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Richmond’s Institute for Contemporary Art celebrates third anniversary

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Institute for Contemporary Art recently celebrated its third anniversary after a year marked by a four-month pandemic closure and declining attendance.

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By Anya Sczerzenie

The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond recently celebrated its third anniversary after a year marked by a four-month pandemic closure and declining attendance.

The institute hosted a “Lunch & Launch” event in late April to commemorate the milestone and to preview upcoming exhibits. Previously featured artists spoke at the event. Guests previewed the upcoming exhibit “It Will Always Come Back to You,” by Cairo-based artist Ibrahim Ahmed, who creates work based on textiles and other mediums. Ahmed’s exhibition will feature a large sculpture commissioned by the ICA.

The institute opened in April 2018 with the exhibition “Declaration,” which featured more than 30 artists and ran through September 2018. “Declaration” was the institute’s first and most well-attended exhibition, according to Dominic Willsdon, ICA executive director. “Declaration” featured the most artists in an ICA exhibition and was the only exhibit to take up the entire institute.

The New York Times previewed the ICA in 2018 and lauded the institute’s potential to grapple with “pressing social issues” from its “historic pivot point” on the corner of a Richmond intersection that “once marked the boundary between Black and white communities.” Almost two years after it opened, USA Today named the ICA a top 10 best new museum—the only art museum on the list.

Willsdon said over the past three years an increasingly large portion of the artwork on display is commissioned specifically for the institute.

“Almost every exhibition involves commissioning new work,” Willsdon said. “The ICA doesn’t just show art of the past but brings new art into the world.”

Attendance at the ICA decreased in the second year of operation. It went down from over 100,000 in its first year to just over 54,000 in the second year, according to the ICA. The attendance figures are from April to April of each year. Willsdon said this was anticipated.

“The second year after a museum opens, it’s going to go down a little bit,” Willsdon said. “It didn’t go down quite as much as it might have.”

The institute’s attendance decreased to just over 10,000 in its third year, mostly because of the four-month closure at the start of the pandemic and the fact that no in-person events were hosted, according to the ICA.

Willsdon considers “Great Force,” which ran in the ICA’s second year, the institution’s keynote exhibit. It featured 24 artists and explored the theme of white and Black racial forces in the United States. It was on display from October 2019 to January 2020.

“Great Force has a special significance for us, in terms of the themes that recur in other exhibitions,” Willsdon said. “I found myself calling it a keynote in terms of the way it embodies what we’re about.”

The ICA has also featured art by VCUarts faculty members, such as Guadalupe Maravilla’s “Disease Thrower.” Maravilla, an assistant professor in the VCU School of the Arts, created the sculptures and banners in the exhibit to discuss themes of illness and immigration.

The ICA has never shown work by VCU students, but Willsdon said it’s “not impossible” that they will do so in the future.

“About half of our visitors are affiliated with VCU,” Willsdon said. “We’re really happy about interest in the student community.”

The ICA also closed in March when other businesses throughout Virginia were shuttered due to COVID-19. It reopened in July 2020. The ICA currently hosts in-person exhibitions as well as online events.

The ICA recently entered into a partnership with Virginia Public Media to create a podcast recording studio and workspace within the institute, though COVID-19 halted construction plans. After several months of online-only programming, construction on the podcasting studio is slated to begin in June and end in August, according to VCU assistant professor Chioke I’Anson. He is the director of the community podcasting space, which will have a soft opening on Sept. 10.

I’Anson aims for the studio to be accessible to people who want to start a podcast but may not have resources such as recording and editing equipment. The studio launched virtually, which has gone well despite the lack of a physical location, I’Anson said.

“We’ve had what we call ‘skill share’ sessions where one person shares their own lessons and everybody talks about it,” I’Anson said. “We have producers’ institutes, where we bring a guest from a podcast network to give a workshop on a particular editing technique.”

I’Anson said the focus has been on Richmond creators, but the center is “open to really anyone with an internet connection.”

Willsdon said his goals for the ICA’s future are to bring in more international artists and experiment with more tactile and interactive exhibits.

“We’ve actually thought more and more about tactile material exhibition,” Willsdon said. “We’re always looking at screens. Museums can be where a different type of experience is offered.”

