Summer Sessions: Commonwealth

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Institute for Contemporary Art
Richmond, VA
2019

This project, a gallery transformed into a discursive space, explored the historic and present-day implications of the term “commonwealth.” Week by week, visitors were invited to hash out what it means to live in a commonwealth such as Virginia and how that commonwealth can and should evolve in the 21st century. Centuries ago, “the commonwealth” was understood to refer to a model of political organization whose goal was public welfare or the common good. The “commons” referred to a medieval notion of cultural or natural resources to which all members of society had access, and “wealth” referred to happiness or well-being. Considering both common wealth and common debts, through these sessions we considered how we might recover the larger meaning and potential of “the commonwealth.” Themes included: Natural Resources, Built Environment, Dependence + Independence, Assembly, and Public Domain.

Public sessions were held on select Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons. Planned with local hosts, the sessions mixed artists, designers, scholars, activists and other experts from within and beyond VCU and Richmond. Formats included: social hours, lectures, small-group conversations, workshops, performances, and screenings.

The space was designed by DSGN AGNC + Fundacíon Horizontal + El Equipo Mazzanti, as “a place where individual stories and practices can connect, where we foster new relationships, knowledge, and a collective redefinition of the common.”

Summer Sessions: Commonwealth was organized by the Institute for Contemporary Art (Noah Simblist and Stephanie Smith). The project was part of the ICA’s contribution to Commonwealth, a multi-year collaboration with Beta-local (San Juan, Puerto Rico) and Philadelphia Contemporary (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania).

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