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Development News

Teens design S. Division mural that will be featured in large-scale 2017 ArtPrize entry

A preliminary rendering of a mural the CAA have begun painting on the walls of S. Division.


A new mural is underway on the exterior of 106 S. Division in Heartside, the first brushstrokes made by teens from the Cook Arts Center Teen Leaders in the Arts program during Avenue for the Arts’ Aug. 4 First Fridays event. 

With the existing paint job old and chipping away, the UICA was already working with partners at Dwelling Place to repaint the wall, looking to members of the artist community there to gauge interest in help with designing something new. And when the UICA reached out to Cook Arts Center’s teen program, they jumped at the chance to do the project — as long as they could incorporate a larger aspect of community engagement. 

“We did what we always do with the teens in that program and we left it to them to decide, and they said, ‘yeah, we definitely want to do that and it sounds cool, but we want to do what we did before to make sure the people living in that neighborhood really like it,” says Steffanie Rosalez, Cook Arts Center program director, who then worked with staff from Avenue for the Arts and Dwelling Place to connect with local businesses and find ways to engage with residents both in and outside of the artist community. 

“I gave the kids context about the area and said, you know, there are a lot of artists who do live around here and will be in and out of the businesses around here, but there are also a lot of people who have lived here for a very long time in Dwelling Place apartments and surrounding areas who don’t typically have their voices heard,” Rosalez says. 

Using interactive table displays set up near the entrances to a few local businesses, the teens spent time introducing themselves and the project, getting input and hearing stories from whomever happened to walk by.

Rosalez says the time they spent in the neighborhood businesses, basically just hanging around and listening, allowed them to get a sense of the larger community as a whole without sacrificing the opportunity to connect with and hear from residents on a more individual level.

And the final design of the mural reflects exactly that — the many kinds of individuals who are strengthened by support from the community around them, sharing stories of redemption made possible thanks to the local organizations and support of those who want to help each other thrive. Depicting a colorful array of gears arching over an even more colorful and diverse group of people, neighbors also wanted to see the incorporation of symbols  to help represent the groups more specifically, with feminism, LGBT, homelessness, and disability just a few among the many. 

And while the mural, at its heart, provides a unique avenue for the group of teens to celebrate diversity and creativity outside of their comfort zones through engaging with the downtown community, a larger partnership between Cook Arts Academy and the UICA is raising the stakes. 

The final design will be printed on textiles and used as part of a larger-scale interactive art piece being entered in ArtPrize 2017 by nationally recognized visual artist Seitu Jones and the UICA. 

Titled “The Heartside Community Meal,” Jones’ time-based entry will take place on Sept. 23 and bring over 250 neighbors to Heartside Park to sit across from one another at the 300-foot-long table. There they will be served a “healthy, locally grown meal” with conversations that aim to illuminate issues of healthy food access in downtown Grand Rapids neighborhoods. 

Running the length of that 300-foot-table will be a fabric table runner featuring a print of the mural design currently being painted by the Cook Arts Center teens.

“They have been very dedicated,” Rosalez says, adding that the group stuck out three months of meetings, planning, and community outreach to get to the finalized mural design.  “It’s been a big commitment and I’ve been so impressed by them and how much they’re willing to give back to their community because they genuinely want to do something special. They’re an amazing group of kids.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Cook Arts Center
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