Crossing Lines and Connecting Community

By: Mia Wallace

The Oxford Dictionary defines belonging – /bəˈlôNGiNG/ verb ­– as to “be a member or part of a particular group, organization, or class.” As humans, we belong to many different things and places. I have Irish heritage; I am an alumnus of Michigan State University; I am a graphic design student at Kendall College of Art and Design; I am a resident of Grand Rapids. Belonging is a common human experience that most of us need to survive. It goes beyond just being a part of a community but actually feeling like you deserve and are connected to that community. From the things I listed above, I am a part of all those various communities, but I only feel like I belong to a select few.

Before starting this internship, my sense of belonging in Grand Rapids was non-existent. I was in a new city with hundreds of different things to do and explore and become involved with, but I didn’t have a place to start. It was a very isolating time where I was within the community of Grand Rapids, but I didn’t feel like I belonged here.

This all began to change when I started as the Learning and Engagement Intern for Project 1 by ArtPrize. Assisting with art education events, programs, community engagement and volunteer recruitment, I slowly began to feel more and more comfortable and connected to this new city. Every event we worked at MLK  Park and Rosa Parks Circle brought me closer to the Grand Rapids community.

Every kid who thanked me for helping them with an art project and every volunteer that I got to know made me feel less like a visitor. All my co-workers and mentors who went out of their way to get to know me and make me spreadsheets of the best places in town made me feel welcomed and excited to be here.

The moment really felt like Grand Rapids was my new home was during the opening day of Project 1, when I got to see all the hard work and time everyone at ArtPrize put into this, including my own, come to fruition and see the community respond so positively to what we made together for Grand Rapids. It was the moment where I felt like I broke down these personal boundaries holding me back from connecting with my new city and crossing the line from out-of-towner to resident to valuable member of the community.

My decision to go back to school and move to Grand Rapids coincided with the production and launch of ArtPrize’s newest venture, Project 1. During an extremely transitional period of my life where I was crossing lines and barriers in my own personal and professional life, the five Project 1 artists were exploring the idea of belonging, crossing lines and connecting community into their artwork. During a time of so much transition, confusion and loneliness in my life, it was comforting to know that I was surrounded by and contributing to connecting the community to art that focused on a sense of belonging and pushing boundaries. Project 1 helped me connect and value the history, culture and community of my new home and feel like I didn’t just reside within the Grand Rapids city limits, but that I belonged here too.