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Bringing a World-renowned Contemporary Art Museum to Penn Students

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Bringing a World-renowned Contemporary Art Museum to Penn Students

By Gloria Huangpu.

On the corner of 36th and Sansom Streets, across from Kings Court English House at the University of Pennsylvania, a glass and steel monolith looms over the sidewalk—the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA). Admittedly, I had only been inside the museum a handful of times before this past fall semester at Penn, but when I saw a Penn Art & Culture Internship offered in ICA’s Department of Marketing and Communications with the specific goal to increase the number of students who walked through its doors, I was inclined to pursue the opportunity. As a History of Art major with a minor in Economics, I found the opportunity to approach the operations of an arts institution from a quantitative perspective very appealing. I had prior curatorial experiences in the private gallery setting, but I had never before worked on the business side of a museum. This position would not only give me valuable experience for my career development, but also build upon my interest in creating a greater creative community at Penn. Moreover, despite the rotating gallery spaces, a patio, auditorium, and more at ICA, it appeared to me that undergraduates vastly underutilized this on-campus space. I knew that even many of the freshmen Penn students living a few feet away in Kings Court English House had never visited.

When I was hired for the Fall 2015 marketing position, I embarked on my task to encourage more Penn undergraduates to visit ICA and participated in the constant stream of free programming and events offered at ICA. Director of Marketing and Communications Jill Katz and Communications Associate Becky Huff-Hunter gave me the freedom to be creative in my various marketing tasks. I helped put up printed marketing material like flyers and posters across campus in locations that would be most visible to undergraduate students, and I also reached out to specific student groups to organize events. I am also a Resident Advisor at Harnwell College House, and I began developing a program for my own residential community, in which we did a tour of the exhibitions around campus that included the Arthur Ross Gallery and the Kislak Center along with ICA. With the success of this event, I invited other Residential Assistants and Graduate Assistants across campus to bring their fellow student residents to ICA. By the end of the semester, we successfully organized a two-part event with The Rodin Arts Collective that consisted of a group tour and a book-binding project inspired by Becky Suss’ exhibition on memory and artifacts of her past.

    • ICA Tour

Amidst emails and College House staff meetings, I also helped Jill and Becky organize a roundtable discussion related to an upcoming exhibition of the artwork of Rodney McMillian. After researching the artist, I contributed by compiling a list of invitees who might be helpful in crafting the marketing, curation, and programming around the exhibition. I helped with the administrative tasks of the event, which included preparing folders and name tags. I was also able to sit in on a discussion among Philadelphia’s cultural influencers as a note-taker. These notes were helpful to Jill Katz and other ICA staff members who planned the marketing and curation of the show to ensure its appeal to the audience at Penn and in greater Philadelphia.

    • Rodney McMillian: The Black Show
    • Rodney McMillian: The Black Show, Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. On view Februrary 3 – August 14, 2016.

As the semester came to a close, I began to plan more initiatives to encourage Penn undergraduates to make increased use of ICA’s spaces. Working with the ICA Student Board—a panel of undergraduate Penn students who give ICA staff various students’ perspectives on initiatives—we hoped to create an inviting space in the building where students can socialize and study for their courses. Branching beyond the realm of Residential Assistants and the College Houses at Penn, I have been working with student-run organizations such as the Women in Art Initiative and the Polybian Society to bring their participants to ICA for events such as scavenger hunts and tours.

As an organization dedicated to contemporary art, ICA encourages visitors to think critically about issues relevant to our individual experiences as well as the greater world around us—which unfolds by way of the artists using their various creative methodologies to tackle these problems. Their ideas on contemporary society are ones that college students are also often passionate about and are interested in from their studies or otherwise. Josephine Pryde’s show, lapses in Thinking By the person i Am, dealt with our connections to digital devices and how they affect our perceptions of the world, while the upcoming Rodney MacMillian show grapples with current issues related to race. These artists and their themes are carefully selected with a consideration of the Penn community and beyond. Being in the position of connecting students to a space on campus that prompts the world to dig into problems they care about has been an eye-opening and rewarding experience. I cannot wait to see how ICA continues to engage with the students around them in the future. 

Anyone interested in being challenged to think about personal and societal issues through art should come to ICA’s next public exhibitions’ openings, which will be on February 3 from 6:30 to 9:00 pm. You can also find other upcoming events on ICA’s website, including artist talks and the Free for All on February 17, 2016.

    • Free for All

This internship was made possible through support from the Provost's Interdisciplinary Arts Fund. Learn more>

Gloria Huangpu is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences majoring in History of Art and minoring in Economics. She is a Resident Advisor in Harnwell College House for the International Program and President of Seneca International, a global women’s rights advocacy organization.

Edited by Gina DeCagna and Mariah Macias.