Rao, VCUarts dean speak at celebration for new arts building

Render of the CoStar Center for Arts and Innovation, slated to open in the fall of 2027. Groundbreaking work begins in April. Photo courtesy of VCU PR.

Jack Glagola, News Editor

VCU staff and administration hosted a celebration at the Institute for Contemporary Art last Thursday, April 11 to announce VCU’s new CoStar Center for Arts and Innovation, to be located on Belvidere Street across from the ICA. 

The event featured a set of speeches by the university’s top brass, like President Michael Rao, Board of Visitors rector Todd Haymore and VCUarts dean Carmenita Higginbotham; also speaking was CoStar senior vice president Lisa Ruggles. A multimedia performance piece by VCUarts students followed the first speech and the Commonwealth Singers concluded the presentation. 

The building, soon to be part of the School of the Arts, will feature “flexible classroom spaces, interdisciplinary performance venues and makerspaces” for students to “harness and prepare for a world of new and emerging industries,” according to the Master Plan website.

CoStar Group, a commercial real estate information company, donated $18 million to VCU in 2016. The building is estimated to cost $253 million, of which $232.4 million is provided by the state. VCU will raise funds for the remaining $20.6 million.

The site is currently an empty lot with construction fencing around it. Construction work begins in April, according to Jay Davenport, vice president of alumni relations at VCU. The CoStar Center is slated to open in the fall of 2027. 

Davenport said during the construction of the ICA, the intersection of Broad and Belvidere became known as the “intersection of arts and innovation.” 

VCUarts dean Carmenita Higginbotham spoke about the significance of artistic expression to society, with the CoStar Center being a “tangible representation” of it. She touted potential crossovers of art and research at the center.

“Even as we delve into these intersections and forge new avenues of investigation, we are responding as a school to the changing landscape of creative research and higher education with, always, an eye to future possibilities,” Higginbotham said.

Higginbotham said the center will serve as a “partner and an incubator” for creativity.

VCU president Michael Rao also praised the potential interdisciplinary work to “allow us to really show the world the very best of the human experience” and recalled when he convinced CoStar Group CEO Andy Florance over craft beer to invest in Richmond and later join VCU’s Board of Visitors.

“We only had one of them — we were just being very sensible that day,” Rao said, drawing laughs from the audience. “It was a real privilege and honor to be a part of recruiting CoStar and Andy to Richmond.”

Rao said the “intersection of arts and innovation” represents the entire university.

“We must remember this intersection as a place to go when we need to be reminded of all the great things that happen throughout this institution, but the ways in which we need to bring them all together,” Rao said.

Rachel Christie, the special events manager for the ICA and part of the planning committee for the fête, said the center will be a great asset to the university. 

Christie said the CoStar Center has been in the works for years, with different donors and name changes before the company jumped in with their donation.

“It’s been really great to see all this activity and all this movement around campus, especially in a post-Covid world where there wasn’t anything really happening,” Christie said.

Christie said the ICA is “more or less the beginning or the end” of Richmond’s Arts District, whose several galleries are a short walk away from the museum.

“Being able to be the location of Richmond’s Arts District plus VCU’s art program, to be able to be at this intersection in the city, with the CoStar Center that’s going to open in a few years is such a great feeling to have,” Christie said.

Bridging the gap between VCU and the city of Richmond is important, she said.

“It’s not just like, ‘oh, VCU art!’ it’s also city art, alumni art, it’s the Arts District,” Christie said.

VCU’s rapid expansion has been the subject of debates about gentrification, the process of affluent residents displacing an existing neighborhood community. The site of the CoStar Center is on the edge of Jackson Ward, a historically Black neighborhood. Christie said it’s important to consider and recognize what has happened before and continue to progress and learn.

“There’s no sense in shutting down and squishing down other people — how do we bring everyone into the fold?” Christie said. 

Christie said a lot of her work at the ICA surrounds how to get people excited about contemporary art in an accessible way.

“How do we make it available and open to the community that we’re already in, not just the community we’re trying to build?” Christie said.

Chase Westfall, the interim executive director of the ICA, said he is excited to imagine what the future holds for the ICA and the School of the Arts with the CoStar Center being across the street. 

“Thinking about interdisciplinary work, again, helping students have a more expanded sense of where their research can lead them, being able to provide really exciting models of contemporary practice in terms of visual arts here, and of course in terms of performing arts,” Westfall said.  

Westfall said it is an honor and a challenge to support and serve all the students and staff at the museum. He said he is grateful for the stakeholders and donors who have supported the museum, and that the center will help “crystallize” the shared vision of the ICA and School of the Arts.

“It gives us a counterpart that can help complement our efforts in that vision moving forward,” Westfall said.

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