There’s a lot of news flutter about the plans for an Institute for Contemporary Art to be built at Virginia Commonwealth University. Most of the buzz seems to be focused on the location of the proposed building – a less than picturesque intersection at the edge of campus, surrounded by gas stations and a chain pharmacy. But despite the obvious visual flaws of the location, it is right smack between the newly dubbed City “Arts District” and VCU’s main fine arts buildings. Additionally, the intersection is just off the highway, so parents dropping their kids off at the dorms would round the bend to find an incredible new arts facility instead of an empty parking lot. What’s not to love? The building is only going to pretty-up that intersection, right? When I was in school at VCU, the school website directions took you down a super long route from the highway along Monument Avenue, presumably to bypass the less wholesome, yet more realistic views of Broad Street. It’s an urban campus, no matter how the school and the City want to spin it. Time to embrace and work with that. People visit museums in way bigger and sketchier cities all the time and live to tell of it.
Personally, I am not offended in the least by the location. I’m a little put out that they didn’t hire a local architect and planner, but I have no idea how the bidding process on this one worked. I have to assume, since I do a lot of bids for state work, that it was qualifications-based and not price. In which case, good for them. Aside from that, I love the proximity to my office – meaning lunch breaks with contemporary art. I also love that this would put Richmond on the map with several other medium and large-sized cities that have ICAs, like Boston, Philadelphia and Portland and MCAs like Chicago, San Diego and Denver. I see nothing bad coming of this. VCU is, and has been for some time, one of the country’s top rated Art Schools and I think this project will both show pride in the Art School and will draw more interest for future students and faculty. I can’t wait to see what develops.