Art gives hope in West Michigan

Oct 01, 2009

It’s hard to be a blogger in West Michigan and not talk about ArtPrize. True to its objective, the event is changing the conversation on art. But it’s not only happening with the connoisseurs of fine art. Kids are getting engaged too.

A little background on ArtPrize first. It’s an event that was launched as a vision of Rick DeVos, grandson of Amway co-founder Rich DeVos. It’s a contest open to artists around the world that offers ten cash prizes totaling nearly $500,000. Anyone who registers can vote online or by texting.

This event has brought more than 1,200 pieces of art in Grand Rapids, from simple paintings to performance art, from three-story sculptures to symphonic composures. There are 159 venues around town hosting the art, that has come from around the world. Tens of thousands of people have roamed the downtown area in the last week, checking out all the different pieces.

I brought my kids down to see it last week, and it was amazing. They were fascinated by a gigantic table and chairs on top of a bridge. They danced in front of a mosaic of mirror shards by the Children’s Museum. They looked deeply into paintings to interpret their meaning. Then they went home and did some cutting and coloring of their own.

Classrooms are taking field trips and doing art tours. Nonprofit organizations are exposing children to world-class art. Discussions are popping up around town about what is good art and which pieces make you feel good.

The event has been a shining light in an otherwise dark and cloudy environment. Just this week, the State of Michigan announced this week that it will cut funding to the arts by 71%. It’s a difficult economic environment for arts organizations when unemployment is high and basic needs are soaring. But I talked to the heads of several arts organizations yesterday, and they were in high spirits.

The best interpretation of the impact of art came from the Economic Club of all places. This week, the Economic Club of Grand Rapids hosted Bill Strickland, founder of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation, a center that works with at-risk youth and adults by teaching them artistic trades. The center was replicated in Grand Rapids several years ago as the West Michigan Center for Arts & Technology, a major ArtPrize venue this week.

Mr. Strickland was an at-risk youth himself, and found hope and inspiration through pottery and a special art teacher in high school. He said that art gives people hope, through creative expression. It allows the sun to shine on them and interpret the world around them. And when people have hope, everything else is possible.

It’s cloudy today, but the sun shines on art, creativity and hope in West Michigan.

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