Ali Gass, director of ICA San José, shares what inspired her career, her virtual day-to-day and what she hopes the community will take away from a visit.
Ebony G. Patterson, “when the land is in plumage...a peacock is in molting” (2020)
What does a day in your life as director of the Institute of Contemporary Art San José look like? These days, my life remains tied to Zoom. I spend most mornings doing a virtual all-staff check-in and our regular staff standing meetings. We have an incredibly dedicated team, and everyone is doing such a great job of adapting to the changing circumstances both on- and offline. It has been a year of tremendous growth for us as individuals and collectively. We have limited the number of staff physically on-site out of an abundance of caution and safety. Our visitor and facilities services ensure the experience of our visitors—as they slowly reenter our space—remains best in class and addresses ongoing health concerns. I am often looking ahead with our curator—Christine Koppes—conducting virtual studio visits with artists who have caught our eye or performing outreach and developing our amazing membership and board members. The job of the director is to define the artistic vision of the museum but also to help support the staff that ensures we create an inclusive, engaging and important program while also working within our operational parameters.
Ebony G. Patterson, “...and the dew cracks the earth, in five acts of lamentation...between the cuts...beneath the leaves...below the soil...” (2020)
What is the most exciting part of working at the ICA San José? The most exciting part of leading a small, noncollecting arts institution is that we can meaningfully demonstrate how contemporary art can help us navigate and better understand the world around us. I have had such a rewarding career working at larger institutions with great collections, but there is something very special to me about working directly with artists to make their exhibition dreams materialize. Our staff is mighty and nimble, and the pandemic highlighted our unmatched ability to think creatively and change direction quickly if we need to in response to major world events. For example, during COVID we were able to quickly turn our attention to the exterior facade of the building, convert the museum into a vote center and commission artist Amir H. Fallah to create a mural installation outside, so all could still experience art even though museums were shuttered. Likewise, this year felt more important than ever to generate opportunities for BIPOC artists working at the highest levels of artistic practices. We were able to change course, raise the financial support and partner with artists we were so excited to share with the Bay Area arts community.