Growing community through art: Heartside Gallery and Studio
Walking into Heartside Gallery and Studio, the first thing you notice is how active the space is. The Studio and Gallery space blend where artists create and show off art. Volunteers and Neighbor artists move through the space, busy with activity. The walls feature work made by Neighbors, and during open hours art lovers can look over and buy art of featured artists.
Heartside Gallery and Studio, located at 54 South Division, is a program of Heartside Ministries. Heartside Ministry opened its doors in 1983 as an outreach program to the community’s homeless. In 2001, the Gallery and Studio opened to provide a place for neighborhood residents (or rather, Neighbors, as Heartside staff says) to make art and have a stable sense of creative community. Heartside Ministry serves those within the “Heartside” neighborhood; this is the area north to south from Fulton Street to Wealthy Street. Then, east to west from Lafayette Street to the Grand River. This is a stretch of Division Avenue referred to as the Avenue for the Arts, which focuses on the intersection of art and community. Heartside’s services are a firm cornerstone in this neighborhood’s culture of creative locality.
Heartside’s art space is maintained largely by volunteers. These folks dedicate their time to tasks like signing in Neighbor artists, organizing supplies, managing the space or spending time overseeing a specialty studio activity. A volunteer since June 2016, Katherine Thelen, is one of the volunteers that gives their time to maintaining the pottery studio in Heartside’s lower lever. “This is not a resource available in the rest of the city [Grand Rapids], unless you have a lot of money. My time spent here is giving a resource to artists who can be among some of the most marginalized.”
Volunteering weekly is a time commitment that Thelen feels makes a difference, “Volunteering is a part of my life… the artists that come here have stable resources and gain a sense of expertise that they may not find on their own.” Heartside gives something that those with limited means and resources may not be getting: compassion and encouragement.
“It means something to everyone who comes through the door knowing that there are people here who care, who believe in them, and who want them to succeed. Even if they don’t believe in themselves,” says Katherine Thelen.
One of the neighborhood artists that frequents Heartside is Denis Burkett. Denis started to come to Heartside in 2010, after life altering circumstances left him experiencing disabilities and homelessness. “I first started coming to Heartside because I needed medicine and couldn’t afford it. I was used to working long days and then I didn’t know what to do.”
“I never used to consider myself an artist, but I wrote a lot of poetry. I needed something to do, because I felt like I couldn’t do anything,” Denis says. “I started going to the Gallery and I found I could make really good stuff. This place changed my life. Before I felt out of control and I didn’t know what was going to happen with my life.”
Denis spends more of his time at Heartside Gallery than he used to and advocates the facility to others. “The people who come here just need a place to go where they won’t be judged. I tell people that they should come here and get help with what they need. The Ministry will put them with resources.” Denis’s community has expanded through Heartside Ministry. “Helping others makes me feel needed and useful.”
Creating art in a welcoming environment allows residents to boost their confidence and communication skills. Artists are given to sell their artwork through the Heartside Gallery and earn a source of income. Most of the proceeds go to the artists, but a small percentage also goes back into the studio to pay for art supplies.
Tendai Masiriri has been the new director at Heartside Ministry for just over a month now. Director Masiriri has a background in social work, with a Master’s degree on the subject. He is also currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences. His previous work focused on helping people with mental illness, or who were dealing with substance abuse issues.
Looking to Heartside’s future, Masiriri discussed maintaining the ministry’s legacy, “There are many programs provided here that work to improve the quality of life for those seeking help. We currently provide some case management services, but can hopefully expand those services in the future.” Many factors can impede a person on the way to getting the help that they need, “An individual’s problems can be complex, and problems are compounded by mental health and lack of stability,” says Tendai Masiriri. With an eye to expanding on current services and possibly providing new ones in the future, “We are working on gaining new grants and hopefully involvement from new donors.”
Heartside Ministry is always looking for help, and there are lots of ways to give a hand. Volunteers are always needed to help out with programming. In addition, art supplies and monetary donations are welcome. Heartside is able to provide the services that community Neighbors need on the basis of grants and charitable donations. Make a trip down to South Division and check out their facilities.
Heartside Gallery and Studio has open hours for art seekers to view the gallery and buy art Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. and Friday, 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Art lovers can also purchase unique art at Heartside’s online shop Be sure to visit Heartside’s page to find out the resources they have to offer and how you can help out at heartside.org.
The Avenue for the Arts is a neighborhood title for the South Division commercial corridor. We are residential, commercial and nonprofit groups working together in a creative community. We are residents in Heartside, and active participants in shaping change in our neighborhood. In 2005, we choose the Avenue for the Arts as a title to represent our commercial corridor and the projects and events that we create. Because the Avenue is powered by volunteers guest writers create our Rapidian content. Special thanks to Aude Shattuck, Avenue for the Arts member and Illustrator living in the Grand Rapids, MI area.