The future home of the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) is beginning to fill out, with the roof topped off last month and three stories of wall-to-wall glass closing in the gallery spaces. The interior is still in rough shape, but it’s easy to imagine the possibilities for the rooms once artwork takes the place of exposed wires and scaffolding, and for the 15,000-square-foot sculpture garden once it sheds its current installation of shipping containers and pickup trucks.
For now, the new ICA is one worksite, albeit a big one, amid blocks upon blocks of Design District construction. While the contractors concentrate on getting the building done, ICA director Ellen Salpeter is looking ahead to ensure the finished product late next year will fit into the neighborhood as smoothly as the work-in-progress does.
“It’s really the launch of a new museum, a new institution,” says Salpeter, who joined ICA’s staff in December, shortly after groundbreaking for the building on NE 41st Street on land donated by Miami Design District Associates (which also allowed ICA to use the Moore Building as a temporary space) and Norman and Irma Braman. ICA itself has been around since only December 2014 and is working to establish itself as a fixture after board members split with the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami.
“The notion of an institute, I think, really is a great descriptor for what we do,” Salpeter says. “It’s really about trying ideas and creating a space for art and artists and the community to dialogue together.”
During a walkthrough of the building, she notes many ways the space can serve as an artistic and community hub.
The new structure, the first U.S. project by Spain-based Aranguren + Gallegos Arquitectos, looms over the de la Cruz Collection and its other neighbors, a solid block decorated with a layer of triangular panels. Below its imposing silhouette, its ground floor is designed with accessibility in mind: A wide hallway will invite visitors into the front entrance, past a café and shop, and through to the sculpture garden out back.
Salpeter says the garden, which will be accessible only from inside the museum, will be treated as an enclosed “outdoor gallery space” rather than a public park in the vein of Collins Park by the Bass. Even so, she expects free admission and rotating shows to keep it populated with casual visitors as well as dedicated art buffs.
The rest of the ground floor echoes that ambition. Small exhibition spaces will help introduce the public to artists featured above, and a planned wooden stairway will provide an airy alternative to a crowded elevator.
The exhibition rooms on the upper floors are perhaps the starkest contrast to what ICA has been working with at the Moore Building. In the four-story former furniture showroom on NE Second Avenue, ceilings are standard height, and some rooms feel cut off from the central atrium as well as the city outside. The new building’s main rooms are taller and have a visual connection to neighboring Buena Vista and Little Haiti — sight lines through the north-facing glass wall to the horizon.
Salpeter emphasizes that 20,000 square feet of gallery space in a 37,500-square-foot building is a significant portion: “There’s very little that’s back-of-house.” But she’s also excited about the smaller programming rooms, which will host talks and classes and give the recently launched Art + Research Center space to explore community and societal issues in an artistic context.
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Salpeter hopes ICA can establish itself as the kind of cultural anchor that Pérez Art Museum Miami has become over its four years on the bayfront in downtown. As she prepares to announce the inaugural schedule for the new venue, she’s keeping the artists secret — but the building itself is a promising headliner.