A photo of the ICA building lit up at night
A new annual award from the ICA at VCU will recognize artists, collectives, curators, educators and writers whose work centers on contemporary art as a site of learning. (Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

The Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU announces new award with a $500,000 commitment to supporting art and education

Made possible by the largest single gift to support the ICA at VCU’s programming, The Common Prize will recognize and uplift contemporary art as a site of learning with $40k in annual awards.

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On the occasion of its fifth anniversary, the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University is pleased to announce The Common Prize for Art and Education, a new annual award recognizing artists, collectives, curators, educators and writers whose work centers on contemporary art as a site of learning. The Common Prize will support activities at the intersection of art and education, including public pedagogy through art practice, learning-based community engagement in contemporary art and art and design practices in any medium oriented to educational goals or values.

The Common Prize will be presented annually, beginning in the fall of 2024, to two practitioners (individual or collective) from around the world. Awardees will be selected by a rotating international committee. Each recipient of The Common Prize will receive an unrestricted award of $20,000. In addition, recipients will be invited to participate in a short residency in Richmond. Supplementing The Common Prize, the ICA at VCU will also organize an annual symposium and produce a series of publications featuring award recipients and related topics.

Opened on April 21, 2018, the ICA at VCU is one of the newest institutions to operate in the overlap between contemporary art and public education. The name of the prize evokes the 19th-century Common School Movement (the origin of public education in the United States) and the ways education-centered art practices engage with values of the common good.

Emerging as a vital topic in contemporary art in the early 2000s, education-centered art has seen a degree of recent institutional interest and support. In the years since, many artists, designers, educators and curators have explored the contribution of art to public pedagogy, the educational potentialities of artworks and ways in which cultural and educational institutions serve art practices and communities; a number of museums (including the ICA at VCU), biennials and other venues have organized exhibitions and programs on these topics. Existing largely outside the art market, however, and still underrepresented in art’s systems of value, this field of practice remains financially and institutionally precarious.

The ICA at VCU has since its opening dedicated itself to creating artistic and educational opportunities. It produces and presents the practices of underrepresented artists, and has offered many artists their first institutional exhibitions, including Ibrahim Ahmed, Gideon Appah, Morgan Bassichis, Naima Green, Fernanda Laguna, Guadalupe Maravilla, dana washington-queen and Kandis Williams. The ICA at VCU holds that art and education are inseparable and is committed to a practice of public study in everything it does. Beyond its work with artists, the ICA at VCU has collaborated with partner organizations to support the educational ecology of its region — this has included a partnership with Virginia Public Media to create the VPM + ICA Community Media Center, a public recording studio and workspace that provides audio training and programming, including the audio festival Resonate.

“Contemporary art is an educational practice. Art does not emerge from educational spaces and practices (like a butterfly from a chrysalis); education provides the essential framework for understanding and valuing art. Museums are schools, students are artists, artists are students, art is study.” – Dominic Asmall Willsdon, executive director of the ICA at VCU

The Common Prize for Art and Education is supported by a $500,000 gift from Pamela Kiecker Royall, in remembrance and recognition of Bill Royall. An integral part of VCU for half a century, Bill was dedicated to creating opportunities for both artists and learners.