GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts is shutting down after more than four decades due to funding issues.
Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University, which merged with the art gallery in 2013, announced the closure on Thursday.
The UICA will officially be closed on March 3, 2023, the school says. Its current exhibitions will be open through Feb. 11, 2023.
“For the past decade, KCAD, Ferris State University, and generous community donors have financially supported the UICA’s programming and overhead expenses,” Tara McCrackin, the president of Kendall College, wrote in a letter to UICA members. “However, the organization has not been able to overcome the obstacles it faced during the pandemic and was not able to maintain the funding necessary to remain operational or become sustainable.”
McCrackin said the school is working with other art organizations “to ensure a smooth transition as well as the continuation of some of its programming.” She specifically said the Holiday Artists Market will continue, while the Open Projector Night has been taken over by the Wealthy Theatre.
The UICA was opened in 1977 by a group of artists in Grand Rapids, according to its website. It had multiple homes throughout the years, before moving into the building at the intersection of Fulton Street and Division Avenue.
Edwin Anderson, a Grand Rapids artist, said UICA leaves a legacy of a “great ton” of artists and artwork across the city. Anderson, who owns an art design firm in Grand Rapids, joined UICA when he was in middle school, taking part in a mural project.
“It definitely gave me a really good start,” Anderson said. “I think it definitely gave me a good introduction into the art field, the art space, what these things look like, what it feels like once you get started, finding yourself in a space where you’re actually doing it.”
Anderson also said UICA helped teach younger generations “the culture and appreciation of art” and “how they can leave their mark behind as well.”
Many in the art community say that UICA closing down leaves a massive gap for Grand Rapids to fill.
“There’s absolutely nothing in the city that can fill its shoes,” said John O’Neill, the owner of graphic design and branding studio Conduit.
O’Neill has been a member of the UICA for more than 20 years. He said he always went to their openings and met many artists there.
“It’s hard to even find the words to express what an impact this place has had,” O’Neill said. “I’ve met so many of my friends here. It has been the hub of art and design in West Michigan.”
He said he cannot believe the institute, with more than four decades of history in Grand Rapids, is closing. Despite recent financial problems, he said many artists thought UICA was here to stay.
“Really as a community, we had no idea this was coming,” O’Neill said. “We knew there were financial issues especially at 2 Fulton, but we’re under the assumption the move to 17 Pearl had fixed their financial concerns. So today’s announcement really it’s sad but also it’s a shock to the community.”
Kendall’s president also said that since UICA was founded in 1977, it has “inspired wonderful organizations that will now carry the torch forward.”
“Since its founding more than 40 years ago, the UICA is credited with pioneering the contemporary arts in the region,” McCrackin wrote. “Although UICA as an organization may be ending, its innovative spirit and focus on elevating contemporary arts and artists in West Michigan will continue in new ways with KCAD’s leadership role in the next iteration of ArtPrize.”
Anderson agreed with McCrackin, saying UICA helped pave the way for other organizations.
“I think it does give opportunities to other organizations to be able to come out and do the things they’re doing more,” Anderson said. “Especially with the spark that UICA helped create, with many different artists, artist groups, communities and people seeing the need and also having the passion to want to see more of it.”
Still, O’Neill said there’s nothing like UICA and its mission.
“I really feel for a city to have a thriving arts community requires that there is a champion of contemporary art,” O’Neill said. “Where so many places focus on old masters, the UICA by its very nature focuses on living working artists and the topics that affect us today.”
“For an art school to thrive, artists need to have a place to display their work and also have a place to be inspired and see contemporary work,” he added. “And there’s just nothing in the area to fulfill their shoes.”
In a Thursday statement, Bill Pink, the president of Ferris State University, said shutting down the art gallery was not an easy decision.
“This was a difficult decision to reach, as the UICA was the forerunner for the contemporary arts scene in Grand Rapids, but we are not leaving the scene, just changing our position,” Pink said in the statement.
He said the university is “committed” to investing in the Grand Rapids art community as Kendall College takes over ArtPrize in partnership with the city and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.