Where Art Becomes Agora

The Heartside Community Meal by Seitu Jones
Kallie Spidahl Photography

This essay, written July 19, 2019 and addendum written September 13, 2019, comes from the Project 1 catalouge coming out in October.

By Rebecca Carbin, Independent Curator

In her 2015 anthology of recent practices in public art, titled Out of Time, Out of Place: Public Art (Now), Claire Doherty writes, “public art remains cast in the collective imagination as either unwanted guest or mass entertainer.” Doherty is suggesting that people only think of art in the public realm as being one of two paradigms: the monumental sculpture or the arts festival. But these paradigms are polarities on the public art spectrum.

Grand Rapids, Michigan has a particularly interesting public art history. The city’s story offers extraordinary examples of both ends of this public art spectrum and, in 2019, endeavors to capture the public’s imagination at a space in between.

In 1969, the city’s iconic La Grande Vitesse, by international art superstar Alexander Calder, was the first public art project to be realized through the Art in Public Places program by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The NEA funds fell short of the city’s ambition for this project, and La Grande Vitesse was made possible thanks to the addition of significant private contributions from the Grand Rapids community.

Almost 40 years later in 2009, Grand Rapids saw a major philanthropic investment in public art again with the launch of ArtPrize. ArtPrize is a unique event that sees the entire downtown—museums, parks, restaurants, theaters, hotels, functioning shops, and vacant storefronts—devoting space to artists of every conceivable medium and calibre, and opening doors to hundreds of thousands of art viewers. By year 10, ArtPrize attracted an estimated 500,000 visitors to a city whose population numbers 200,000.

Rob Bliss, 100,000 Paper Planes and Melodies Over Monroe, 2009.
Photo by Brian Kelly

While Doherty’s claim implies a negativity that does not capture Grand Rapids’ opinion of La Grande Vitesse or ArtPrize, these two public art examples perfectly embody her statement about the dominant perception of what public art is or can be. As happened in 1969 and 2009, the 2019 launch of Project 1 sees a major philanthropic investment supporting a bold vision for public art in Grand Rapids. Project 1 is a new foray into the space that lies between the hulking heroic monument of La Grand Vitesse and the fully democratized festival atmosphere of ArtPrize.

In this part of the public art spectrum—between the modernist monument encountered by accident and indifferent to activity around it, and the festival framework which encourages people to suspend normal expectations and seek out the unusual—there lies public artwork that temporarily occupies, engages, disrupts, and disorients. If curated with integrity, work in this middle space encourages dialogue and democracy in a way that is unique, resonant, and invaluable to social cohesion. This is a space where, when done well, public art can fulfill its “noblest function,” which is “to nurture participatory citizenship, to create an unfettered intellectual space for debate and socio-political engagement.” [1]

Project 1’s inaugural iteration takes to heart the opportunity for dialogue that comes with a curated program of temporary art in the public realm. The thematic narrative and selected artist projects confront timely issues around access, ownership, dispossession, opportunity, and identity. The 2019 program, Crossed Lines, addresses the boundaries that define an urban landscape and how these lines—some more obvious that others—delineate who has access to what, where, and how, and invites questions of why. These lines define opportunity, demarcate the prosperous from the marginal, define inequalities, and delineate public from private.

Project 1 artworks are sited within key public sites that shape everyday life in Grand Rapids. For example, Heather Hart’s The Oracle of the Soulmates, with twin structures in two locations at Rosa Parks Circle and Martin Luther King Park, is neither monument nor festival. Instead, it engages aspects of both in a series of large scale, temporary interruptions in the day-to-day landscape. This unfamiliar rupture in the fabric of this familiar site will provoke questions, conflicting responses, and debate.

In the 1970s, German artist Joseph Beuys famously declared that “everyone is an artist.” [2] However, he was not suggesting that everyone has the ability to paint or sculpt. The full statement reads, “Every human being is an artist, a freedom being, called to participate in transforming and reshaping the conditions, thinking, and structures that shape and inform our lives.” Beuys’ proposition refers to a shift in the location of meaning that happens when we consider art more as a process of communication and exchange than as a product. In other words,

WE CAN DEFINE PUBLIC ART NOT BY SPACE OR OBJECT, BUT BY A DEGREE OF ENGAGEMENT BETWEEN DIVERSE MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC AND ART.

Audiences can be more receptive to difficult messages when delivered through familiar means. In the fields of social or participatory practice in which a number of Project 1 artists work, artists have a variety of tools for creating points of access for the public to engage with the complex concepts and difficult issues they are addressing. Examples of these entry points are beauty, humor, food,
performance, and craft.

Bryan Esler Photo

Amanda Browder has been working with local Grand Rapidians over a period of months to create the enormous textile environments she will be mounting for Project 1. With a Beuysian spirit, the very publicness of her project Kaleidoscopic was already embedded in the work before it is even installed for exhibition. Browder’s works “redefine the structure while entangling the community in the mystique of fine art creation.”[3] The artist employs the accessible nature of craft as a gesture of empowerment and agency and engages the public in stitching these issues right into the fabric of the work.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer positions the public as the generator of meaning in his work Voice Bridge, which is activated by the voices of viewers who determine what is said and transmitted in this work that bridges two sides of Grand River. Similar to his Park Avenue Tunnel project in New York City in 2013, “At any given time, the tunnel [rings] with the voices of the past seventy-five participants.”[4] Again, this work requires a level of public interaction that invites an audience to become performers. Capitalizing on a widely-held desire to “be heard” and to see the impact of one’s actions, Voice Bridge raises critical questions of authorship, agency, information, freedom of speech, censorship, official vs unofficial narratives, and associations with social geography and opportunity.

