ICA at VCU to launch inaugural Summer Sessions program

The series will explore what we hold in common and what divides us, and will inform future ICA programming.

Exterior view of an art gallery building.
The Institute for Contemporary Art is launching a 9-week summer sessions program beginning June 15. (File photo)

Dialogue takes center stage as the Institute for Contemporary Art’s first-floor gallery becomes a vibrant, flexible space in which to gather, pose questions and make connections during the new Summer Sessions program that kicks off June 15. The program, which invites the public to think about issues that concern us all, will blend performances, thematic workshops and lively discussions with opportunities for more informal exchange. 

The interactive public program will span three summers.

This year’s program, “Summer Sessions: Commonwealth,” will run June 15 through Aug. 18 and will focus on what it means to live in a commonwealth such as Virginia and how it can and should evolve in the 21st century. Through public “social sessions” and “program 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 times 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 summer’s series was initiated by Smith and Noah Simblist, Ph.D., chair of painting and printmaking in the VCU School of the Arts, as part of the ICA’s contribution to a multiyear collaboration with arts organizations also located in commonwealths: Beta-Local, an artist-run nonprofit in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Philadelphia Contemporary in Pennsylvania. At the ICA, “Summer Sessions: Commonwealth” will inform the planning for 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,” Simblist said. “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, through these sessions the ICA will assess how society might recover the larger meaning and potential of the “commonwealth.”

The topical conversations will feature several guest speakers, 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, Ph.D., co-director of the Social Practice program at Queens College and author of “Delirium and Resistance: Activist Art and the Crisis of Capitalism” (2017).

Sessions will be facilitated by Richmond-based activist and urban gardener Duron Chavis and community organizer Rebecca Keel. Partners from across the Richmond region will participate, including The Conciliation Project, Storefront for Community Design, the DJ collective Ice Cream Social and community radio station WRIR. Related artists’ videos also will be screened each week, including works by Jonas Staal (Netherlands) and Carolina Caycedo (Colombia). Each event will take place in the ICA’s Beverly W. Reynolds Gallery.

Public events for summer sessions will be held on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the ICA.
Public events for summer sessions will be held on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the ICA.

“Summer Sessions: Commonwealth"

Visit icavcu.org for descriptions of weekly themes, a full list of partners and speakers and details about social sessions.

Each Wednesday social session is both a gathering and introduction to the week’s themes, bringing together session partners and the public around music and common interests. Live DJ, hands-on activities and cash bar.

Each Saturday program session dives into topics related to the term “commonwealth,” with relevant speakers, a workshop, reflection period and a taping of WRIR-FM’s “Local Voices Live."

*Exhibition will be open to the public during all events and regular ICA operating hours.

Introduction to Summer Sessions
Saturday, June 15, 1-5 p.m.
Talks and workshops including collaborators Beta-Local and the Summer Sessions design team.

Natural Resources
Facilitator: Duron Chavis
Guest: Heather Davis
Social session - Wednesday, June 19, 6-8 p.m.
Program session - Saturday, June 22, 1-5:30 p.m

Built Environment
Facilitator: Duron Chavis
Guest: Marshall Brown
Social session - Wednesday, June 26, 6-8 p.m.
Program session - Saturday, June 29, 1-5:30 p.m.

In lieu of programming during the July 4th holiday week, the ICA will post “Declarations of Dependence” written by project collaborators.

Facilitator: Rebecca Keel
Guest: Gregory Sholette
Social session - Wednesday, July 10, 6-10 p.m. Dance party hosted by Chaz Antoine, featuring Ice Cream Social.
Program session - Saturday, July 13, 1-5:30 p.m.

Public Domain
Facilitator: Rebecca Keel
Guest: Patton Hindle
Social session - Wednesday, July 17, 6-8 p.m.
Program session - Saturday, July 20, 1-5:30 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 17, 1-6 p.m.
Workshop and conversations to reflect on Summer Sessions and a closing celebration.

About the Institute for Contemporary Art

The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University is a noncollecting institution that showcases a fresh slate of changing exhibitions and programs. The ICA is a place to explore new ideas, providing an open forum for dialogue and collaboration across the region and the world. Mirroring the increasing emphasis on cross-disciplinary studies across VCU, the ICA has created a new environment for artists and scholars from around the world to test ideas. As a university-wide resource, the ICA links campus, community, and contemporary artists by supporting local creative communities, engaging an international network of contemporary artists and organizations, and encouraging collaborations with VCU departments, faculty, students and the Richmond community. The ICA is a responsive institution that offers a broad range of artistic perspectives with the goal of questioning assumptions and encouraging critical discourse. For more information on the ICA, please visit icavcu.org.

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 30,000 students in 233 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Twenty-two of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 11 schools and three colleges. The VCU Health brand represents the VCU health sciences academic programs, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, MCV Physicians and Virginia Premier Health Plan. For more, please visit www.vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.