With "Digital Commissions," ICA Miami Focuses on Expanding Its Online Reach

Faren Humes' MLK is part of ICA Miami's "Digital Commissions" project.
Faren Humes' MLK is part of ICA Miami's "Digital Commissions" project. Video still courtesy of Faren Humes

As stay-at-home orders stretch into the third month, cultural institutions are looking at how to present artistic offerings to the public in safe and digitally accessible ways.

The Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (ICA Miami) has long focused on expanding its online platforms, so it was uniquely positioned to quickly launch a commissioning project featuring seven Miami artists and an artist collective.

“Since we launched, we have worked on ensuring that, as a new and cutting-edge museum, everything we were doing was thinking innovatively about technology and media," says Alex Gartenfeld, ICA Miami’s artistic director. “So there is a giant section of our website entitled 'Research,' and a big part of it is our Channel, which is a program dedicated to creating new narratives in contemporary art.”

Titled “Digital Commissions,” the project premieres new works weekly and keeps them live on ICA Miami’s channel for a year. Its aim is not only to expand the institution’s digital reach but to develop and support artists, who are among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 economic shutdown.

“Obviously, this is an unprecedented time for people working in all sectors of the economy, but artists and art educators are no less impacted, and this is one of a number of gestures that the ICA has undertaken in order to give back to our community,” Gartenfeld says. “It’s a tribute to the Knight Foundation and our partnership with them on this new program … which speaks to our foundation leaders in this community, who are thinking long term and short term about sustainability in Miami.”

The project — organized by ICA Miami’s director of the Knight Foundation Art + Research Center, Gean Moreno, and museum curator Stephanie Seidel — originally focused on four artists but soon expanded to eight participants. They include Cristine Brache, Domingo Castillo, Faren Humes, Terence Price II, the Institute of Queer Ecology, Aramis Gutierrez II, Tara Long, and GeoVanna Gonzalez.

The artists were given a short turnaround period but much freedom to create.

“We gave artists a pretty blank slate. We said to them: Thinking about your practice recently, create a new work that will function innovatively on our website ad social media,” Gartenfeld says.

“We said: What can we do to support artists in our community? We have taken this time to also analyze all of our digital offerings and ensure that we’re engaging the public in new ways, so this is perhaps a marquee program in that initiative. This was a way of working with artists to continue to move their vision forward, and invest in them as well.”

click to enlarge
Video still of Terence Price II's work, titled 2017, 18, 19, 20 & So On.
Photo courtesy of Terence Price II

For Price II, a Miami-based photographer, this was an opportunity to realize a work he has been developing since 2017. Originally focused on street photography and documenting the Miami communities where he grew up, his “Digital Commissions” work includes a series of four videos documenting his own haircuts - from a cut during a 2017 visit to Eatonville, Fla., to the most recent performed by himself during COVID-19 enforced isolation.

“In 2017, I decided to record my uncle, who was a barber, cutting my hair, and from there it has been like once every year I recorded myself cutting my hair and shedding and starting fresh from whatever experiences that led up to that moment,” he says.

The end result, titled “2017, 18, 19, 20 & So On,” was the second commission to premiere on ICA Miami’s Channel.

The museum and artists are excited about the possibilities of a digital exhibition space, which allows works to be seen and experienced by viewers without the limitations of geography.

“Since people are able to watch it on their phones, or at home, I think that's pretty cool that you can reach a lot more people,” Price says. “Now that it's on this platform, everybody can travel through the web and then watch it and sit with it and have their own personal connections to it.”

Adds Gartenfeld: “We have had to think about how every program not only translates to web but engages audiences of all types, so this raises really complex questions about how we work with partners, how education functions, and how we continue to ensure accessibility.

“So this particular project is just a narrow glimpse into the deep consideration we have had around be goal of digital in our lives.”

— Rebekah Lanae Lengel,

“Digital Commissions.” Ongoing, with new works premiering every Wednesday, presented by the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; Admission is free.

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