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New Institute of Contemporary Art for San Francisco

The new non-collecting museum in San Francisco California will champion local artists and offer free entrance to all

ICA San Francisco

“Museums can do better.” It’s a bold claim from the new museum, set to launch in 2022, whose aim is to prioritise individual artists. The ICA San Francisco will be a lean non-collecting institution, free of the high expense associated with acquiring and maintaining a costly collection, allowing it to offer free admission to all.

The project grew out of the Minnesota Street Project’s work with artists, art non-profits and galleries in San Francisco’s Dogpatch district. Its new home is a former children’s gym in the district, stretching over 11,000 square feet, re-imagined by San Francisco-based Jensen Architects.

The Minnesota Street Project is underwriting the construction costs and a 15- year lease on the building. Seed investment of $1 million is being provided via the Rappaport Family Foundation but other investors have been swift to jump on board with around $3 million raised in under two months.

An equitable art institution

The museum evolved from a conversation between Alison Gass (whose career has stretched across cultural organisations including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago and the Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University) and venture capitalist Andy Rappaport, co-founder of the Minnesota Street Project. The two discussed how San Francisco could really benefit from an open-minded, socially aware, non-collecting institute.

Gass is now founding director of the ICA SF, joined by Jonna Hunter as Director of Development. Christopher Martin will be the inaugural artist.

“I want to address issues around equity in terms of how people are compensated in the art world and who is creating content in museums,” said Alison Gass in an interview with Artnet News.

“Salaries have been so low it’s often been a bastion of people who come from extreme privilege. We want to change that.”

Learning lessons from Black Lives Matter – putting people before profit

Gass promises to emphasise the visions of underrepresented viewpoints, acknowledging that the Black Lives Matter protests were part of the inspiration. “This is an institution that is born out of the moment of 2020 and 2021, the various lessons and reckonings that all of us have learned,” she continued.

“In breaking from the expected museum model, ICA SF pushes against tradition and hierarchies, fundamentally changing how contemporary art is curated, compensated and accessed by all,” states the ICA website, claiming that they will prioritize “artists over art holdings, individuals over institutions, and equity and expansion of the canon.” 

The museum promises “boundary-expanding curatorial initiatives and collaborations across the arts” and hopes to act as a springboard for local artists and curators to leap into global consciousness. It’s ultimate aim is “to build an unexpected museum model that creates a paradigm shift in the art world — and beyond.”

It is currently hiring a variety of job openings – promising competitive pay and prioritising underrepresented voices and viewpoints.

San Francisco as art hub

Despite the ICASF’s belief that the city’s museums can do better, San Francisco does already have a reputation for innovative art. The city’s de Young Museum featured the first major AI exhibition in the US, looking at the relationship between humans and intelligent machines.

Inaugural artwork by Christopher Martin via Instagram

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