Guest Blogger Deb Sokolow: Research for an Idiosyncratic Visitor’s Guide

“In all fictions, each time a man meets diverse alternatives, he chooses one and eliminates the others; in the work of the virtually impossible-to-disentangle Ts’ui Pen, the character chooses—simultaneously— all of them. He creates, thereby, ‘several futures,’ several times, which themselves proliferate and fork.”
The Garden of Forking Paths, Jorge Luis Borges

When the Institute for Contemporary Art [ICA] invited me to create an idiosyncratic visitor’s guide to the museum, I was delighted to discover Steven Holl’s design for the building was inspired by a short detective story from writer Jorge Luis Borges. As an artist, lover of detective stories and avid reader of experimental fiction, I could not have been more jazzed. (more…)


Green Guide to the Building (Part 3)

Upon completion of construction in 2017, the ICA will submit for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a non-profit organization committed to sustainable practices in building and construction.

State buildings in Virginia are required to consider sustainability and must pass one of the following three standards: LEED Certification at the silver level; Green Globes Ratings Systems two-globe level; or adhere to the International Green Construction Code. The ICA anticipates earning a LEED gold certification, one level beyond what is required.

Rebecca Aarons-Sydnor is the ICA’s sustainability representative from the Richmond firm, Sustainable Design Consulting (SDC). (more…)


Guest Blogger Randi Korn: Intentional Planning at the ICA

Whenever I receive an invitation to work with an arts organization in my home state (I live and work in Alexandria), it is nearly impossible to turn down. I am so excited about having a new contemporary arts organization close by, that when longtime colleague Johanna Plummer, Curator of Education and Engagement, called to gauge my interest in helping her and Director Lisa Freiman develop a plan for the ICA, I was delighted. Johanna and I have worked together before, so she knows that I use Intentional Planning strategies to facilitate inclusive workshops to co-create an Impact Framework. I am grateful to the ICA’s staff for this amazing opportunity. This summer, the ICA team of talented museum professionals, as well as advisory members, university professors and administrators, and members of the Richmond arts community worked together to begin the process.

Intentional Planning is a contemporary approach to traditional strategic planning. Strategic planning focuses on an organization’s mission statement, which usually includes verbs such as “educate,” “inspire,” and sets out to create actions that the organization will take. Taking this a step further, Intentional Planning focuses on impact—the result of the organization on its audiences. (more…)


Impact Planning: Letter from Lisa Freiman and Johanna Plummer

Dear ICA Supporters and Friends,

After many months of intensive conversations, we are thrilled to share our new mission and impact statements with you:

MISSION: (what the ICA will do)
The Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) at Virginia Commonwealth University presents the art of our time and provides an open forum for dialogue and collaboration across the region and throughout the world. 

IMPACT: (the result of the ICA on audiences)
Participants respect the ICA as a public resource and value the transformative power of art and artists.

The Impact Planning Framework is intended as a living document. It includes our passions, distinct qualities, target audiences, and outcomes for those audiences, and it is aligned with VCU’s Quest for Distinction strategic plan goals. These two pages are the result of many hours of workshopping, listening, wordsmithing, and editing. Our work continues as we develop indicators and targets for each outcome and then make it all real this fall. (more…)


Inaugural Exhibition, Declaration, Will Examine Art’s Crucial Role in the World Today and Will Premiere Many New Commissions and Works

On October 28, 2017, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) will unveil the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA), a new, non-collecting contemporary art institution designed by Steven Holl Architects in partnership with BCWH Architects. The ICA’s inaugural exhibition, Declaration will explore contemporary art’s power to catalyze change, and will feature painting, sculpture, multimedia works, site-specific installations, and time-based performances by emerging and established artists. Featuring new work and commissions by artists from Richmond and around the globe, “Declaration” will examine themes of protest, social justice, connection, and creative community. The exhibition will remain on view through February 25, 2018.



Behind the Scenes: Building Interdisciplinary Relationships

Erin Hanas, associate curator of academic programs, shares her goals for coordinating faculty and student engagement.

1. What is a typical day for you and/or your team?  

Planning meetings and conversations — often related to programming ideas we are developing — but every day brings something new and different and creatively challenging. This ranges from navigating VCU administration to talking with colleagues at other institutions about their programming and campus outreach efforts. I am constantly considering what types of academic programs and initiatives would best serve our VCU audiences.

2. What projects are you focusing on leading up to the ICA’s opening?

Right now, I am focused on campus outreach and building relationships with members of the VCU community. (more…)

March on Monument 2017

Marching on Monument

Today we join Richmond’s March on Monument, and we stand, in solidarity with those who believe in the power of equality and justice. As we march past monuments to Confederate soldiers, I am reminded that Richmond is also a place where creative expression and alternative voices reveal a history of pride in our differences and a desire to continually reform.

In anticipation of the presidential inauguration and the opening of VCU’s Institute for Contemporary Art, we ask ourselves how the ICA can best serve our community both locally and globally in a time of civic unrest. In doing so, the ICA stands committed to being a space that promotes social equity, racial justice, and open dialogue through the arts. We stand together with the cultural institutions, artists, curators and critics around the world that share this commitment.