Paul Amenta and Ted Lott’s Critical Infrastructure, realized in collaboration with DisArt, [5] builds an environment that addresses issues of accessibility, both perceived and concrete, by temporarily transforming a private space into a fully accessible public space. The project connects formally and conceptually to a previous collaboration, Elevate Fashion Show, realized in 2016. It was touted as “Incredible!” by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Curator Chad Alligood, for the project’s nuanced handling of the feeling of the space and authenticity of participation. He continued, “That’s social practice right there! And really, really beautifully done!”[6]

There is, however, danger in a program like Project 1 that takes, head-on, this opportunity to confront big issues. The danger is that the work may fall short of inspiring new ways of thinking and perceiving the world around us. The way to avoid this pitfall is to ensure that all projects are “art first.” In the Age of Enlightenment art was understood as a universal language, a powerful connecting force. When moralizing, proselytizing, or grandstanding are dressed up as art, they fall short of anything transformative or even interesting. This is simply because at their heart, they are not art: they do not speak a universal language.

Bryan Esler Photo

Successful works, in contrast, are rooted in a strong artistic practice stemming from clear aesthetic concerns and deep inquiry. These practices allow space for simple acts—sewing, speaking, walking along a ramp, jumping from a false roof, or sharing a community meal [7]—to become something that fundamentally shifts perception or expectations. In so doing, these art-led experiences seep into our experience and understanding of the world around us in a slow-burn fashion that can be surprisingly subversive or radical.

The space for public art in which Project 1 situates itself lies somewhere between unwanted guest and entertainer, between hulking monumental hero and detached from reality festival. Projects in this particular space can push buttons and boundaries far more than projects that exist at either end of public art’s spectrum. They can ask questions that are as provocative as those asked in a gallery, and ask them in a language that is immediate and rooted in the everyday experience of a place, albeit interrupted and reoriented.

Such platforms present the opportunity for art to be truly public, in the way that the ancient Greek term “agora” referred to a social commons or public marketplace, a space where people convened to discuss issues big and small. Art projects in this space become agora, a social commons, reclaiming, re-centering, re-orienting. Publicness is not an issue of location as much as engagement, interaction, dialogue, and debate. The next chapter in Grand Rapids’ unique story of public art is full of potential, positioning public art as the agora: the social commons where ideas are exchanged and democracy flourishes with the universal language of art at its center.

POSTSCRIPT

In the weeks leading up to the opening of Project 1, a controversy erupted over the planned opening night performance of Drag Syndrome. Originally booked to take place at Critical Infrastructure (Paul Amenta and Tedd Lott’s installation at Tanglefoot), the venue owner pulled out overstated concerns for exploitation of the performers. But let’s face it if the show was a Christmas pageant, would these concerns have been expressed? The drag performance goes against the common and misguided belief that people with Down Syndrome are eternal children. In fact, people with Down Syndrome do become adults and as such, have sexual desires and needs. Moreover, these sexual desires are not necessarily hetero. In a specially convened panel before the opening, the performers clearly and unreservedly stated that they are empowered by their art.

ArtPrize worked closely with DisArt, the project partners, to find an alternate venue and the show went on. Four hundred people within the theatre applauded the performers, while a smaller number of people protested on the street. Due to the first show being sold out, a second show was booked for the following night. Drag Syndrome and the surrounding controversy showed up in numerous news outlets across the US, including the New York Times. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a suit against the venue owner for discrimination. In booking the US premier of Drag Syndrome, Project 1 has catalyzed a nationwide discussion about the need to update mainstream public perception of the agency and sexuality of people with Down Syndrome. As a new “social commons where ideas are exchanged and democracy flourishes,” that’s a pretty impressive start.

[1] Cher Krause Knight, Public Art: Theory, Practice and Populism, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2008), 38.
[2] It is interesting to refer to this often misunderstood statement in Grand Rapids, whose ArtPrize festival reveals just how many people are feverishly devoting their time and passion to artistic pursuits of all kinds and calibres, often completely divorced from the vocabulary, trends, and institutions of Contemporary Art. Beuys did not mean that everyone has the ability to produce fine art.
[3] Jenny Molissa Spring, Unexpected Art: Serendipitous Installations, Site-Specific Works, and Surprising Interventions, (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2015), 22.
[4] Spring, Unexpected Art, 102.
[5] DisArt is an arts and culture organization that focuses on creating public art events that cultivate and communicate a disabled culture.
[6] SiTE:LAB, Rumsey Street Project, Everything is Transformed, (Grand Rapids MI: SiTE:LAB, 2016), 27.
[7] The 2017 ArtPrize Juror’s Grand Prize was awarded to Seitu Jones, for The Heartside Community Meal, in which Jones served a healthy, locally-grown meal to over 250 people at a 300 foot long table, “revealing the food rituals of the cultures that gave birth to our diverse population.”

ALONG THE GRAND: THE FLOW OF CONTEMPORARY ART HISTORY IN GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN

By: Joseph Antenucci Becherer, PhD
Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame

This essay, written on July 8, 2019, is from the Project 1 by ArtPrize catalog coming out in October.

The history of art gives us a sweeping survey of human expression, centers of creative activity, and audience engagement. In the years following World War II, the centerpiece of the avant-garde in the visual arts transitioned from Europe to America. Paris, war exhausted and depleted, was supplanted by a vibrant and burgeoning New York. Modernism would soon give way to what is universally heralded as Contemporary art which, in most currents, flows into the present day. Earlier chapters of art history are always being refined as research provides new discoveries, but rarely they are completely altered. Because it is so fresh and among us, research and discoveries on the fullest story of Contemporary art merits an important discussion around public art and Grand Rapids, Michigan.

While measurably different than cultural epicenters like New York, this mid-sized Midwestern city has played a highly unique role on the national stage of the visual arts for the last fifty years. The story of public art and Grand Rapids may, in fact, be one of the most compelling refinements to the history of art’s unfolding chapter on Contemporary art. The story goes beyond museums and art institutions; it exists for all in city streets and public plazas.

