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ICA at VCU Announces Its Inaugural Summer Sessions Program, A Nine-Week Series that Explores What We Hold in Common and What Divides Us, To Inform Future ICA Programming


ICA to host Wednesday and Saturday public engagements in the ICA’s Beverly W. Reynolds Gallery, designed specifically for this collaborative experience

ICA to host Wednesday and Saturday public engagements in the ICA’s Beverly W. Reynolds Gallery, designed specifically for this collaborative experience

On June 15, 2019, the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) will launch the inaugural installment of Summer Sessions, an interactive public program that will span three summers and invite the public to think with the ICA about issues that concern all of us. Dialogue takes center stage as the ICA’s first-floor gallery becomes a vibrant, flexible space in which to gather, pose questions, and make connections. The program will blend performances, thematic workshops, and lively discussions with opportunities for more informal exchange.

The first Summer Session—to run June 15 through August 18, 2019—will focus on what it means to live in a commonwealth such as Virginia and how that commonwealth can and should evolve in the 21st century. Through public social sessions and program sessions, closed field research sessions, and ongoing opportunities for public commentary in the gallery, Summer Sessions: Commonwealth will examine themes such as Natural Resources, Built Environment, Dependence/Independence, Assembly, and Public Domain.

Summer Sessions will be occasions to think out loud, in public. They are designed as focused periods of conversation, collaborative and transparent research, and play,” said Stephanie Smith, ICA Chief Curator. “The series provides a platform for us to try out different program models. Inviting dialogue about issues that concern all of us, listening, and using what we learn to help guide our programming—this is how the ICA works.”

This first series, Summer Sessions: Commonwealth, is initiated by Smith and Noah Simblist, Chair of Painting and Printmaking at VCUarts, as part of the ICA’s contribution to Commonwealth (working title), a multi-year collaboration with arts organizations also located in commonwealths: Beta-Local, an artist-run non-profit in San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Philadelphia Contemporary in Pennsylvania. At the ICA, Summer Sessions: Commonwealth will inform the planning of a related exhibition staged across all three cities in the fall of 2020, as well as a publication to be released in 2021.

“Centuries ago, ‘the commonwealth’ was understood as a model of political organization meant to achieve public welfare or the common good. The ‘commons’ referred to a medieval notion of natural resources to which all members of society had access, like water or air, and ‘wealth’ referred to happiness or well-being,” said Simblist. “But over time the utopian origins of the term ‘commonwealth’ have been complicated by its associations with colonialism.” Considering both common wealth and common debts, throughout these sessions the ICA will assess how society might recover the larger meaning and potential of ‘the commonwealth.’

Several guest speakers will join for these topical conversations including Marshall Brown, Director of the Center for Architecture, Urbanism, and Infrastructure at Princeton University; Heather Davis, Assistant Professor of Culture and Media at the New School in New York; Patton Hindle, Director of Arts for the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter; and Gregory Sholette, Co-Director of the Social Practice program at Queens College and author of Delirium and Resistance: Activist Art and the Future of Capitalism (2017).

Sessions will be facilitated by Richmond-based activist and urban gardener Duron Chavis and community organizer Rebecca Keel, with active participation by partners from across the Richmond region including The Conciliation Project, Storefront for Community Design, the DJ collective Ice Cream Social, and community radio station WRIR. Related artists’ videos will also be screened each week, including works by Jonas Staal (Netherlands) and Carolina Caycedo (Columbia). Each event will occur in the ICA’s Beverly W. Reynolds Gallery, which has been transformed for this project by DSGN AGNC (Brooklyn, New York) + Fundacíon Horizontal + El Equipo Mazzanti (Bogotá, Columbia) as a place where individual stories and practices can connect. During normal operating hours, ICA visitors will witness the accumulated traces of the ongoing discussions and collaborative work, and can add their own feedback.

The second Summer Session will focus on a new topic, to be announced in the coming year. Additional details on the Commonwealth exhibition in Richmond, San Juan, and Philadelphia will also be announced in the coming year.