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Historical Note | A Finding Aid to the Institute of Contemporary Arts records, 1927-circa 1985, bulk 1947-1967

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

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.