Other than displaying art, what’s really the point of a museum? Well, for one, it can be a leader in establishing fair practices. But even bigger than that, it’s an educational institution, the educational side prominent in its public programs and events. On April 11th, the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) hosted one of its many public programs: Free For All

The event itself happens twice a year to reinforce the fact that admission to the institute is free. “A lot of times people come in here are a little apprehensive. They’re not sure if they should pay money or not. We try to continue to let everybody know that there’s no price to come in and enjoy whatever we are doing,” said Robert Chaney, Director of Curatorial Affairs and Interim Director of Public Engagement. “It became a little bit of a brand. Students know it’s time when you can come here, get food and see performances.”

For the performances this spring, the ICA invited DJ Jasmine Infiniti and performer Matt Savitsky, who is also an participating artist in the current exhibition, Tag: Proposals on Queer Play and the Ways Forward. The content of Free For All is usually not related to any particular exhibition, but in this case, there was a clear connection between the performer and the art on display. Savitsky’s performance was an extended improvisation, collaborating with three other artists to form a sculpture with their bodies. The sculptures in themselves, as the exhibition brochure suggests, “wear their eccentricities with pride, shifting through many states before finding a final form.” 

The event also included a photobooth and a table of food. “It’s supposed to be a lively event that appeals to younger audience and ideally draw in people who have never been to the ICA before,” Chaney says. “So the photo booth, along with food, music and activities, was to balance something that has content with something that was just fun. It didn’t directly relate with the exhibition but it was for people to come in and enjoy.”

For  the ICA, public programs and events are a collaborative effort between curators of programming department, which is a part of the curatorial department, and curators of the exhibitions to which the events and programs associate. For instance, in the upcoming Suki show, Curator Alex Klein worked with Curator Kate Kraczon to decide the programming: the timelines, the availability of exhibition space, and the target audience. That was how the show and the conversation with the artist came into being.

While programs like the conversation with Suki generally feature a particular exhibition, events that come out of public engagement are not often tied to exhibitions. For example there is a bi-monthly event called ICA Gather, where the museum asks an organization in the region to work with them to coordinate an open house event. The most recent one that happened in February was about workshops and teach–ins on self–care and self identity.

Through public programs and events the ICA finds a way to engage in an extensive, multi–faceted dialogue with the public.


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