VCU reaches $20 million in funding for new contemporary art building

Since announcing plans back in April to to build a $32 million contemporary art building, VCU has just announced that it has raised over $20 million towards the project.

IAC building mockup

Update #1 – September 11th, 1:40 PM

VCU is now closer to funding the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) building it announced back in April. The university has surpassed the $20 million mark, pushing it closer to the $32 million needed to fund the building it hopes to open in Spring 2014.

Here are several sizable donations, including those that will result in sections of the building adopting donor namesakes:

  • $5 million gift from Kathie and Steve Markel, co-chairs of the ICA’s Campaign Committee
  • $5 million gift from Pam and Bill Royall, co-chairs of the ICA’s Campaign Committee
  • $2 million gift from True Farr Luck, Richmond-based philanthropist. Luck’s gift will be recognized with the naming of the ICA’s third-floor gallery
  • $1 million gift from Abby W. Moore, philanthropist and former president of Moore Loans Inc. Moore’s gift will be recognized with the naming of the ICA’s café
  • $1 million gift from anonymous donors to name the ICA’s reflecting pool in honor of Martha D. Newell
  • $1.8 million in-kind gift of the property on which the ICA will be located from a Richmond-based private foundation
  • $750,000 matching grant for a total gift of $1.5 million from the Virginia-based Cabell Foundation
  • $500,000 from the Lewis and Butler Foundation. The gift will be recognized with the naming of the ICA shop for Frances, Andrew, and Virginia Lewis.  Frances Lewis also serves as honorary Chairwoman of the ICA’s International Advisory Board
  • $500,000 gift from The Pollak Society, a group of VCUarts’ patrons in the Richmond community


Virginia Commonwealth University has announced plans today for the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA), a state-of-the art building planned to be one of the signature buildings for VCU. The new building, specifically intended for the university’s School of the Arts, a consistently top-ranked public graduate arts program in the country, will be a 32,000 square-foot facility located on the corner of Broad and Belvidere and will house approximately 8,000 square-feet of gallery space, a 210-seat auditorium with tiered seating, classrooms, gift shop, a café with a catering kitchen, as well as a room to accommodate exhibitions, installations, and social events. VCU hopes that the ICA “will provide a cultural connection between the university and the community offering an innovative, open, welcoming space and exhibition venue for interdisciplinary arts programming for a broad and diverse audience,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D.

From the 64 architecture firms from around the country that competed, Steven Holl Architects was selected to design the ICA. Holl’s previous projects have included Simmons Hall for MIT (Cambridge, Mass.), the Herning Museum of Contemporary Art (Herning, Denmark), and is, perhaps, best known for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, which Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New Yoker, said was “one of the best [buildings] of the last generation.” Holl’s designs utilize existing cultural components and historical structures, as well as sustainable building and site development.

“The enterprise is elevated with our choice of architect,” said Joseph Seipel, dean of the VCU School of the Arts. “We are excited to have Steven Holl, internationally recognized as one of the most-inspired and significant architects of our time. With Holl leading this endeavor, I am confident the ICA is destined to become an iconic building for VCU and the city of Richmond.”

The ICA will be funded by private donations, a process that is currently underway. The ICA is expcted to open in Spring 2014.

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26 comments on VCU reaches $20 million in funding for new contemporary art building

  1. Justin on said:

    I clicked on this link just to make sure it wasn’t Frank Gehry. It’s cool for VCU’s new Arts building to be crazy, I just hope it isn’t poorly made or dangerous to passers-by.

  2. Daniel on said:

    I support this 100%. Nice job VCU!

  3. joe on said:

    Another example of the great things VCU does for Richmond. GO RAMS


  5. Wolf on said:

    Sounds quite expensive for public school, but I hope it works out.
    Holl is a good choice if you’re going with a big name architect- interesting without being ridiculous (for the most part).

  6. This is an example of how VCU continues to revitalize itself. I’m so proud to be associated with this great institution!

  7. gdawg on said:

    Don’t worry davidson, this will be built on the southwest corner of Broad and Belvidere.

  8. Phil on said:

    Dave, they’re turning New York Fried Chicken Pizza Subs into a VCU dining hall. But they’re not gonna change a thing inside.

  9. sai on said:

    Great article, and really exciting. Just noticed though that it says:

    “Coll’s designs utilize existing cultural components and historical structures, as well as sustainable building and site development.”

    It’s “Holl” right? Just thought I’d point that out.

  10. We appreciate you pointing out the typo!

  11. Christie on said:

    For a Richmond news site, you failed to mention that a local architect was also chosen as part of Steven Holl’s team for VCU! Congrats to BCWH Architects – the associated architect selected from Richmond.

  12. BCWH Designed one of the schools I work at. They did a super job of making it imaginative yet functional – especially for an elementary school.

  13. grace on said:

    I don’t understand why VCU is putting money into it’s art department when the school is known for its medical program. Also, how many more starving artists can vcu produce? I think the money would best be spent investing in teaching artists how to support themselves outside those so called sexy designed walls, instead of pouring more money into the appearance. You know what would make the art department more money in the long haul – the ability to claim that 98% of its BFA graduates are making a living supporting themselves in the art field and the other two percent are those who transfered or changed departments. What we need is to invest in a thriving artist mentality and then provide the skills and tools to do just that. NO other art school can claim that! (right now especially vcu)

  14. anonymous on said:

    Grace, if I were a VCU student I would be asking the same critical questions. Kudos to you for doing so.

    Despite what the VCU admin might say, this is not about student needs as much as what the admin craves: prestige. They have purposely left these parking lots open so they could come back and infill with ‘signature buildings’.