Located about thirty miles from Lake Michigan, Grand Rapids is the centerpiece of the West Michigan region. The Grand River flows through the heart of downtown and has been the physical and symbolic life force of the city since its founding in 1826. Originally servicing first trade then the logging and lumber industries, the river would eventually come to serve as a source of artistic inspiration as well. Several families who earned their fortunes through lumber emerged as cultural leaders. By the end of the 19th century, lumber transitioned to furniture and Grand Rapids became known as the furniture capital of America. “Furniture City” was a deserved moniker that lasted into the 1960s. Although architecture—whether commercial, ecclesiastical, or residential—was a source of civic pride, the visual arts did not play the same role as in other Midwestern cities.

A visitor exploring Grand Rapids in the “Furniture City” era would have found a columnar Civil War Memorial, an Abraham Lincoln monument, and Tiffany works at Park Congregational Church and Saint Cecelia Music Society. Many stately homes, offices, and institutions would have displayed the canvases of American Impressionist Mathias Alten (1871-1938) who, until relatively recently, was the most celebrated artist of Grand Rapids. Any broader sense of art collecting was modest. Now a centerpiece of the downtown experience, the Grand Rapids Art Museum was initially a small enterprise. Martin Ryerson (1856-1932), one of the greatest American art collectors of the age, was from one of Grand Rapids’ great lumber families. However, he bequeathed his vast art collection to the Art Institute of Chicago, in his adopted hometown. Ryerson’s trajectory was similar to many of lumber and furniture wealth: Grand Rapids roots but presence and legacy in larger metropolitan areas. This tradition has greatly reversed itself in recent decades.

Perhaps the singular touchstone that prefigures the importance of public art for Grand Rapids in the Contemporary period is the over-life size bronze sculpture of John Ball by Italian-American sculptor Pompeo Coppini (1870-1957). Dedicated in 1925, the sculpture features the seated city father surrounded by two children. Rather than describing Ball as a standing, pontifical patriarch, Coppini makes a grand statement that allows the viewer to get close to the figures and feel a part of the narrative. It takes little effort to discover legions of photographs of generations of Grand Rapidians posed around and on the sculpture. A rare until recently example of figurative public art, it embodies the critical need for audience engagement to allow public art to flourish.

Nothing in the aforementioned narrative seems to foreshadow the revolutionary events Grand Rapids brought forth nationally in the late 1960s. As in many industrial cities, urban renewal was underway. Signature efforts in this renewal were new city and county buildings designed by the famed firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), and forecourt to the structures that served as an open gathering plaza in the urban core. A traditional, figurative fountain was planned in front of the taller city building,

BUT THE FOUNTAIN WAS NEVER TO BE—NOR WOULD DESCRIPTIVES LIKE “TRADITIONAL” AND “FIGURATIVE” BE APPLICABLE.

Enter Alexander Calder, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and catalyst to all—Nancy Mulnix Tweddale.

Nancy Mulnix-Tweddale and Alexander Calder
Courtesy: Grand Rapids History and Special Collections, Archives, Grand Rapids Public Library, Grand Rapids, MI.

Ever gracious and insightful, Mulnix Tweddale discovered a new program
established by the NEA that would provide funding for public art commissions to communities across America. With equal measures of civic pride and cultural savvy, the young mother and community volunteer recognized a great opportunity in the SOM building plan and set her sights on the grant money as an opportunity to bring Contemporary art to Grand Rapids in an affirming but bold new way. Grand Rapids prevailed over Houston and Seattle to become the first city to receive public funding for art through the NEA’s Art in Public Places program. Additional funding was realized locally, evidencing a tradition of public-private partnerships for which the community is enviably celebrated even today. Attention turned to the artist selection process and a committee of national distinction was assembled including art world luminaries, community leaders, and SOM principals. Distinguished American abstract sculptor Alexander Calder (1898-1976) was the unanimous choice; work on the resulting sculpture, La Grande Vitesse, began in 1967 and the sculpture was dedicated with great fanfare in 1969.

The first group to fully comprehend the potential of public projects with Contemporary artists as critical to the cultural and intellectual future of the city was the Women’s Committee of the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Highly organized, devoted to research, and skillful at fundraising, this group of volunteers curated a series of critically important temporary exhibitions that greatly nurtured “Calder City.”

Foremost was the landmark Sculpture Off the Pedestal exhibition in 1973, with twelve large-scale sculptures across the downtown business district. Further transforming the urban core in the spirit of La Grande Vitesse, the Women’s Committee brought many of the most important young public sculptors to Grand Rapids, including Clement Meadmore (1929-2005), Stephen Antonakos (1926-2013), and perhaps most consequential, Mark di Suvero (b. 1933). The local public was encouraged to rediscover the city through Contemporary art, while the national press was astonished to witness such extraordinary events flourish in a most unlikely venue.

Three exceptional and culturally defining personalities emerged from the Sculpture Off the Pedestal success: Mary Ann Keeler, Mark di Suvero and Robert Morris. Keeler, a luminary figure of a long standing Grand Rapids industrial family, realized a profound calling in the aura of the Calder phenomenon and through the Women’s Committee. “Art for all” is her cherished motto. It would be impossible to find a single major art initiative of the last half century in which was she was not engaged. Together with her late husband Miner S., known to all as Mike, the Keelers’ significant investment in the arts in Grand Rapids helped redirect the course of prominent families giving to focus on the cultural well-being and future of their own community. Of the many artists with whom the Keelers have been closely engaged, perhaps no bond is stronger than with the legendary American sculptor, Mark di Suvero.

