionally, we are developing an innovative membership program that promises to welcome broad, new audiences to the life-changing potential of contemporary art.

With less than $2 million to raise for our capital campaign, we have a limited number of naming opportunities available, ranging from auditorium seats to gender-neutral bathrooms and the catering kitchen. Please consider becoming one of the founding donors of the ICA. This new contemporary art space will become an iconic gateway for the city of Richmond, a crowning anchor for the arts district. Don’t miss this is once-in-a-lifetime chance to invest in giving a gift to this, and future, generations.

Construction continued its rapid progress over the summer. Now that the immense work of excavating the site and digging the geothermal wells is complete, the first, second, and third levels of the building are beginning to transform the corner of Broad and Belvidere. I can’t wait for the final walls and windows to go up.

Much of the previous fall and winter were spent benchmarking with other art institutions, both private and in a university setting. We now take the lessons learned from our generous colleagues across the country as we craft our own unique roadmap for inventing the ICA. All of this is possible thanks to the talent of our volunteer leadership, the support and encouragement of our university colleagues, and the commitment of an ambitious staff of dedicated professionals who are quickly becoming a family. When you see us next, ask us how we spent our summer session.

Thank you,

Lisa D. Freiman, Ph.D.

 1 Fallon Agency, Electronic Data Systems promotional commercial “Airplane,” 2000

Past Director’s Letters:

Winter 2016
Summer 2015
Fall 2014
Summer 2013

Lisa Freiman is an internationally recognized curator and leader in the contemporary art field.