Local artists seek to break down barriers through art, conversation during Art.Downtown.
Have Company, the UICA, and Kate Lewis are working to champion art as an outlet to build involvement and spark conversations. As we see the continued growth of local artists coming together to support each other, the growth of exhibitions and creatives that are challenging social, political, and societal norms to break down barriers has blossomed. Businesses, nonprofits and curators utilize their skills and voices in expanding what local art means, the conversations around it, and who is involved.
Marlee Grace, the powerhouse behind Have Company, utilizes her shop as judgement free space for creative expression. Artist residencies, celebrating the variety of the voices in zines and handmade goods, and connecting resident artists with the community through do-it-together style workshops on a sliding scale are some of the ways she does this.
Grace says being an inclusive community is “important for the work in the shop, our residency and gallery space to represent marginalized groups. So we aim to host and sell work made and written by people of color, queer and trans folks, wimmin, artists with disabilities, outsider artists, the list goes on.” She loves being able to “lift up other voices in my own community and beyond myself.”
For Grace it’s always been important to run Have Company “as a community space, where anyone can show up to teach, learn and participate in a radical learning environment” which she makes possible from her artist residency program, allowing creatives from any part of the country to live in the space for 9 days to host workshops, grow their practice, and explore Grand Rapids.
Grace says that breaking down barriers and allowing for creative freedom means that “You don’t have to wait for anyone to tell you your writing is good enough to be published, publish it yourself! You don’t have to be an expert professor to teach, you ARE an expert just by being in your own body” and “Like, want an art show? Here is a wall hang your art! Want to teach a yoga class? Here is the key, move the table, have your yoga class! It’s exciting to see this space shift.”
Kate Lewis is a ceramic artist, teacher, and curator in Grand Rapids who focuses on collaboration, working with SiTE:LAB, Avenue for the Arts, UICA, Cook Arts Center, and more. Lewis shares that she works in a “culture of visionaries who have the energy and work ethic to be the change and thrive personally, doing what they love while bringing up the people of the city who need help the most”. She has made FUNdraiser cups for each event she has participated in for First Fridays this year as a way to benefit Hip Hop 4 Flint, Fable the Poet, and bring another element of support to fellow artists through her ceramic skills.
Lewis has been the coordinator of Neighbor Gallery, a gallery on Avenue for the Arts that is a part of Craft House. Neighbor Gallery has brought performance-based art, musicians, and hands-on activities to the space in order to create a more interactive space during First Fridays on the Avenue. Lewis says, “one of Neighbor Gallery’s goals is to incubate risk. Another it to get people who wouldn’t normally work together to collaborate for each show.”
Just up the South Division corridor, the UICA‘s UNLOADED is a traveling group exhibition that explores the historical and social issues surrounding the availability, use and impact of guns on culture and public health. Gun control is a topic that resonates both locally and nationally this year as the death toll between 1968 and 2011 eclipses all wars ever fought by the country.
According to research by Politifact, there were about 1.4 million firearm deaths in that period, compared with 1.2 million US deaths in every conflict from the War of Independence to Iraq. According to BBC News, “the US spends more than a trillion dollars per year defending itself against terrorism, which kills a tiny fraction of the number of people killed by ordinary gun crime” and affects everyone no matter their stance on the issue.
Miranda Krajniak, UICA Executive Director, says, “Contemporary art provides an opportunity to reflect on society and the issues relevant to ourselves, and to the world around us. Oftentimes contemporary art mirrors contemporary culture and becomes a resource through which to consider current ideas, question our beliefs, and confront difficult conversations.”
The exhibition is free to members and will have a special members morning viewing led by Heather Duffy, the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts’ Exhibitions Curator. Krajniak reflects “Guns have always been a part of American culture, and how we talk about guns today will provide important commentary about our current society, contextualize who we are to future generations, and ultimately impact who we are tomorrow”.
All three locations, the UICA, Neighbor Gallery and Have Company are hosting exhibtions during Art.Downtown. on April 9, 2016 from 12 p.m.-9p.m.. Alongside Unloaded, the UICA will be hosting the opening reception for Color of the Year by X-Rite Pantone featuring a variety of work from local artists inspired by the colors of the year, Rose Quartz and Serenity, as well as small bites from Reserve Wine & Food. Kate Lewis will be showcasing her ceramic work at Neighbor Gallery as part of Words on Clay a solo exhibition representing over a year investigating the cathartic nature of words, ceramics and printmaking, featuring collaborative elements and live music throughout the day. Further down the Avenue, Have Company will host musician Stephen Steinbrink, as well as, Izzy & Kevin from Chit Chat and Tumbalo at the shop.