Composed of colossal I-beams painted red, Are Years What? (For Marianne Moore) was di Suvero’s contribution to Sculpture Off the Pedestal and was sited prominently in direct relationship to Calder’s La Grande Vitesse. Both the sculpture and the sculptor were widely popular with audiences and there was
great hope the work would remain. Are Years What? was eventually acquired by the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and placed on the Mall in Washington DC, but di Suvero would return to the same Grand Rapids location in 1977 with the monumental and interactive Motu Viget. Taking its name from the city’s Latin motto, “Strength through Activity,” the sculpture is defined by three extended I-beams conjoined in pyramidal form. From the tip of one beam hangs an extended wire holding an industrial tire swing that audiences can sit in. Moving back and forth and through the sculpture, the swing offers an opportunity to experience space and time through sculptural constructs. Owing to its interactivity, the photographic popularity of the work recalls the energy around the aforementioned John Ball sculpture. Perhaps an extraordinary comparison, underscored by the fact that abstraction is on equal terms with figuration, di Suvero has delivered human expression, creativity, and audience engagement.

Mark Di Suvero, Are Years for What (For Marianne Moore), 1967. Processed image from Grand Rapids Art Museum 1973 exhibition catalogue Sculpture off the Pedestal. © Grand Rapids Art Museum
Robert Morris, The Grand Rapids Project, 1974. Image from the Grand Rapids Art Museum’s 1975 catalouge Robert Morris: The Grand Rapids Project. Photography by Craig Vander Lende. © Grand Rapids Art Museum

On an even grander scale, audience engagement is central to experiencing the earthwork X Project by Robert Morris (1931-2018). Associated with both Land Art and Minimalism, Morris originally proposed a massive endeavor using hillside acreage overlooking the downtown during Sculpture Off the Pedestal. However, it was dedicated later, in 1974, and was the first earthwork to have received federal support. A broadly conceptual endeavor calling to mind ancient topographical sites but experienced through the rigors of geometric pathways, X Project placed Grand Rapids at the very forefront of the avant garde in the visual arts. Owing to its location and scale, the work has never attained the iconic status of the Calder or Di Suvero, but it was foundational to an understanding of place as integral to public art. A companionable, but more accessible, work is Joseph Kinnebrew’s Fish Ladder of 1974. Placed physically in the Grand River, the two-story construction allows fish to navigate upstream, and invites audiences to engage with the river through a series of platforms and bridges. A painter and sculptor based in Grand Rapids in the 1970s and 1980s, Kinnebrew’s popularity with the public is associated with works like the Fish Ladder, but also because he achieved national recognition—a post for local artists only inhabited previously by Mathias Alten.

Public art in Grand Rapids was completely re-energized and re-imagined in the 1990s owing to the foresight and civic pride of the Frey Foundation, a family foundation now in its third generation of stewardship. They envisioned a public art project of consequence to commemorate the forthcoming change of the millennium, and to parallel the momentous building and renovations happening across the city. A cross-community committee conducted a rigorous search process resulting in the selection of Maya Lin, renowned American artist and architect. Lin created Ecliptic, a 3.5 acre triangular park for visitors to experience the convergence of three elements: gathering places, water, and sky.

Gently undulating hills with trees recalling Native burial mounds frame the work, representing a location not far from the Grand River where people have gathered for millennia. The signature park highlights the importance of water in three ways: with the black granite water table and steam fountain in warmer months, and with the circular plaza transformed into an ice skating rink in winter. Embedded in the plaza are 166 fiber optic lights, commemorating the night sky over Grand Rapids as the night of December 31, 1999 brought us to January 1, 2000, and into the third millennium. In summer months the plaza hosts a wide array of gatherings much like the plaza spaces around La Grande Vitesse. Conceptually and aesthetically diverse, the works by Lin in 2001 and Calder in 1969 represent a challenging but rewarding framework for public art in Contemporary art history that few communities across the globe proffer, let alone just blocks apart.

In the course of merely fifty years, the city of Grand Rapids has reimagined itself in nationally consequential terms through the vibrancy of public art. Majestically, the tradition continues to unfold. Just recently, the Frey Foundation again stepped forward with a major civic initiative that brought a monumental example of Robert Indiana’s (1928-2018) iconic Pop art, LOVE sculpture to the city center. The sculpture seems to summarize the sentiments of many about Grand Rapids. Simultaneous to the decidedly Contemporary additions are the contributions of more traditional, figurative statuary. Foremost, Community Legends, founded and supported by Ambassador Peter and Mrs. Joan Secchia and family, brings over life-size bronze portrait sculptures of historical city leaders from across the annals of Grand Rapids history. Through this noble endeavor, Ambassador Secchia brings an important historical genre of public art that was nearly absent previously to the community, and encourages its citizens to understand who they can be through the lens of acknowledging those that have come before them. The city embraces both Contemporary and more traditional trends, understanding that public art is essential to the creative and intellectual well-being of its residents.

In addition, major cultural institutions have been transformed, some even born. A dynamic, new Grand Rapids Art Museum building faces the now famed Maya Lin Ecliptic at Rosa Parks Circle. Retail magnate Fred Meijer established a sculpture park and botanical garden which is widely considered to present one of the finest collections of Modern and Contemporary sculpture in the world. Although just outside the city limits and a ticketed museum experience rather than a public entity, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is truly harmonious with the history of public art in Grand Rapids as represented by the major art historical masters. In philanthropic terms, the Meijer family fully represents long term cultural investment in community through public art as shared with the Keelers, the Freys and the Secchias, among others, in contrast to the local scions of earlier generations wherein an artistic legacy for the city was largely left unexplored and the notion of public art was likely unimaginable.

The Frey Foundation unveils Michigan’s first “LOVE” sculpture from artist Robert Indiana on Louis Campau Promenade in downtown Grand Rapids
Courtesy: Grand Rapids History & Special Collections, Archives, Grand Rapids Public Library, Grand Rapids, MI.