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Arts & Entertainment

InLight Coming to Low Line in 2021

1708 Gallery’s 14th annual InLight will take place November 12-13, 2021 at Great Shiplock Park, Chapel Island, and nearby sites on the Low Line in Richmond.

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1708 Gallery’s 14th annual InLight will take place November 12-13, 2021 at Great Shiplock Park, Chapel Island, and nearby sites on the Low Line in Richmond. InLight is 1708’s annual public exhibition of contemporary art. InLight takes place at night and each year is in a different location in Richmond. InLight features multimedia, sculpture, installation, performance, community-based works, and virtual projects that utilize light-based platforms (projections, lighting design, and more) to be experienced in the dark. Past sites include Chimborazo Park, the downtown Arts District, and the sculpture garden and grounds of the VMFA.

1708 invites regional, national, and international artists working in all media and disciplines to submit entries for InLight 2021. Great Shiplock Park is located at a former shiplock constructed as part of the James River and Kanawha Canal system. Artists are invited to propose projects that engage with and expand upon the multiple themes and histories that can be found at these sites such as: trade and labor of then-enslaved peoples of African and Indigenous descent during and following the industrial revolution; the environmental impact—especially concerning water resources—of commerce and infrastructure; and the cultivation of spaces for alternative forms of historical preservation.

The curatorial team is especially interested in proposals that address ideas around movement in air, land, and water; flows of resources; and the redistribution of power within these systems; and future-thinking projects that reflect but are not bound by the histories surrounding Great Shiplock Park to imagine the site’s specificity and potential beyond its past and present. Artists, Collectives, and Community Organizations are encouraged to apply.

For more details and to submit an entry, please visit 1708INLIGHT.ORG.

DEADLINE TO APPLY: Midnight (EST), Thursday, July 15, 2021.

1708 will host two virtual meetings via Zoom to provide an opportunity for potential applicants to ask direct questions about the application and selection process for InLight 2021. The meetings will be Tuesday, June 22nd at 6:00 pm and Wednesday, June 23rd at 6:00 pm. Please register in advance to attend.

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Arts & Entertainment

The Broadberry is F***ing Back or so I Read

Good news for lovers of live music.

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Follow The Broadberry on FB to keep up to date on all the live shows hitting the stage starting in August.

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Richmond Folk Festival and 2nd Street Festival Will Return

Short on details but the good news is the best event in Richmond will be back.

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I was thrilled to see this in my inbox this morning.

Two of Richmond’s largest and most beloved events will return this fall, live and in person. 

Venture Richmond Events plans to produce both the 2nd Street Festival and the Richmond Folk  Festival as live events, while also following state and federal guidelines for outdoor gatherings. 

The 2nd Street Festival, in partnership with the City of Richmond, will take place October 2-3,  2021, in the historic Jackson Ward neighborhood.

The Richmond Folk Festival, in partnership with the National Council for Traditional Arts and the  City of Richmond, will take place October 8-10, 2021, along Downtown Richmond’s riverfront. 

“We look forward to getting back to in-person festivals with the 33rd year of the 2nd Street Festival and the 17th year of the Richmond Folk Festival,” said Stephen Lecky, director of events. “Now more than ever we know how important it is for us to come together safely in a shared celebration of culture and experiences, whether they are the rich traditions of the historic Jackson Ward community, or those from around the nation and the world presented on Downtown’s riverfront.  Certainly, the joy we receive from producing these two festivals is immeasurable and we will do  so with everyone’s wellbeing as our utmost priority.” 

More information will follow this summer as we continue to stay informed and aware of CDC and state guidelines for Covid-19 protocol at events. A commitment to safety and adherence to local,  state, and federal ordinances and guidelines is crucial. 

The 2nd Street Festival is sponsored in part by: Dominion Energy, Brown Distributing,  Community Foundation, Virginia Union University, and the City of Richmond.

The Richmond Folk Festival is sponsored in part by: Dominion Energy, CoStar Group,  Community Foundation, WestRock, CarMax, City of Richmond, Brown Distributing, National  Council for Traditional Arts, and the Children’s Museum.

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