Gather events open doors at ICA
The Institute of Contemporary Art’s simple but powerful slogan “Free. For All.” stands for more than just a lack of an admission fee. It reflects an access-oriented philosophy about what a contemporary art experience should be. ICA takes risks. It is a prescient incubator for emerging artists, and it turns up the volume of underrepresented voices. By presenting work that challenges viewers, ICA invites them to reconsider previously held opinions and promotes greater understanding of an unfamiliar perspective. The commitment to provoking deeper thought is central to ICA’s mission, and plans call for extending outreach throughout Penn’s campus and beyond. “Art should be public, inclusive and open to all,” says Maori Holmes, ICA’s first Director of Public Engagement.
Opening its doors more widely, especially to those for whom exposure to contemporary art is new, is one of ICA’s top Campaign priorities. By reaching a wide range of audiences and offering opportunities for shared experiences that build community, ICA emphasizes Penn’s relevance in an increasingly stratified world.
Begun in 2016, ICA’s popular Gather events increase public awareness and provide opportunities to connect with people from the surrounding neighborhood and with members of partner cultural organizations, who often co-sponsor programs. “I Wonder What Else Could Be Different Around Here: A Poetic Intersection with Music and Art,” was a partnership with PHILALALIA and artist Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela. Working with the Leeway Foundation and Girls Rock Philly led to “revolutionary noise: music as struggle and healing,” while another Gather collaboration with the BlackStar Film Festival celebrated author Shantrelle P. Lewis’ new book, “Dandy Lion: The Black Dandy and Street Style.”
Over half of all Gather attendees have been first-time visitors, with a large turnout from the surrounding neighborhood. “We’ve seen a 34 percent increase in traffic since we began the Gather program,” says Holmes. “Attendees come up to us and tell us how much they enjoy and appreciate the program.” To date, ICA has held nearly a dozen of these events and plans to increase their number and frequency in the coming year. “Gather is our opportunity to be a good neighbor—to West Philadelphia first, then to all of the city,” says Holmes.