    This is part of the tinker toy mentality of the development cabals of City/VCU. They don’t care so much about long term functionality or sustainability as long we can do something that looks cool for now.

  15. Roger Talbott on said:

    If you think for one second that prestige has no bearing on hiring rates for graduates or the perception people have of the quality of your education you are either crazy or not thinking it through all the way. Prestige is VERY important. VCU’s art program is one of the best public art programs in the country, its fitting that it should have a building that corresponds with the quality of the program. The number of art students that find employment in the art field has more to do with the motivation and talent of the students themselves then the school. This building is going to act as the gateway to the city for people entering from the interstate. It will be the first thing they see of Richmond and VCU and I’m sure that Holl and BCWH will do VCU and RVA justice.

  16. Gene Hunt on said:

    If what Grace says is true, then there is no need for the Virginia Museum of Art or the National Gallery of Art. A university education is more than just preparing one to work. That is why we have students take two years of liberal education. An art gallery is not just for art students; its for all VCU students, as well as the Richmond art community. If VCU is going to be a prestige university, we must have prestige programs that are housed in prestige facilities. Thanks Dr. Rao for being so forward looking.

  17. anonymous on said:

    Despite what some short-sighted boosters say, prestige is not everything, unless we have gone back in time to some feudal rule.

    Substance, function, and sustainability (including costs) matter also.

  18. JosephW on said:

    The ICA is a fantastic and highly appropriate project for VCU and will help reinforce Richmond as a creative hub. Not only does VCU have the #1 public arts program in the nation (#4 among all public/private schools) but the VMFA is one of the largest state run art museums in the United States. Additionally, Richmond is home to a growing arts community lead by numerous art galleries and arts organizations. Ultimately though, art is a vital component of our culture that has resonance in every aspect of our daily lives.

    All of that aside, a top institution should boast top rankings across the board. If a university only put money into departments it is “known for,” then perhaps VCU would not be able to complain several other top rankings. I am proud that VCU has many fantastic/growing departments and a rising basketball team. I am not a huge sports fan, but appreciate the team’s recent success and the success of all VCU’s departments independently of my bias. Each departmental triumph helps put Richmond on the map and contributes to an academic community of diverse interests and influences. That’s why I am a student at VCU and in spite of growing tuition fees, I am happy that some of that money is being put to good use.

  19. Scott Burger on said:

    Does Richmond really need another (taxpayer-supported) performance space?

    I will be curious to see how these energy saving features function.

    I will also be curious to see how VCU supports its huge physical plant in the future. Even if this building gets its own funding, maintenance costs are growing while tuition costs are skyrocketing.

    Its important to note that VCU purposely sat on the current parking lot for this ‘signature building’, while telling Oregon Hill, the City, and the state government that there was no other place to put their new student recreational center, in violation of whatever honor code VCU supposedly espouses. VCU administration, despite community pleas, has still not made a binding agreement against further encroachment into the neighborhood. So much for ‘community partnership’….

  20. FredInRVA on said:

    Scott, maybe that’s because the site the current gym is on is over 1.5 acres while the site of the ICA is less than two-thirds of an acres. They would’ve had to squeeze the facility down by nearly half, or gone to 4-5 stories (which is nearly impossible with a large natatorium).

  21. Scott Burger on said:

    I disagree. I am not going to get into arguments about natatorium sizes, because that really depends a lot on use and needs.

    It’s pretty clear that VCU is going to do what it wants to do. From a very short term, very shallow point of view, sure, lets put a nice building on this parking lot. But there’s a lot more to the overall picture. I just hope that students, taxpayers, and citizens recognize the REAL costs of their decisions.

  22. So there’s no upside to this?

  23. Scott Burger on said:

    We shall see. It’s definitely good to see something there besides a blank parking lot.

  24. I have heard Dean Seipel explain in detail the vision, mission and purpose of the ICA and suggest that naysayers learn more before weighing in. This facility will enhance not only VCU but RVA metro. It will allow those of us so inclined to LEARN, SEE, EXPERIENCE arts and cultural events, provide opportunities for RVA kids to be exposed to valuable experiences and lessons that will enrich and broaden their horizons.

  25. Scott Burger on said:

    I would not say I am a naysayer to this particular building, as much as I am a critic of the overall pattern of VCU empire building.

    That said, CindyM, didn’t Richmond citizens hear the same sort of patter in support of Center Stage before it was built? I mean the Ukrops even brought in school kids to City Council chambers. It was part of the lobbying to get the meals tax increase to pay for building it. But now that it is built, despite public promises, there is still no sign of the rescinding of the meals tax increase.

    Look, I realize this may not be a popular stance, but all of these “cultural experience” edifices cost real money to build and maintain. Is this the best way to spend that money?

    $20 million could probably pay for the launch of a real midtown/downtown free circulator bus system that could serve students, citizens, and tourists.

    Yes, I realize a lot of the $20 million in the title is from private sources going to a public university, but then in comparison Center Stage is a private arts center built with a lot of public taxpayer funds. In the end, I am speaking about money as a resource in general. It may, in a sense, be renewable if invested wisely, but it is limited, even at these levels.

  26. The scary thing is, my fate and your fate are connected to the decisions of VCU. We have to stop using VCU as the economic engine of RVA, because we are currently sitting on the edge of a University bubble. The more we anchor our success as a city to the rise or fall of VCU the more we put our city in economic danger. We need to have a clear picture of VCU’s finances before we as a city continue to support VCU’s growth. Hard times for VCU could be devastating to us as a city. If VCU, owning over 100 million in local real-estate housing tens of thousands of students, employing thousands were to have a collapse how would RIchmond fair. Maybe twenty million dollars would make for a great rainy day fund, but how could they attach sponsorship names to that? Scott you are right to question this.

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