GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Tens of thousands of visitors visit Grand Rapids for ArtPrize annually, giving both artists and local businesses an opportunity to promote themselves.
Muse GR is hosting art at two venues for ArtPrize 2023 — one at the main art gallery at 727 Leonard St. NW near Alpine Avenue and the other at its classroom space at 501 Eastern Ave. SE south of Wealthy Street.
The Leonard Street spot is what co-owner Stephen Smith calls an “interactive gallery space” that has hands-on activities for visitors to try. It also hosts concerts and small, art-based events.
It has just one piece of artwork entered into ArtPrize — a mural called “Rainbow Tribe” painted by Brazilian artist Marcus Vinicius Ramos, also known as ENIVO. But the large colorful wall is just the beginning.
“The whole gallery will be taken over by that artist. So you will have the full-on ENIVO experience, as we will be calling it,” Smith explained.
Muse specifically sought out ENVIO and flew him in from Brazil to be a resident artist to create and exhibit his work in the gallery throughout the ArtPrize competition.
“We just we wanted to give a really immersive art experience for this artist because he’s really big. He’s like a globally known artist. And when we saw him, we were like, ‘Oh yeah, he would be great for ArtPrize because he would add a lot of value,’” Smith said.
Smith chose ENIVO because he identified with his painting style and wanted to dig deeper.
“The work that he does told a story. It was like pictograms sometimes and it was really immersive. It was cultural work that I feel like spoke to the fact that people are really enamored with other people’s culture. And I felt like his work exemplified a vibrancy that was going to be well-received here in West Michigan,” Smith explained.
Muse’s Eastern Avenue location is a classroom and creative space that hosts workshops and classes and is home to a photography studio. During ArtPrize, it will have an “Art Café.”
“Art Cafe will be a place where people can come and do an art-based activity,” Smith explained. “They’ll be able to select items that they want to engage in off of a menu, cafe style, but it will be art projects.”
When Smith chose artists, he kept a few things in mind.
“We were looking for artwork that was vibrant. We were looking for artwork that we can see and translate into maybe some classes or workshops. And we were looking for things that have meaning,” he said.
Smith said the Muse curation team was intentional about representing some artists of color and taking into consideration artists’ backgrounds.
“We brought some artists that were fresh to the area,” he said. “They are from Michigan but some of them are from the Detroit area and then some are located here.”
Sarah Andro, who curated the art at the S I L V A venue on Ottawa Avenue not far from Canal Park, said her team was also “really intentional” with the pieces they selected.
“I thought about the relationship between the pieces. A lot of it’s pretty heavy stuff. I wanted to have people come in and I want them to take their time … nothing against craft, but I was more interested in art that came from the heart than just having pieces to produce to win a prize,” Andro said.
One S I L V A-hosted piece called “The Truth Tree Talks” has possibly one of the shortest descriptions on the ArtPrize website, reading simply, “22 people.” Andro said she’s learned a lot from Padraig ONeill, the artist who created it.
“Just hearing his story… He’s here now from New York and just being with him as been such a gift to me… He’s in his 70s and it’s his first time even being an artist. And the story of how he got to the piece is so cool. It’s just so cool how the universe leads people to these places, you know? And I feel like almost all the artists that we have have that kind of story,” Andro said.
While taking in all the art, Andro hopes visitors to S I L V A take a step outside themselves.
“My hope is that people learn something about humanity when they’re in the space and when they leave, that something in there resonates with them and make them change for the better,” Andro said. “A lot of these pieces are so heart-centered in such human experiences that I’m hoping people take the time, they read (the artist statements), they understand why things are the way they are and that they just appreciate the effort that the artists have put into it — thought, time, energy. … I hope they have the appreciation of the art.”
Many of the pieces displayed at S I L V A are performance or experienced-based, including a full-sized sumo wrestling ring and a contemporary dance performance. It was the best way to fill what Andro calls the “big empty canvas” — a spacious building on Ottawa Avenue that, after ArtPrize, will go under construction to be transformed into a restaurant and bar, indoor bocce courts and events space. It’s set to open next summer.
“We have 50,000 square feet and we knew we weren’t going to be using it, so we figured we might as well open it up and we figured it’d be a gift to the community and then also it would be good exposure for us, that people will want to come back to the space because it is so cool,” Andro said.
Many venues at ArtPrize hope the art pieces they host will attract customers. Lantern Coffee Bar & Lounge on the corner of Commerce Avenue and Oakes Street doesn’t have the space S I L V A does, but owner and curator Jon Bailey said he worked to choose two pieces that matched its vibe.
“Open brick walls, wooden pillars, dim lighting, very cozy, yellow warm lighting,” Bailey described the coffee house. “So the art we picked to go with that is something that kind of represents our shop or downtown — a little edgy. Like one of the pieces that we have this year is a little nature-y as well,” Bailey said.
Lantern is featuring two sculpture pieces. Bailey hopes they will draw people into the shop, as the last several years did not bring the same ArtPrize traffic it used to.
“I think this will be the first ArtPrize that’s like COVID is really not as bad as it was in previous years. So I guess this year will be a good indication of where we’re at because last year we saw a little bit of an increase but not like we did in 2016 to 2018 era,” Bailey explained.
Bailey said it’s important for ArtPrize visitors to realize how important they can be to area businesses.
“All the small businesses in town make changes to their scheduling and staffing and inventory stuff for this week. Having those people come in and purchase things, or at least just the foot traffic of having people in your business is very rewarding. Especially over the past three years with COVID, small businesses really need that that bump. It’s good for our business, but it’s also very good for team morale and just overall the city,” he said.