Exploration and imagination are synonymous with the DeVos family’s widespread commitment to Grand Rapids. It is impossible to imagine the many flourishing avenues of civic life without the guidance and support of Richard and Helen DeVos, their children and grandchildren. Specific to art, the advent of ArtPrize, brainchild of grandson Rick DeVos, has set the international art world spinning. The temporary exhibition hosted every fall from 2009-2018 quickly emerged as among the most dynamic and popular events in the art world. The free, public event is presented as an open conversation with exhibitions and installations across the heart of the city and at Meijer Gardens. Unlike the permanently placed endeavors by Calder, di Suvero and Lin, ArtPrize draws energy and creates excitement from its temporary nature. In its encouragement of audiences experiencing new works of art and offering a fresh perspective on the urban core, it is harmonious with the spirit of Sculpture Off the Pedestal. Further, it is heir to the annual Festival of the Arts, established on the tails of the dedication of La Grande Vitesse; in fact, Alexander Calder himself designed the festival’s logo and promotional materials 50 years ago at its start.

As ArtPrize transitions to a biannual event in the grand tradition of venues like Venice and Sao Paulo, it has embraced a project series in the opposite years beginning with Project 1 in the autumn of 2019. Extremely focused on specific sites and strategically curated, it maintains the experimental spirit of ArtPrize and is poised to contribute to the continuing legacy of public art in Grand Rapids. Likely, as with so many chapters across the last fifty years, it will surprise the art world and cause consideration for the fullest understanding of the Contemporary within the larger history of art. It could be argued that at its scale, Grand Rapids merits a notable and lasting position in that history. If human expression, a center of creative activity, and audience engagement converge so notably with unique commitment to the public anywhere in the United States, it is likely along the shores of the Grand River.

ArtPrize, Deloitte and Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University Announce Continuation of Internship Program to Increase Professional Opportunities for Students

GRAND RAPIDS (MI)–September 11, 2019 — Project 1 by ArtPrize, in collaboration with Deloitte and Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD), are excited to announce the continuation of an Internship Program that welcomes college students from across West Michigan who are eager to learn important leadership skills and gain professional experience within creative fields and non-profit administration.

“In everything we do, KCAD strives to cultivate student-centered learning opportunities that fuel the regional economy with creative leaders and critical thinkers who approach their work with a global perspective,” said KCAD President Tara McCrackin. “The ArtPrize internship program provides a focused way to not only support paid professional development experiences in the arts and design but also actively showcase creativity as an important cultural and economic building block.”

Through the support and collaboration of all three organizations, students participating in the Internship Program will engage in experiential learning opportunities in education, visual arts, design and non-profit development. Additionally, ArtPrize will connect these students to area and global leaders across a wide range of industries, as well as national and international artists and cultural institutions.

“Deloitte is a longtime sponsor of ArtPrize and we’re excited to support this incredible program,” commented Tina Wheeler, Grand Rapids Managing Partner, Deloitte LLP. “Helping to develop and retain talent in West Michigan is a top priority and this internship program is an important step in that direction.”

ArtPrize is an advocate for the community, the arts, creativity and economic development across the region. The organization is dedicated to connecting young people to the arts through a variety of learning opportunities and is, thanks to our sponsors, uniquely positioned to provide degree-seeking students with paid internship opportunities.

ABOUT ARTPRIZE
Project 1 by ArtPrize is the first in a series of multi-sited public art exhibitions in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Five international, national and local artists will create multifaceted installations, urban interventions and community-oriented projects, exploring the lines that unite and divide a city, and what it means to belong.

ABOUT KENDALL COLLEGE OF ART AND DESIGN
Located in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) is committed to creating lasting impact in West Michigan and beyond through collaborative partnerships, cultural innovation and an educational model that prepares students for leadership in the visual arts, design, art history, and art education. For more, please visit kcad.edu.

ABOUT DELOITTE
Please see www.deloitte.com/us/about for a detailed description of our legal structure.

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MEDIA CONTACT
Margaret Paxton, ArtPrize Communications Assistant
media@artprize.org

Elena Tislerics, KCAD Chief Communications Officer
Elenatislerics@ferris.edu

Jane Broski, Central Region Public Relations Leader, Deloitte
jbroski@deloitte.com

IMPORTANT DATES
Project 1 Opening Day Celebration: September 7
Project 1 Closing Ceremonies: October 27

Crossed Lines

Photo Credit: Bryan Esler Photo
This essay is from the Project 1 by ArtPrize catalog coming out in October.

By Kevin Buist
Artistic Director of ArtPrize

“There are parts where even individual trees are crosshatched, where Ul Qoman children and Besz children clamber past each other, each obeying their parents’ whispered strictures to unsee the other.” — China Miéville, The City & the City [1]

China Miéville’s 2009 science fiction novel The City & the City is murder mystery set in the fictional Eastern European cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma. Unlike Cold War East and West Berlin, Besźel and Ul Qoma are not divided by a wall. Instead, the two cities occupy the same physical space, overlapping and sharing town squares, buildings, and roads. The “border” between the cities is strict. Citizens of each city are trained to “unsee” the other city and all its inhabitants and activities, and can only “enter” the other city through an onerous bureaucratic process. Project 1 artist Olalekan Jeyifous cites Miéville’s The City & the City as an influential text, drawing parallels between the double-occupied space of Besźel and Ul Qoma to his gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood, where new and old residents rarely interact. [2]

The City & the City nearly shares a title with another book influential to the development of Project 1: Crossed Lines, Todd Robinson’s A City Within a City: The Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Robinson’s carefully researched recounting of the hardships of the Grand Rapids Black community in the 20th century recounts familiar themes from the national struggle for civil rights and shows what made the Grand Rapids story unique even among other Northern industrial cities. Robinson identifies a tendency in Grand Rapids toward “managerial racism,” which was born out of an idea championed by pro-business reformers who dominated city politics after World War II. The city’s white leaders reasoned that the welfare of Grand Rapids would be best served generally if the specific needs of business were taken care of first, often at the expense of communities of color. [3] This largely passive approach still led to entrenched disadvantages for the Black community, even without the more explicit discrimination common in the Jim Crow South. Taken together, The City & the City and A City Within a City are overlapping narratives about how discrimination and alienation are built into the social and physical realities of cities. The lines that divide us can be hard to see—sometimes we even work hard to unsee them—but art creates conditions where those lines are seen, challenged, and crossed.