Today we proclaim our rights to preserve the very multicolored fabrics that make us a nation. In these charged times, we march together to produce more images of solidarity and hope for future generations to come. We march today, will join the Women’s March on January 21 in Washington D.C., and every day until we reach a tomorrow where we truly have a more perfect union. #RVA #MarchonMonument #ICA2017 #ICAVCU #Bootsontheground

— Lisa Freiman, Director


Winter 2017 Audience Survey

Please complete the following survey so that we may better understand our audience’s preferences for receiving information in the digital sphere.

All responses are strictly confidential and will only be used to inform the communications strategy for the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Thank you for your support.

Launch Survey >>

Inventing ICA: Process and Transparency

Our goal is to bring transparency to the process of creativity in all its facets — from architecture to technology and from planning to programming. As we onboard a growing team that will make the ICA a reality, we aim to bring a number of thought leaders to Richmond to discuss topics integral to our development and to share their expertise with our audiences.

Earlier this year we launched the lecture series, “Inventing ICA,” with a focus on technology and innovation. We began with a talk on big data presented by Robert Stein, Chief Program Officer at the American Alliance of Museums and former Deputy Director of the Dallas Museum of Art, which examined how cultural institutions can use information to become more agile and responsive. Stein shared insights from a program at the Dallas Museum of Art that provided examples of how museums can collect and analyze data to illuminate their work and enhance their impact on visitors. (more…)

Wrapping the ICA’s Headquarters

Inspired by a commitment to creativity, our staff decided earlier this year that the façade of the ICA’s temporary headquarters at 818 West Broad Street should undergo a bold, vivid makeover. Based on the ICA’s brand identity, a once stark white brick storefront now features a bright color palette of red, pink, and purple. Using a 3M brick adhesive vinyl, the front exterior was wrapped from top to bottom with matching laminate for doors and windows. Mounted high above, the ICA’s logo is presented in custom-fabricated white channel letters. Deceptively simple during the day, the logo is illuminated in the evenings for an equally powerful effect. (more…)

A Forum of Ideas — A Collaborative Program with VCUarts Interior Design

This past spring, 38 undergraduate and 8 graduate VCU interior design students were given the opportunity to take their studies beyond the studio and into the real world. In a joint collaboration between ICA staff, School of the Arts Interior Design (IDES) faculty, and BCWH Architecture colleagues, students were asked to examine design challenges presented by the ICA’s forum, a space defined by a 36-foot ceiling, a glass facade, a curving wall, and a sweeping grand staircase.  (more…)

Digital Wallpapers — Design Studies for the ICA

In light of our recent collaboration with VCUarts Interior Design and BCWH Architects, we’re sharing select works by participating VCUarts interior design students as digital wallpapers for your desktop and mobile devices.

Instructions: Right click/Ctrl + click and select “Save Image As…” to download the image file.

Desktop (horizontal):
An Liu, Forum Interior, digital sketch >>
Lucy Dabney, Forum Interior, mixed media sketch >>
Heather Overby, Exterior (Pine Street View), watercolor sketch >>

Mobile (vertical):
An Liu, Forum Interior, digital sketch >>
An Liu, Floorplan Visualization, watercolor sketch >>
Heather Overby, Exterior (Pine Street View), watercolor sketch >>


Exhibition: A Forum of Ideas (Now through November 20, 2016)
Video: A Forum of Ideas

Images: An Liu, Forum Interior (digital sketch), 2016 / Lucy Dabney, Forum Interior (mixed media sketch), 2016 / Heather Overby, Pine Street Exterior View (watercolor sketch), 2016

The ICA Auditorium

As construction crews removed the scaffolding and support systems around the exterior of the Markel Center last summer, the sloping plane that supports the auditorium seating was revealed. In keeping with the ICA’s mission to be ever-changing, Steven Holl Architects designed the auditorium to be a flexible and dynamic space that can accommodate the broadest possible range of contemporary performance art and programming needs. (more…)


Behind the Scenes: Building a Donor Base for a New Institution

Carol Anne Baker LaJoie, director of development, shares the challenges and rewards of fundraising — from the potential to the planning — for a new art institution.

  1. What is your favorite aspect of fundraising for the ICA?

Being with donors, hands down. I have a deep belief in the power of philanthropy because I’ve seen it in action. Spending time learning about what interests and motivates the generosity of our donors is incredibly rewarding. Our donors are amazing, they’re wonderful to talk with and listen to, and I never stop learning from them. It’s so much fun to share with them what we have in store at the ICA. When their passions align with our mission, it’s magical.  (more…)

Market Research: Profiling the ICA’s Audience

Over the summer, we teamed up with two VCU graduates to research the ICA’s followers to develop audience profiles and understand their motivations. Collaboratively managed by Joseph Baumgardner (BS Marketing ’16) and Christian Marchant (BS Creative Advertising ’15), the project began with a survey developed to identify those most likely to support and engage with the ICA.  The survey was distributed via social media and e-mail to individuals who follow the ICA’s Facebook page and have subscribed to our e-newsletter. Questions ranged from general demographics to the number of museum visits per year and rankings for a list of leisure activities.

