Power 2008: The Elements of Influence

TASTEMAKER POWER

Case Study: Jill Medvedow, director, Institute of Contemporary Art

THE FAR-REACHING waterfront view from Jill Medvedow’s third-floor office at the ICA is a remarkably poignant reminder of the endless possibilities and serious longshots that marked seven years of her life. In 1999, when the newly named museum director began her campaign to move the ailing institution out of its sad-sack Back Bay space and into a modern, architecturally groundbreaking structure, everyone said it couldn’t be done. With $50 million to raise, a city of skeptical old Brahmins who never really liked or understood contemporary art, and the desolate Fan Pier (Fan Pier?) as her targeted promised land, she was branded a crazy optimist at best.

In the end, Medvedow blew past the fundraising goal by $15 million. And now former naysayers call her something else: the velvet hammer. "When they sense someone’s coming to ask for money, most people run in the other direction," says ICA overseer and Back Bay gallery owner Barbara Krakow. "Jill had to go out and engage the visibly reluctant. But then she was like the Pied Piper." The new building drew upward of 300,000 visitors its first year, 272,000 more than the average at the ICA’s old digs. Membership has increased sevenfold. And seldom does a day pass when someone isn’t touting the ICA building as the jewel of the waterfront, the very essence of all that’s possible for a once stodgy city. (Everyone wants to take credit for the fact that Boston’s a-changing — with that change adopting the form of everything from big-name retail outposts to risk-taking chefs — but let’s be clear: Out-of-towners don’t come here for Barneys.)

"In a word," longtime museum trustee Steve Corkin says of Medvedow, "she’s a force." —Alyssa Giacobbe

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