GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Some ArtPrize venues fill expansive gallery spaces spanning tens of thousands of square feet. The festival’s smallest uses just inches.
PO (Art)Box is its own ArtPrize venue, consisting of two outdoor mailbox banks, each with 16 individual mailboxes. The boxes are open throughout the festival and do not require a key. When visitors open the doors, they can view tiny masterpieces.
“Each little box is done by an individual artist,” explained Sierra Cole, who is a curator for the venue.
About 20 artists show small-scale artwork like dioramas and micro-installations in the boxes. Cole and her co-creative curator Todd Ramquist came up with the idea several years ago.
“I started looking around thinking, ‘What would be a really unique venue if we could do something ourselves and curate something?’ So I went into the post office and was looking at all the boxes on the walls and thought, this could be cool turn a little post office box into a gallery,” Ramquist said.
In 2017, its first year in ArtPrize, the PO (Art)Box was inside the Post Office on Monroe Center Street in the heart of downtown. Later, Cole was able to recycle apartment-style mailbox banks from a construction company. They’re now installed outside the Post Office so viewers can enjoy them 24 hours a day.
The art inside the mailboxes got more elaborate over time. Electronic features like light-up disco balls or mechanical parts were powered by batteries in the early years.
“Now, our boxes are run by solar power, which is really cool. So we’re not only ArtPrize’s tiniest venue, but we are assuming that we are ArtPrize’s only solar-powered venue as well,” said Cole.
Each P.O. box is about 6 inches wide, 5 inches tall and 12 inches deep, which can be a challenge for creators.
“Some of the artists are used to do doing big giant paintings and all of a sudden they have to figure (out) something small,” Ramquist said. “Artists are always creative and can come up with something really cool to do it.”
“You have to work three-dimensional, too, because we want people to deal with the top, the sides, the bottom, and so it becomes a real challenge for people because this artwork is so small and it’s something that people are not used to doing,” Cole added.
All the work put into the tiny masterpieces does not go unnoticed by visitors.
“I think one of the things I’m kind of fascinated with is how much time people will spend there looking at each one. … Families will stay out there and all the little kids will look and the parents will explain what’s going on. … So they’re trying to figure it out. That’s fun,” said Ramquist.
Cole says putting a spotlight on small-scale art is important.
“Small works of art are just as viable as large scale works. They are just as challenging, time consuming, and complex as their large counterparts,” she writes on her website.
PO (Art)Box is located in the heart of ArtPrize, across from Rosa Parks Circle and the Grand Rapids Art Museum. The festival runs through Sunday.