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ICA LA Executive Director Elsa Longhauser to Step Down in 2019

The Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA) announced today that its executive director, Elsa Longhauser, will depart in 2019 after eighteen years at the helm of the institution. Among Longhauser’s notable accomplishments are spearheading the campaign to rebrand, relocate, and revitalize the former Santa Monica Museum of Art (SMMoA). The arts space, which was previously based at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, was transformed into the ICA LA, which opened in a former manufacturing facility in downtown Los Angeles in September 2017.

“Elsa is a visionary leader with a master critical eye, and much beloved by artists,” ICA LA board president Laura Donnelley said in a statement. “She is a true alchemist, bringing art and community together in many manifestations. Elsa employs a democratic approach to what art can be and do—expanding the role of a traditional museum.”

Longhauser came to SMMoA in 2000 from the Galleries at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, where she was director from 1983 to 2000. At Moore, Longhauser organized exhibitions of work by contemporary artists Marlene Dumas, VALIE EXPORT, Thomas Hirschhorn, Ray Johnson, and Roman Signer. During her tenure at SMMoA, she expanded the museum’s curatorial voice by inviting guest curators to present exhibitions such as “Freestyle” (2001), curated by Thelma Golden; “George Herms: Hot Set” (2005), curated by Walter Hopps; “Elias Sime: Eye of the Needle, Eye of the Heart” (2009), curated by Meskerem Assegued and Peter Sellars; and “Allen Ruppersberg: You and Me or The Art of Give and Take” (2009), curated by Constance Lewallen. She also focused on bringing visibility to long-overlooked Los Angeles artists.

In 2015, Longhauser revealed her vision to transform SMMoA into the ICA LA. With the support of the board of directors and the museum’s artist advisory council, she launched a $5 million dollar capital campaign to underwrite the transition, developed a new identity for the museum with a logo designed by Mark Bradford, grew the board from six to sixteen members, and built up its staff with new hires such as curator Jamillah James and deputy director of advancement Samuel Vasquez. Longhauser organized its inaugural exhibition, “Martín Ramírez: His Life in Pictures, Another Interpretation.” A longtime champion of Ramírez and other self-taught artists, Longhauser presented the first solo presentation of his work in 1985 while at Moore. In its first year, the ICA LA also hosted exhibitions of work by Abigail DeVille, Skip Arnold, Rafa Esparza, Sarah Cain, and Arturo Herrera, organized by Jamillah James. 

The ICA LA board of directors has formed a committee that will guide the museum through this transition and has tapped Koya Leadership Partners to assist with the international search, which will begin in January 2019.