Bryan Esler Photo

Project 1: Crossed Lines is the next evolution of ArtPrize. After ten years of citywide art exhibitions in Grand Rapids—defined by large cash prizes determined by public vote and expert jury, global open calls for artists, invitations for any space in the city to become a gallery, and an eclectic variety of art—we decided to try something new. In the summer of 2018, a few months before the tenth annual ArtPrize, we announced that the competition would shift to a biennial format to allow for a new type of exhibition in the fall of 2019.

The first in a new series of exhibitions set to alternate between ArtPrize competitions, Project 1 is in many ways a deliberate reversal of the qualities that have come to define ArtPrize. While ArtPrize employs a broad open call to artists, welcoming somewhere between 1,200 and 1,700 per year, Project 1 focuses on just five carefully selected artists and collaborative teams.

The venues hosting ArtPrize installations are, similar to its artists, the result of an open call, where any space from museum to laundromat can collaborate with artists to display their work. The installation locations for Project 1, on the other hand, were carefully selected by the ArtPrize team, community members, and the artists themselves. While ArtPrize venues select the artwork in their spaces, the show overall is famously not curated, resulting in a dizzying array of media, creative approaches, and (yes) even a broad range of artistic skill. Project 1 is curated. In my newly created role as Artistic Director, I had the privilege of working closely with a team of curatorial advisors to identify artists and refine the themes of the exhibition.

There is also a shift from the ArtPrize model in how Project 1 artists are paid. ArtPrize is animated by the creative efforts and public interest generated by large cash prizes and the unorthodox way those cash awards are given out. Project 1, in contrast to the competition of ArtPrize, employs a commission model. The resources that would fund prizes are instead given to artists upfront and throughout the production process, in order to enable public art projects to be created at a scale and level of complexity that are rarely possible in the competition format.

The most important evolution from ArtPrize to Project 1, however, is the way this new format allows us to organize the exhibition and its supporting programming around a particular set of thematic ideas. The theme for Project 1 is “Crossed Lines.”

“THE EXHIBITION IS ABOUT SEEING, UNDERSTANDING, AND CHALLENGING THE VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE LINES THAT DIVIDE A CITY, AND THE WAY THESE LINES CONTRIBUTE TO OR DETRACT FROM OUR SENSE OF BELONGING.”

Some of these lines are clear: neighborhoods, wards, roads, and rivers. Other lines are harder to see: the legacy of redlining and other discriminatory housing practices; the way perceptions of safety map onto city space; the limitations imposed by the built environment on persons with disabilities; the shifting implicit borders that come with cycles of urban decay, development, and gentrification; and more. The artists in Project 1: Crossed Lines were selected because their past work already dealt with these issues. Our engagement with them for this exhibition began with conversations that helped refine and even shift what the concept of Crossed Lines ultimately became.

This new rhythm of biennial curated public art exhibitions between ArtPrize competitions, the Project series, is designed to allow for vastly different thematic and practical approaches from one iteration to the next. The theme for Project 1, however, is born out of the interlinked histories of Grand Rapids and ArtPrize. 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the installation of Alexander Calder’s La Grande Vitesse. The iconic red stabile was the first such public artwork funded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and has since become an icon for the city. [4] The sculpture was part of an urban renewal effort that leveled and rebuilt a large swathe of downtown.

The broad, minimal plaza that Calder’s piece occupies sits at the center of a collection of modernist government and bank buildings, erected on the site of what was once a dense network of streets containing retail, housing, theaters and churches, demolished in the early 1960s. [5] 1969’s La Grande Vitesse is a triumph of public sculpture, but it also sits in a desolate plaza on top of what was once a dense, multi-use urban core. Its elegance and austerity can be read as a testament to the way so many of the gains of city building are entangled with complicated with losses. Looking back from the perspective of 2019, the 1969 erection of La Grande Vitesse is not an isolated moment, but rather a beginning point of five decades of closely linked city building and public art experimentation in Grand Rapids. This half-century is chronicled in this book in Joseph Antenucci Becherer’s essay “Along the Grand: Contemporary Art History and Grand Rapids, Michigan,” on page 101. Many of these initiatives—the groundbreaking Sculpture Off The Pedestal, Robert Morris’ Grand Rapids Project X, Maya Lin’s Ecliptic, and even ArtPrize itself—are examples of art reaching beyond beautification to play a more integrated and consequential role in building the material and cultural fabric of the city, each with its own wide-ranging implications.

Crossed Lines is also born out of a critical reflection on ArtPrize itself. ArtPrize was founded in 2009 with a combination of (what we thought were) three simple principles: Any space in downtown Grand Rapids could host artwork, any artist in the world could participate, and anyone who shows up could vote on the winner. We quickly learned that simple principles can lead to complex outcomes. We defined the ArtPrize district as a three-square-mile rectangle centered on downtown. That box contained parts of the city’s First and Second Wards but completely left out the Third Ward. The Third Ward is home to a large portion of the city’s African American population, and this was hardly the first time it was left out. A recent study noted that while the Third Ward accounts for about a third of the city’s land area and population, from 2012 to 2017 it saw only 1.5% of the overall private investment supported by the city’s economic development programs. [6] ArtPrize is open to all, but by layering the exhibition onto the city, it tended to reflect and even amplify existing boundaries, movement patterns, and inequities.

Photo by Brian Kelly

With Project 1 we took a different approach to site selection, working closely with community members, city government, and the artists to find appropriate locations in all three wards. The public vote component of ArtPrize establishes a particular relationship between the viewer and the artworks on display. The purpose of the art, the vote seems to suggest, is for it to be perceived and assessed. ArtPrize frames the art viewing experience with a pervasive question: “Does this artist deserve a prize?” The vote is a wildly successful tool for audience engagement, but the frame it creates can also be limiting.

