Non-collecting museums, like the VCU ICA, are free of the responsibilities of acquiring and maintaining a collection. They can focus entirely on exhibitions, educational programming, public outreach and alliance building. Interestingly, for more than a decade, these were many of my areas of focus as the senior curator and chair of the department of contemporary art at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA).

Preparing to become ICA director

The IMA’s contemporary department was young when I joined it, and lacked tens of millions of dollars to retroactively acquire important iconic paintings like those of Jackson Pollock. I quickly realized that, to make the museum a center for contemporary culture, my strategy had to be entirely forward thinking.

The approach required that I become embedded in the art world and gain the experience to know when an artist is doing something that is legitimate, serious and interesting.

During my tenure at IMA, the contemporary art program gained national and international acclaim. We created meaningful, engaging experiences for the public through exhibitions, commissioned projects, public art and publications.

We conducted serious research and offered exciting unprecedented opportunities for some of the most important, emerging and established international artists in the world – including eight inaugural commissions for 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, a living sculpture park with constantly changing, commissioned, site-responsive artwork.

100 Acres has been celebrated as a new model for sculpture parks, but it also provides insight into how I hope to craft VCU’s new Institute for Contemporary Art. The park became a beloved community gathering place, accessible and free to people from all walks of life. The works there are smart and interactive.

My vision for the ICA

In June 2013, I moved to Richmond with my husband, Ed Coleman, a high school English teacher, and our daughters Michaela (9) and Tess (7). As Richmond quickly became home, the sense that this city is at a tipping point became palpable. The timing of the ICA could not be better.

Our capital campaign for the new building is $35 million. We’ve raised $31 million so far, but we need your help to finish the campaign and begin construction.

My dream is that the ICA will not only become a cultural hub for the Richmond community, but will be a place of inspiration and exploration for the Commonwealth and cultural tourists. Our focus will be on a fresh slate of changing, experimental exhibitions, performances, films and programs – both inside and outside the museum – that encourage in-depth consideration into the central issues of our time.

Non-collecting museums have long been valued for their exceptional connections to the public. But few have what the ICA has:

  • the strength of a major, urban university with the #1 public art school in the country;
  • the synergy of a centrally located East Coast city with a vibrant arts community; and
  • a gateway building designed by Steven Holl Architects, one of the world’s most important living architects.

By design, the ICA will not have a collection of art. Instead, our strength will lie in our collection of people – innovators, educators, artists, dreamers, performers, benefactors, creators, arts ambassadors, visionaries, volunteers …

Join us.

“How do you think the ICA can change Richmond?”

I want to know, and I invite you to become part of this effort.

Lisa D. Freiman