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Institute of Contemporary Arts records, 1927-circa 1985, bulk 1947-1967

Institute of Contemporary Arts records, 1927-circa 1985, bulk 1947-1967

Institute of Contemporary Arts (Washington, D.C.)

Collection Information

Size: 36.0 linear feet

Summary: The records of the Washington, D.C. arts and educational organization, Institute of Contemporary Arts, measure 36 linear feet and date from 1927-circa 1985, with the bulk of the material spanning the organization's active years, 1947-1967. The collection documents the arts and cultural programming organized by the ICA through correspondence, artists' files, program and exhibition files, administrative and financial records, printed materials and photographs. Also found are administrative, student, and teacher records of the ICA school; records of the Fine Arts Committee of the People-to-People Project; and some personal papers of the ICA's founder, Robert Richman.

Robert Richman's professional and personal relationships with numerous artists and writers which the ICA hosted in D.C. are documented in Correspondence and Artists' Files. Correspondence files include letters from Joseph and Anni Albers, Alfred Barr, e.e. cummings, Alexander Giampietro, Naum Gabo, Walter Gropius, Erick Hawkins, Duncan Phillips, Hans Richter, Kay Sage and Yves Tanguy, and William Carlos Williams. Also found is correspondence with benefactors, board members, and arts organizations regarding exhibitions and administrative details; and with teachers and the Veteran's Administration regarding school issues.

Artists' Files contains mostly incoming and outgoing correspondence, but also found are biographies, exhibition printed materials, handwritten notes, newspaper clippings and scattered portrait photographs. Of interest are files on Aaron Copland, e.e. cummings, T.S. Eliot, Wojciech Fangor, Nadine Gordimer, Robert Graves, Aldous Huxley, Janheinz Jahn, Kathleen Raine, and Sir Herbert Read.

In addition to Correspondence and Artists' Files, materials regarding ICA's programming, such as correspondence with artists and galleries, press releases, shipping records, financial records, printed materials, photographs, inventory and price lists, are found in ICA Program Files.

The ICA and Robert Richman collaborated with numerous arts and international exchange organizations to organize exhibitions, performances, symposium, and to host visiting artists. Materials regarding such collaborations are found in Organizations and includes correspondence, scattered financial records, notes, and printed materials such as bulletins, brochures, schedules, reports, and press releases. This series also includes substantial material related to the Fine Arts Committee of the People-to-People Program, an international exchange initiative of President Dwight D. Eisenhower begun in 1956.

The school's records include correspondence, notebooks (attendance books), teacher files documenting classes and grades, extensive student files and student enrollment cards, mailing lists, class cards, and notes for classes taught by Robert Richman.

Administrative and Financial Files include accounting and banking records, budgets, founding documents, fundraising records, grants records, mailing lists, membership lists, and Meridian House Foundation records.

ICA's programs are also documented by comprehensive printed materials arranged by ICA seasons, 1947-1967. Printed materials include program calendars, exhibition announcements, invitations, membership forms, and press releases. Also found are newspaper clippings and three oversized clippings scrapbooks.

Photographs include black and white photographs and negatives of people, most of whom are unidentified. Robert Richman's personal papers includes personal correspondence, correspondence related to "New Republic," handwritten and typed writings, some bills, and his curriculum vitae.

Unrepresented in this collection are records of ICA's ICONART Collection (Contemporary Arts Archives), an archive of films and tapes of artists' performances, lectures and events held by ICA.

Biographical/Historical Note

Institute of Contemporary Arts (founded 1947; closed 1967) was an arts organization and educational institute in Washington, D.C. Founded by poet Robert Richman, who came to Washington, D.C. in 1947. Devoted to bringing culture to the nation's capital, the school's philosophy was based on Sir Herbert Read's "Education Through Art." Many of the exhibitions and programs were held at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.


The Institute of Contemporary Arts records were donated by Maida Richman, the wife of the ICA's founder, Robert Richman, in 1986.


Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Smithsonian Institution Collection Care Preservation Fund.

A Finding Aid to the Institute of Contemporary Arts Records, 1927-circa 1985, bulk 1947-1967, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical/Historical note
The Washington, D.C. arts and educational organization, Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), was founded by poet Robert Richman in 1947 to bring arts and culture to the nation's capital. The school, originally named the King-Smith School of Creative Arts, was redesigned and renamed Institute of Contemporary Arts by Richman in 1948. The school's philosophy was based on Sir Herbert Read's
Education Through Art
, and provided professional training in painting, sculpture, literature, music, and theater. In addition, the ICA operated an evening school and brought prominent artists and literary figures to the nation's capital for exhibitions, concerts, workshops, lectures, readings, and performances. Teachers at the school included potter Alexander Giampietro, sculptor David Aaron, designers Beatrice Takeuchi and Hubert Leckie, and painter Kenneth Noland.
The school closed in August 1951, but the ICA continued to provide an impressive roster of programs and performances held at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and other D.C. institutions, such as exhibitions by Naum Gabo, Bernard Leach, Isamu Noguchi, and Hans Richter; readings by W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot, Katherine Anne Porter, and Dylan Thomas; lectures by Charles Eames, Aldous Huxley, Octavio Paz, and Frank Lloyd Wright; and performances by Aaron Copland, Paul Hindemith, José Limón Dance Company, and Ravi Shankar. The organization also sponsored visiting professorships for international artists and writers, such as Nadine Gordimer, and hosted an annual Congress of Artists and Writers from 1959-1964.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the ICA was successful in securing some large grants to continue and expand its programming and to secure permanent space at the Meridian House Foundation. However, by the late 1960s the organization's programming declined.
ICA founder Robert Richman was a poet and literary editor at
New Republic
magazine in the early 1950s. He was active in the arts community in D.C. and in international exchange organizations, including the Fine Arts Committee of the People-to-People Project, an initiative started by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the late 1950s. Robert Richman passed away in 1987.
Arrangement note
The collection is arranged as 9 series.
Series 1: Correspondence, 1937, 1944-1980 (2.7 linear feet; Boxes 1-3)
Series 2: Artists' Files, 1943-1967, 1970-1979 (4.9 linear feet; Boxes 3-8)
Series 3: ICA Program Files, circa 1947-1968 (5.2 linear feet; Boxes 8-13, 27)
Series 4: Organizations, 1927, 1940s-1967 (7.3 linear feet; Boxes 13-20, OV 39)
Series 5: ICA School Files, 1945-1953 (7.0 linear feet; Boxes 21-27)
Series 6: Administrative and Financial Files, 1945-1979, 1983 (5.2 linear feet; Boxes 28-33, 38)
Series 7: Printed Materials, 1945-1970 (2.9 linear feet; Boxes 33-35, 38)
Series 8: Photographs, circa 1930s-1960s, circa 1985 (0.4 linear feet; Boxes 35-36)
Series 9: Personal Papers of Robert Richman, 1940s-1980 (0.4 linear feet; Boxes 36-37)
The Institute of Contemporary Arts records were donated by Maida Richman, the wife of the ICA's founder, Robert Richman, in 1986.
Processing Information note
The collection was processed to a minimal level and a finding aid prepared by Sarah Haug in 2012-2013, with funding provided by the Smithsonian Institution Collections Care Preservation Fund.
The Archives of American Art has implemented minimal processing tactics when possible in order to increase access to more of our collections. Minimal processing included arrangement to the series and folder levels. Generally, items within folders were simply verified with folder titles and dates, but not arranged further. Folder titles were transcribed from original folder headings. The collection was rehoused in archival containers and folders. Staples and other fasteners were not removed, but correspondence was removed from envelopes and filed behind the envelope. Materials were removed from binders or damaged binding when necessary.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Institute of Contemporary Arts records, 1927-circa 1985, bulk 1947-1967. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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