Several cities from Philadelphia to Los Angeles have museums called Institutes of Contemporary Art, or ICAs, which are known for being experimental and nimble and for not having permanent collections. Now San Francisco is getting one of its own.
Ali Gass, formerly the head of the ICA San Jose and the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, has raised $2.5 million to start a new institution called the Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco. It will be located in the Dogpatch area of the city, which is already a cultural destination with many studios and galleries.
The plan is to support and showcase emerging Bay Area artists “who are ready for national and international attention,” Gass said, as well as exhibit projects by more established artists, with a roughly 50-50 split. Gass, who will serve as director, explained that social justice is part of the museum’s DNA, as it was born from the racial and social reckonings of the last 18 months.
“Starting an institution from scratch allows us to think deeply about contemporary art as a navigation tool for local and global issues,” she said, citing the extreme wealth disparity in San Francisco as one example of an issue that artists could explore.
Attention to economic justice is also one reason that Gass prefers the noncollecting model. “Collections cost an enormous amount to display and preserve,” she said. “One of the tenets of ICA SF is to address issues of pay equity for artists and staff. Instead of an arms race of collecting, we are committed to paying artists and museum workers an above-average salary for our region.”
The art collectors Andy and Deborah Rappaport, who founded the Minnesota Street Project gallery complex in Dogpatch, are the ICA SF’s leading and most closely involved funders. In addition to making a million-dollar donation, they are through the Minnesota Street Project Foundation underwriting a 15-year lease for the museum’s building: an 11,000-square-foot space that used to be a children’s gymnasium.
Andy Rappaport is a Silicon Valley venture capitalist. Other early donors also have serious tech credentials, including the Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and his wife, Kaitlyn Trigger; the Reach Capital partner Wayee Chu and her husband, Ethan Beard; and the Kindred Ventures partner Kanyi Maqubela and his wife, Martha Muña. (One sign that this ICA is already operating differently from the big museums in town? It has set up an account with the Giving Block for supporters who wish to make their donations in bitcoin or other cryptocurrency.)
The museum plans to open to the public, free of charge, by the fall of 2022, with a preview of the space in January during the FOG Design+Art Fair.