In planning Project 1, we took the opportunity to collaborate with artists and ask not only what visitors would see at the exhibition, but also what they could do, how they could occupy space, and how they could consider cities and belonging in new ways. The artists in Project 1 have built more than just objects and images to behold. They’ve built spaces for action, contemplation, and belonging.

Photo by Katie Zychowski

Amanda Browder’s Kaleidoscopic is a collection of monumental textile installations that wrap around and drape over buildings at each of the three locations of Project 1: downtown, Martin Luther King Jr. Park, and Tanglefoot. Browder’s work radically alters the visual landscape of the city. The artist speaks of letting the colorful, vibrant geometry of classic Disney comic books spill into the real world. The buildings she wraps shift from architecture to sculpture. Browder’s process of creating these textiles is as important as their final form. She solicits fabric donations from the community and leads hundreds of hours of volunteer sewing days to assemble the works. The shared stories behind each donated fabric and the camaraderie that forms during the sewing days open up new ways for people to be together. The installations become monuments to these shared moments.

While researching Grand Rapids with the theme of Crossed Lines in mind, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer selected the Blue Bridge as the site for a new interactive installation, Voice Bridge. Lozano-Hemmer has been a leading practitioner of artworks that employ light, sound, and proprietary interactive technology for decades. Voice Bridge features 400+ lights installed on the pedestrian bridge’s handrails, sending pulsing beams at an oblique angle across the footpath of the bridge. The lights are linked with speakers that replay short voice messages recorded by visitors using intercoms at either end of the bridge. Each time a new message is recorded, the existing messages and the lights that modulate with them are bumped one station further down the bridge. When a message completes the journey from one end of the bridge to another, it disappears forever.

Artist and architect Olalekan Jeyifous created a new sculpture for Project 1 titled The Boom and the Bust. The large building form contains three sections, a base resembling a single home, a mid section featuring a steel lattice supporting an array of small homes, and finally the top portion, which resembles a skyscraper. Jeyifous drew inspiration for the work from his research into housing discrimination and displacement in Grand Rapids, exacerbated by uneven economic growth and the long shadow of redlining and other forms of institutional racism.

Paul Amenta and Ted Lott collaborated to produce Critical Infrastructure at Tanglefoot, a historic manufacturing site that houses artist studios. Amenta is an artist with a wide-ranging creative practice which includes co-founding and organizing SiTE:LAB. SiTE:LAB is a nomadic, volunteer-run contemporary
art nonprofit based in Grand Rapids that stages site-specific exhibitions and
performances in a variety of urban environments, including a number of celebrated ArtPrize venues. Lott is principal of Lott3Metz Architecture in Grand Rapids, and actively involved in Grand Rapids city building and neighborhood development. For this installation, they collaborated closely with DisArt, a Grand Rapids nonprofit that promotes Disabled cultural identity through exhibitions, events, and consulting. Critical Infrastructure is part sculpture and part architecture, a structure that serves as both a literal and metaphorical stage for the actions and creative expressions of others. With help from DisArt and SiTE:LAB volunteers, the space will be programmed with music, dance, video, DJs, drag shows, and more throughout Project 1.

Finally, Heather Hart contributed The Oracle of the Soulmates, a pair of sculptures that resemble rooftops emerging from the ground. The twin pieces are installed at Martin Luther King Jr. Park on the southeast side and Rosa Parks Circle downtown. By constructing nearly identical works in these two sites, Hart invites us to consider how and where we’re empowered to claim space. Local performers are invited to use the rooftops as stages. The rooftops are at once playful and foreboding, symbols of home and belonging that are sinking beneath the surface. The rooftops are a threshold, a line between public and private space, and Hart invites visitors to dance on that line and sing from the rooftops.

Photo by Katie Zychowski

All of the artworks in Project 1 are organized around the idea of belonging, and how the lines that make up a city enable or inhibit our sense of belonging. But this doesn’t mean much if it’s just an idea to be deduced from an artwork. Belonging is a state of being, so these artworks are places to be, not just things to look at and think about. It’s our hope that Project 1 does much more than communicate an idea; we hope it can alter and reorganize the city, breach borders, cross paths, blur boundaries, and point toward a future city where we all belong.

[1] China Miéville. The City & the City. London: Picador, 2018. 195.
[2] Olalekan Jeyifous. Interview with Kevin Buist. Project 1 Catalog. 82.
[3] Todd Robinson. A City within a City: the Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2013. X.
[4] Joan M. Marter. “Alexander Calder’s Stabiles: Monumental Public Sculpture in America.” American Art Journal 11, no. 3 (1979): 75-76.
[5] Garret Ellison. “Timeline: Key Dates in Downtown Grand Rapids Urban Renewal.” mlive.com, May 22, 2014. https://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/2014/05/urban_renewal_timline.html.
[6] Justin P Hicks. “Grand Rapids’ Third Ward Being Left behind in Economic Development.” MLive.com. MLive.com, October 15, 2018. https://expo.mlive.com/news/erry-2018/10/8286c253d67310/grand-rapids-third-ward-being.html.

ArtPrize Announces Project 1 Event Schedule

The public is invited to the official Project 1 free events happening Saturdays during the run of the exhibition.

Grand Rapids (Michigan) August 19, 2019 — ArtPrize announced today the official events for Project 1: Crossed Lines. Each Saturday in September and the last week in October will feature a different program of free and open to the public events that will activate the artists’ works in an unforgettable way. Many other exhibitions, community events and performances will be happening throughout the run of the exhibition.

“We couldn’t be more excited to partner with community members and organizations across the city to build out a spectacular set of events throughout September. These free Saturday events will give participants of all ages an opportunity to experience Project 1 art installations and the city in new and exciting ways.” —Jori Bennett, executive director.