The results identified 4 key audiences: the VCU artistic family, campus connoisseurs, Richmond art and cultural supporters, and Richmond art connoisseurs.  While all of them share a common love of art, fun, and challenging ideas, the groups differ in their level of cultural engagement and social activity.  Following are descriptions of each profile:


October 2016 Construction Update

Fall is finally here and with it, the Markel Center enters an exciting new phase of construction.

Over the past few weeks, the building was dramatically transformed with the removal of scaffolding and reveal of the torqued exterior walls above the auditorium. Concrete work for the lower level, first-floor gallery, cafe, and shop have all been completed; remaining are the third-floor gallery and upper canopy of the forum. Also completed, placement of the steel beams for these remaining structures. Perhaps the most striking construction component to date, the steel super-structure revealed a hint of the Markel Center’s future visual impact at the intersection of Broad and Belvidere.


Q&A with Rahim Hassan: Teen Programming at the ICA

Last summer, the ICA and VCUarts Department of Sculpture + Extended Media jointly hosted four high school interns from area schools participating in the Cochrane Summer Economic Institute. The interns were tasked with conducting research on local arts programming for teens and providing recommendations for the creation of teen programs at both the ICA and Sculpture + Extended Media.

Rahim Hassan, one of the four interns and a Clover Hill High School senior, discusses his experience and takeaways from participating in this unique summer internship experience.

Listen as Rahim reflects on what the ICA could offer teens and read more of his Q&A with education assistant Alexander Crawford.

AC: What opportunities do you think the ICA can offer teens?

RH: The ICA’s teen programs will be more than a safe space for teens to meet and talk about important topics. Through offerings like a teen council and other leadership opportunities, teens can learn skills like public speaking, organization, teamwork and problem-solving. At the end of the summer internship my fellow interns and I suggested that a teen council be formed, one that would be responsible for creating innovative programs for fellow teens. This council would be an important voice in the institution that would make sure that programs for teens are developed by teens.

AC: What was the most rewarding aspect of your internship?

RH: Even though my colleagues and I were just teenagers in our first internships, it was really rewarding to see that our findings were taken seriously and actually provided important information to the ICA and Richmond arts community. When we gave our final presentation, people in attendance were interested in our findings and had questions about our research and our opinions. It really gave meaning to why we were researching teen programs. The work we did is giving back to something that is going to be great for the Richmond community. (more…)


Donor Q&A: Carole Harrell

Carole Harrell, Richmond-based artist and recent graduate of VCUarts Graphic Design department, discusses her expectations and hopes for the ICA.

  1. What does the ICA mean to you and why do you support it?

Having lived in Richmond for nearly four years while earning my BFA in graphic design, I witnessed enormous growth and expansion in the urban campus that was my home. Each day I saw new buildings rise up on and around Broad Street. and as I was finishing my studies in 2014, the ICA began to emerge from a parking lot at the corner of Belvidere and Broad. It occurred to me that this incredibly beautiful architecture would position itself as the beacon that would guide me back and that would also welcome all who followed me. (more…)

Modeling the ICA’s Markel Center

Last spring the ICA commissioned An Liu, a master’s student in the School of the Arts Department of Interior Design, to build an architectural model of the Markel Center. Liu is an expert model builder. He estimates having constructed more than 50 architectural models since he was a bachelor’s student in exhibition design at Nanjing Normal University, School of Fine Arts in China.

Liu met with Michael Lease, the ICA’s Interim Director of Facilities, Installation and Exhibition Design to discuss the Institute’s needs for this particular model. Unlike most architectural models which show granular detail and are designed to showcase what a building will look like when complete, this is a working model to be used for exhibition programming and planning. An important planning tool for the curatorial department, the model needs to be durable, mobile, built to scale, and easy to disassemble and reassemble.



Design in Real Time

In a joint collaboration between ICA staff, School of the Arts Interior Design faculty, and BCWH Architecture colleagues (the ICA’s architect of record), interior design students were asked to examine design challenges presented by the ICA’s forum, a space defined by a 36-foot ceiling, a curving wall, and a sweeping grand staircase.

A focal point of Director Lisa Freiman’s tenure, such collaborative projects are an ICA priority and a direct connection to VCU’s commitment to provide students with high-quality, real-world learning experiences. Simultaneously, the faculty were pleased to elevate the studio experience by providing students with an existing client and an opportunity to see a process take shape and to witness a structure take form.

Highlights from the project — featuring drawings and watercolors by the students, video interviews, and more — are on view at VCU’s Cabell Library from Sept. 26 to Nov. 20. Watch the video here.

Image: Heather Overby, Illustration of the forum (detail), Spring 2016. ©ICA at VCU and H. Overby