Silicon Valley Investors Are Backing a New San Francisco Contemporary Art Institution That Promises to Look Beyond White Men

The new, non-collecting institution is helmed by Alison Gass.

Alison Gass at the future ICA San Francisco. Photo by Ulysses Ortega, courtesy of the ICA San Francisco.

A new museum is coming to the Bay Area. The Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco is set to open in the summer or fall of 2022, with a preview during the FOG Design and Art Fair in January.

Alison Gass, who has previously helmed the ICA San Jose and the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago, is the director of the fledgling institution, which is being overseen by the Minnesota Street Project Foundation. Founded in 2019, the foundation is an outgrowth of the Minnesota Street Project’s work with artists, art galleries, and art nonprofits in San Francisco’s Dogpatch district, where the organization occupies three warehouses.

The ICA San Francisco will focus on contemporary art, but will be a non-collecting institution, allowing it to prioritize artists and individuals and jettisoning the costs associated with acquiring and maintaining a collection. It will offer free admission.

Inspired in part by last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, the ICA will have a distinct social justice bent, prioritizing underrepresented voices and viewpoints beyond the traditional dominance of white men. It also aims to provide opportunities for Bay Area creatives to help them stay in one of the most expensive metropolitan areas in the country.

Alison Gass at the future ICA San Francisco. Photo by Ulysses Ortega, courtesy of the ICA San Francisco.

Alison Gass at the future ICA San Francisco. Photo by Ulysses Ortega, courtesy of the ICA San Francisco.

“This is an institution that is born out of the moment of 2020 and 2021, the various lessons and reckonings that all of us have learned,” Gass told Artnet News. “I want to address issues around equity in terms of how people are compensated in the art world and and who is creating content in museums—because salaries have been so low it’s often been a bastion of people who come from extreme privilege. We want to change that.”

The ICA grew out of conversations with Gass and venture capitalist Andy Rappaport, who founded the Minnesota Street Project with his wife Deborah Rappaport, about how the art ecosystem in San Francisco could benefit from the addition of a nimble, non-collecting institution.

“He said ‘What would you want to do if money and space were no limit?'” Gass said.

That was in January. Within a month, Rappaport called Gass back and took her to see the site of what will be the museum’s new home, an 11,000-square-foot former children’s gymnasium in the Dogpatch. The space is being renovated by San Francisco firm Jensen Architects, which has done work for other local art institutions such as the David Ireland House and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where it designed the rooftop garden, as well as the campus for the Minnesota Street Project Campus.

The Minnesota Street Project Foundation is underwriting construction work and a 15-year lease on the space, and the Rappaports are providing a $1 million seed investment for the museum through their Rappaport Family Foundation.

Other donors were also quick to come on board, and it took just two weeks to match that initial $1 million gift. In just eight weeks, Gass has raised closed to $3 million, in large part from “powerful tech art collectors” such as Mike Krieger, co-founder of Instagram, and his wife, Kaitlyn Trigger; and Cal Henderson, cofounder of Slack, and his wife, Rebecca Henderson.

“The tech community has really said we are going to be philanthropic in the arts and we want to think about what is means to be an equitable art institution,” Gass said. “It’s been an affirmation that there is a shared vision that an ICA San Francisco is going to be a great gift to the city and boon for the artists.”

The Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco will be located at 901 Minnesota Street, San Francisco, California. 

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