ArtPrize has also partnered with community partners to provide an even richer experience at each of the Saturday events. All Art Works is putting on an exhibition to provide connections between artists and art buyers. The WestSide StreetFair will be happening on Saturday, September 14th that coincides with the run of Project 1. The Grand Rapids African American Art and Music Festival will also be happening on Saturday, September 21 in Martin Luther King Park. 

“The Grand Rapids African American Art and Music Festival is thrilled to partner with ArtPrize again,” said Lisa Knight, Festival board chair and director of the Centers for Innovation, Health, Education, Youth and Community Engagement, at the Urban League of West Michigan. “This will be the first time the Festival is held in Martin Luther King Jr. Park and the Project 1 installations there will provide exciting programming opportunities.”

Photo by Jessica Swanson

Saturday, September 7, presented by DTE Foundation
Join ArtPrize and the City of Grand Rapids for a day of one-of-a-kind performances and events. Begin at Rosa Parks Circle at Noon to kick off the inaugural Project 1 exhibition with a headlining performance from BANDALOOP. From 2-5 pm enjoy the Martin Luther King Jr Park community kick-off with headlining performance by Jordan Hamilton. 

While downtown stop in to see the All Art Works Show: Great Art at Great Prices at 37 Ottawa Ave NW from 10 to 6 pm. 200 artists of every career level are curated next to work by world-famous artists. The show is free and open to the public and all artwork is for sale and priced for new and experienced buyers. The show runs from September 6 through 10.

Evening programming includes an artist panel hosted at Critical Infrastructure at the Tanglefoot site. After the talk, the Disability Drag Show, presented by DisArt, be taking place at the Wealthy St Theatre. Following the show, head back to Tanglefoot for an after-party featuring Grand Rapids Soul Club.

Saturday, September 14, presented by Meijer
Start the second weekend of Project 1 at the WestSide StreetFair on Broadway and Bridge from 11 am to 6 pm. Enjoy live music, art and educational activities for the whole family. Community partners John Ball Zoo, Experience Live Art, Artists Creating Together, Grand Rapids Public Museum, Comedy Project, Gilda’s Club and more will be there.

Be sure to check out Meijer’s Grand Taste Truck sited at Rosa Parks Circle, which will be giving food and household items out. They will also be providing art activities happening from 11 am – 3 pm. 

Then don’t miss an unforgettable evening of light, sound and community at this one-night-only performance at Blue Bridge Amplified, presented by Founder’s Brewing Company. Electronic beat-maker and headliner, Dan Deacon, and an array of local artists and musicians will take over Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Voice Bridge, activating the sound system and 400+ lights that will traverse Grand Rapids’ iconic Blue Bridge from 8-11 pm. 

Saturday, September 21, presented by Wolverine Worldwide
Explore the immersive artworks on view as part of Project 1 from the unique perspective of your bike seat. Pedal Project 1 is a family-friendly guided bike tour for all ages and levels featuring stops at each site location (Downtown, MLK Park, and Tanglefoot). Start at Rosa Parks Circle at 8:30 am to check-in and prepare for the bike ride departing at 10 am. The tour will be led by Jason Hall from RiDetroit and Johannah Jelks from She Rides Her Own Way. Event registration is required by visiting project.artprize.org/pedal-project-1/

Additionally, the Grand Rapids African American Music Festival will be taking place from 9 am until 11 pm. The festival features the contributions of African-Americans and will immerse the community in art, music, dance and food reflecting the diversity of the African American Community in Grand Rapids and West Michigan. Performances will be taking place all day with headlining act, Raheem Devaughn. 

Head back downtown to DeVos Place to see Shades of Blackness an exhibition featuring African American artists from across the United States. The exhibition runs from September 6 until October 4. 

Saturday, September 28, presented by DisArt and SiTE:LAB
For the final Saturday in September join DisArt and its collaborators as they present Voices an immersive, multimedia project displayed and interacted with throughout the Tanglefoot site. Designed as both an aesthetic and archiving experience, Voices will gather and visualize stories of alienation and belonging from Disabled community members as well as visitors to the site. The event runs from Noon to 10 pm and all are encouraged to attend and participate. 

Saturday, October 26
Join us at Studio Park to celebrate the final weekend of Project 1. The evening will kick-off with a press conference where several exciting announcements will be made for ArtPrize 2020. The evening will unfold to feature live music in the Studio Park Listening Room.

ABOUT PROJECT 1 BY ARTPRIZE
The ArtPrize organization produces open citywide contemporary art experiences that encourage critical discourse, celebrate artists, transform urban space and promote cultural understanding. Project 1: Crossed Lines is the first in a series of multi-sited public art exhibitions to take place between biennial ArtPrize competitions.

From September 7 – October 27, 2019, Project 1: Crossed Lines exhibition will occupy multiple outdoor sites in Grand Rapids, Michigan and will feature temporary public artworks by five artists. The seven-week run will be punctuated by a series of events, volunteer opportunities, educational programs and performances.

As of publication date, underwriting partners for Project 1 include DTE Foundation, Herman Miller Cares, Meijer, PNC Bank, X-Rite and Pantone. Major sponsors include Amway, Consumers Energy, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., Haworth, ITC—Your Energy Superhighway, LIFEWTR, Switch, West Michigan Honda Dealers and Wolverine Worldwide.

Honda is the Official Vehicle. LIFEWTR is the Official Water. WOOD TV8 is the Official Broadcast Media Partner. Rehmann is the Official Technology Partner. 

Major supporting foundations include CDV5 Foundation, Peter C. & Emajean Cook Foundation, The Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, Daniel and Pamella DeVos Foundation, Douglas and Maria DeVos Foundation, The Edgar & Elsa Prince Foundation, Efroymson Family Fund and Frey Foundation.

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MEDIA CONTACT
For additional information, interview requests, and images of artwork, please contact: 

David Simantov
Blue Medium, Inc.
E: david@bluemedium.com
T: +1 212-675-1800 

Margaret Paxton
ArtPrize
E: media@artprize.org  
T: +1 (616) 214-7921