It’s hard to believe that I’ve been living in Richmond for two years. I know people say that if you’re not from Richmond, you’ll never be a Richmonder, but I have to admit I feel like I’m getting close. I’ve spent the last two years avoiding my office as much as possible, favoring instead a nomadic approach to learning about the city, its people, its incredible restaurants, and extensive cultural offerings. I have presented about the ICA to thousands, met individually with hundreds, taught classes, done studio visits with Richmond artists, curated exhibitions and special projects, and gotten to know some of the complexity and richness that this incredible city offers us all.
It’s been a whirlwind. When I started here in July 2013, the ICA had a staff of one. Now, several years in, we have moved into a satellite space at 818 West Broad Street, a stone throw’s away from where the new ICA is being constructed. Inside our busy, increasingly crowded hive, where we are planning for the opening of the ICA in 2017, there are now four fulltime staffers besides me: a curator, Lauren Ross, a director of administration, Jaime Baird, a director of development, Carol Anne Baker Lajoie, and an administrative coordinator, Gabriele Habarad. We also have an intern who graduated in art history from University of Virginia; a VCU graduate student in art history and museum studies has been working for us part-time for the past two years. By the end of the summer, we expect to more than double in size with the addition of an associate curator, a director of communications, a director of education and community engagement, an external affairs coordinator, a development assistant, a registrar, a digital content manager, and a director of facilities and exhibitions. All of these searches require a diverse search committee from across the university that reviews applications, conducts first round Skype interviews, and then participates in intensive daylong interviews on campus.
Many people who are unfamiliar with what it takes to launch a nonprofit museum start-up often ask me why we need staff now when the ICA won’t open to the public until 2017. The reason is that there is a tremendous amount of work that we need to do now in order to be ready for prime time when we open. Behind the scenes, we are busy conducting research for our opening exhibitions and programs. This involves extensive reading, studio visits, seminars with scholars, curators, and artists, networking, international travel to visit exhibitions and artists, and more. Tied to this initiative is an effort to write grants for major government and foundation funding and to secure corporate sponsorships that will support our exhibitions and programs financially and legitimize our inaugural efforts among our peers and supporters.
Aside from the generation of content, which is a long, deliberate process, we are working on administrative infrastructure – developing a strategic plan overall, with special emphasis on our development and communications activities. This includes not only closing out our capital campaign, but building a strategy for launching our endowment campaign, which will ensure that the ICA is fiscally stable for generations to come. We are also building an innovative membership program with special benefits associated with particular giving levels.
Once our new director of communications is in place, we will start building out our communications plan for the next two years, developing strategies for generating excitement about what is coming. Academically, we are trying to reinforce our educational mission both inside and outside the university. Next year we will be hiring a director of academic affairs who will be working with every aspect of the university to integrate faculty and student curriculum, research, and experiences into the daily life of the ICA and VCU. We will develop an internship for students studying art history, art education, business, engineering, and beyond to help them understand the ways that these fields are intertwined with art and creativity. And we will work with other schools and units to incorporate the ICA into research and coursework. Our director of education and community engagement will be developing partnerships throughout the community, investigating fresh ways of engaging other diverse institutional partners, schools, and individuals.
Our registrar and director of operations will be working on developing accreditation documents necessary to be recognized by the American Alliance of Museums as being among institutions devoted to best practices in the field. These documents will enable us to receive loans from private collectors and museums that require particular levels of assurance that their works will be cared for appropriately. Additionally, we are developing security protocols for the building and we will need to hire a special events manager who will create a strategy for space rentals, which will become one of our primary means to generate revenue for the institution. In the coming months, we will begin planning for our retail spaces, both the ICA shop and the ICA café. We will develop a request for proposals from food service providers and also develop the merchandising plan for the store. We’ll also be brainstorming about what the opening celebrations will look like, when they will happen, and what kind of volunteer committees we will need to ensure that the launch of the ICA will be a time to remember for generations to come.
And there’s much more, but too much to elaborate on here. We are building not just an exceptional building by a world-renowned architect, Steven Holl; we are building a staff of exceptional people who are all committed to realizing this incredible initiative in the most ambitious, professional, dynamic, ethical, and progressive way. Our supporters are our anchors and inspiration. You have believed in us before we existed and we thank you for your vision and passion to make the ICA real. All of us at the ICA and VCU, our founding donors, and especially our tireless campaign committee, invite you to join the ranks of founding donors. We still have naming opportunities available at all levels and we hope you will consider helping us over the finish line so that we can close the capital campaign with great fanfare.
The introduction of the ICA is a game-changer for Richmond and the region. It will be a gift to future generations, something that we can all be proud of helping to bring into our world.
Lisa D. Freiman
Lisa Freiman is an internationally recognized curator and leader in the contemporary art field.