Since its incorporation 40 years ago, the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) has offered the West Michigan community innovative experiences in the latest art forms and exposure to the newest creative ideas. Today, we present programs in visual arts, film, dance, literature, performance art and music, and provide artists with studio and exhibition space, sales support, and educational opportunities all under one roof. UICA provides a forum for inclusive community dialogue, challenges stereotypes, and promotes arts and cultural awareness.
Michigan’s largest multidisciplinary contemporary arts center has grown into a custom-designed facility housing one-of-a-kind galleries, a 195-seat movie theater, a community Arts Common, and performance and event spaces. Programming has tripled since 1998, and UICA’s regional, national and international profiles have risen accordingly.
In 1977, a group of Grand Rapids artists formed a non-profit organization to create a venue for challenging new forms of artistic expression. A founding member of the National Association of Artist Organizations (NAAO), the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts began with an emphasis on visual arts, but programming soon expanded to include literature, music, drama, dance and film. From the start, UICA was run by volunteers and still retains a strong support base in the form of hundreds of program committee members, special events volunteers, and artists who participate in annual fundraisers such as Holiday Artists’ Market and Live Coverage.
In 1979, UICA’s first home on Front Street was demolished to make way for a parking lot for the new Gerald Ford Museum. The organization moved to an urban industrial building on Race Street, where UICA came into its own in terms of community support, funding and a higher state profile. Volunteers and artists transformed the building into galleries, studios, offices and performance space. In 1980, it won the William F. Thrall Award for excellence in architecture design from the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids. About the same time, UICA received its first grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Since, then, it has received regular funding through the MCACA and ACGGR as well as support from the National Endowment for the Arts and local foundations and corporations.
In 1991, UICA moved again when its Race Street home was torn down, and it rented a temporary facility at 88 Monroe in the central business district with the goal of finding a permanent location. Over the next seven years, a dedicated group of volunteers, aided by UICA’s one-person staff, worked tirelessly to raise $2.75 million to purchase and renovate a historic structure at 41 Sheldon Boulevard SE in downtown Grand Rapids. The organization moved to its home on Sheldon in 1998.
In 2006, UICA completed an exceptional merger with the ArtWorks organization. This growth enhanced UICA’s programming with a dynamic range of personal and workforce development programs for youth aged 14-19.
In 2011, UICA’s new facility allowed us to present an even more dynamic array of contemporary art, new media, and experimental design/architecture projects. UICA’s building at 2 Fulton West features unique galleries on four floors, a state-of-the-artmovie theatre, a 1,000 sq. ft. Youth Studio, and a 3,000 sq. ft. Art Commons. UICA is part of the mixed-use Gallery at Fulton, designed by Built Form. Taking advantage of the physical and cultural resources available to it to present the forefront of contemporary arts and culture, UICA contributes to attracting and retaining creative, urban-oriented professionals in West Michigan. Finally, UICA activates the Division Avenue corridor and offer a vibrant anchor to the emerging Avenue for the Arts.
In 2013, UICA merged with Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University. This partnership allows UICA to operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of KCAD, which lends operational and administrative support for its programs and events. UICA retains its own Directors and staff of program professionals who are responsible for curation, implementation and development.