The Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) is an artistic and cultural centre on The Mall in London, just off Trafalgar Square. It is located within Nash House, part of Carlton House Terrace, near the Duke of York Steps and Admiralty Arch. It contains galleries, a theatre, two cinemas, a bookshop and a bar. Since 2011, the director is Gregor Muir.
The ICA was founded by Roland Penrose, Peter Watson, Herbert Read, Peter Gregory, Geoffrey Grigson and E.L.T. Mesens in 1946. The ICA's founders intended to establish a space where artists, writers and scientists could debate ideas outside the traditional confines of the Royal Academy. The first exhibitions were held in rented premises organised by Penrose, '40 Years of Modern Art' was followed by '40,000 Years of Modern Art' reflecting his interest in primitivism.
With the support of the Arts Council, the ICA moved to its current site at Nash House in 1968. For a period during the 1970s the Institute was known for its often anarchic programme and administration. Norman Rosenthal was director of exhibitions at this time, and he was once assaulted by a group of people who were living in the upper floors of the building at the time. A bloodstain on the wall of the administrative offices is preserved under glass, with a note reading "this is Normans's blood". Rosenthal claims the group which assaulted him included the actor Keith Allen.
Bill McAllister was ICA Director from 1977–1990, when the Institute developed a system of separate departments specialising in visual art; cinema; and theatre, music and performance art. A fourth department was devoted to talks and lectures.