Many contemporary art galleries use the luminary archetype to guide creation of their programs and visitor experience. In order to position themselves distinctively, they choose qualities consistent with their organizational values and mandate to create their ‘public face’. In doing so these galleries use the art of our time to engage and make the public aware of important societal issues. Some find their calling in youth civic engagement.
Youth civic engagement is defined as working to make a difference in the civic life of one’s community. It involves developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference. It can also mean bringing the gallery to where youth are even when that place is a ‘civic desert.’
The Institute for Contemporary Art in Los Angeles is a great example of a luminary organization determined to connect the museum to the world and ideas that are relatable to youth. Its mandate of ‘serving as an epicentre of artistic experimentation and an incubator of new ideas ‘ speaks to an institute that intends to bring edgy and adaptive qualities to its luminary positioning. The 2017 move from Santa Monica to a new 12.7k square foot space in Boyle Heights captures that intention geographically. Some of the verbs used on their website to describe the institute’s role such as ‘to spark, to upend and to challenge’ further reinforce ICA LA’s edginess. Add to this the organization’s ‘Agency of Assets’ programs that engage community teens in the arts, the issues and realities of their neighbourhood of project housing and you get the sense of an adaptive organization unafraid to tackle important issues head on. Examples of those issues and realities are evident in topics tackled by youth program participants such as gentrification and cycles of poverty. Finally, the gallery also works hard to find community partners to support youth field trips as well as searching out employment opportunities for youth in creative and cultural organizations.
ICA LA’s ‘commitment to upending hierarchies of race, class, gender and culture,’ permeates every facet of their programming and public facing activities, making it a wonderful example of an edgy and adaptive luminary.
This luminary organization is motivating youth to seek answers and get involved in their community. They are fearless in using art to be an equalizer in society. It is an inspirational narrative that taps the aspirations of youth and helps them to create an oasis in the civic desert.