Brian Brown

Marketing the Institute of Contemporary Art

Nov. 6, 2017 - Susie Burtch

Dr. Brian Brown, associate professor in the Marketing Department, describes the new Institute of Contemporary Art as “an open forum for interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration, dedicated to presenting art rooted in social change and civic engagement.”

He should know. In 2015, he served on the search committee for the ICA Communications Director. In the process, he became so enamored of the institute’s concept, he ended up on its inaugural advisory board and serving as its ad hoc brand consultant. Or, as Brown describes himself, “a connector and a friend.”

Involvement That friendship has paid off for all concerned. It wasn’t long before Brown’s students were working on an ICA brand strategy and marketing plan as their class project. Brown eventually pulled in colleagues Drs. Suzanne Makarem, Mayoor Mohan, Jodie Ferguson, their students, and Brandcenter professor Kelly O’Keefe. In addition to Brown’s own marketing experience, which includes a stint in brand marketing at Coca-Cola, this consortium provided the fledgling ICA with research, communication and event marketing expertise.

Positioning “The opportunity to build a brand from scratch has been great fun for all of us,” Brown enthuses, “and it’s totally consistent with a key pillar of the School of Business – experiential learning. My students learn best by working in real situations, not just reading textbooks.” In fact, VCU and the ICA are such a good fit because both promote creativity, participation and debate. The ICA – which opens in April 2018 -- targets people who are culturally engaged and socially aware. Director Lisa Freiman has described it as “part exhibition and performance space, part lab and incubator.”

Results Brown explains the strategy: “This is a membership art institute without a permanent collection. We want folks to not just look at art, but to be a part of something that is more provocative, dynamic and alive. That means innovative exhibitions, classes, lectures, performances, and even an awesome café to hang out in. The ICA will be a unique place in a unique space – a flagship initiative -- not only for VCU, but for the city of Richmond and beyond. It’s a win/win for everybody.”