The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, or UICA, in downtown Grand Rapids is Michigan’s largest contemporary arts center and a “multi-disciplinary laboratory for the advancement of the art of our time.” Courtesy UICA
This morning, the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts announced that it is merging with Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University — making the UICA a wholly owned subsidiary of the school.
Despite its 36-year history in the community, in the past two years, the UICA has struggled financially and was close to having to shut the doors on its brand new $8-million building — in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, at 2 Fulton W — which it recently moved into in 2011.
UICA membership and attendance levels were not meeting expectations, and the organization’s debts and monthly expenses were outpacing its income.
The merger means that Michigan is no longer in danger of losing its largest contemporary arts center.
A creative community
Both David Eisler, president of Ferris State University, and David Rosen, president of Kendall, understood the importance of a contemporary arts center and moved to support the UICA.
“The UICA sits at the heart of the city,” Rosen said. “That is appropriate, because the heart of our community is its creativity. UICA provides a hub for all who thrive in the creative environment. Any city that wants to be great needs a UICA.”
With the encouragement of Eisler, Kendall College of Art and Design took steps to lend UICA support by sponsoring projects and offering advice and expertise.
“We are delighted with the continued growth of our partnership efforts with UICA,” Eisler said. “This merger reflects the commitment of Ferris State University and Kendall College of Art and Design to the arts in West Michigan. The synergy of this new relationship will strengthen the contemporary arts in our region.”
The merger also became a possibility thanks to the commitment of community donors in paying off debt on the new building.
"A broad range of donors brought UICA to its new building on Fulton. Now, a steadfast group of key donors is bringing UICA to its next iteration with Kendall/Ferris,” said Kate Pew Wolters, one of those key donors and a long-time supporter of UICA.
“Significant donor partnerships and community collaborations in West Michigan have once again come together to keep and enhance leading-edge arts and culture in the heart of the city,” Wolters added. “We would not be in this position today without the help of these donors and community- minded citizens."
Donors Dick and Betsy DeVos agreed, adding, “When we work together towards a common vision, remarkable things can happen. The merger of UICA with Ferris State University and Kendall College of Art and Design unites a shared vision and extraordinary potential for creative spirit and artistic inspiration in downtown Grand Rapids. As supporters of these institutions, we applaud this partnership. We envision the endless possibilities resulting from this alliance, and we look forward to a flourishing partnership that provides exceptional contemporary artistic experiences to the West Michigan community."
The UICA has already begun its journey forward, hiring a new executive director, Miranda Krajniak, earlier this summer, who in turn, hired Alexander Paschka to serve as the UICA’s first full-time exhibitions curator.
“UICA is part of a bigger picture, and Miranda understands and communicates that idea beautifully,” said Kathryn Chaplow, chair of the UICA board. “Her strong vision, leadership and commitment impact the future of both the organization and the collective art and design community. She is unafraid of taking the risks that prompt difficult questions.
“This is the sort of leadership that a contemporary arts center like UICA must have,” Chaplow added. “It's not about making everyone happy all the time. It is about exploration, pushing boundaries and stretching imaginations. The UICA will continue to engage its audience with a sense of curiosity and wonder and that audience is growing. This is an incredibly exciting time.”
Krajniak said previously that to regain its strength the UICA would begin focusing on the three things it does best: films, openings and events.
She also noted the importance of developing a more welcoming environment for members and how each focus area will improve those relationships with the community.
“Films are our most competitive product, and we’re going to be expanding the variety of what we screen to include classics and other community-friendly offerings,” Krajniak said.
With five floors available for exhibits, Paschka will coordinate three to four concurrent exhibits, putting the days of an empty building behind the UICA.
Finally, the UICA plans to continue its popular Odd Ball fundraiser, Live Coverage event and participation as an ArtPrize venue, as well as adding more intimate events to bring members, students, creative professionals and art lovers together for creativity, fun and conversation.