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The permanent lives of creativity: Past ArtPrize winners become Grand Rapids fixtures

Chris LaPorte in front of  “Cavalry, American Officers, 1921.”

While many ArtPrize pieces are here for just a matter of weeks, others become permanent pieces of Grand Rapids. Where are these works now, and how have they influenced the artistic conversation in the city?
ArtPrize approach-eth. From Sept. 21 to Oct. 9, Grand Rapids’ eighth annual international art competition will welcome new pieces from artists of all ages and experience levels and in a dizzying array of disciplines. Since 2009, ArtPrize has facilitated the display of breathtaking visual art pieces, most of which appear only during the competition, and are afterwards torn down to make way for the everyday life of Grand Rapidians. However, some pieces have become permanent fixtures in the city, taking up space on walls, in bodies of water or in private collections.

Where are these pieces now, and how have they influenced the artistic conversation in the city? Two artists discuss their intentions with their prize-winning pieces that have since been adopted by various organizations, and how their permanent displays have brought together community members year-round.

"My artform is pretty much a permanent thing anyway," says Tracy Van Duinen, co-creator of “Imagine That!,” a mural of mosaic tile on the wall of the Grand Rapids Children's Museum. The second place winner of the first-ever ArtPrize in 2009, “Imagine That!” was designed to permanently reside in or on the chosen venue long after the competition. After researching the best location, "we were laser focused on the children's museum," Van Duinen says of himself, his brother Corey, and Todd Osborne, all of whom designed and executed the piece together. Though the museum board discussed the piece for some time before approval, they ultimately welcomed the expansive mural after concept drawings won them over.

Knowing that this would be a permanent installation, the artists applied for special permission from the city to display the work publicly. This allowance requires that a work of art contain no signage whatsoever. After obtaining permission, signing the contract with the venue and deciding that the piece would be donated to the museum regardless of prize status, the Van Duinen brothers and Osborne got to work creating the piece.

"Everything I do has been children's based in some way," says Van Duinen, who led workshops that taught children how to paint the cement discs that would become "micro-elements for the mural."

Since winning the $100,000 prize in ArtPrize's first year, “Imagine That!” has continued to engage visitors year-round. The museum has even offered an interactive worksheet during the competition that invites children of all ages to explore hidden images in the mural. After receiving positive feedback from this first GR piece, Van Duinen knew that this type of large-scale, community-involved artwork was groundbreaking. "If we're going to do that again we'd have to go really big," he noted to his compatriots, and they got to work on “Metaphorest,” a multi-media mosaic mural that was installed on the West Michigan Center for Art and Technology (WMCAT) building.

MetaphorestHosting children's focus groups to decide the imagery of the mural, leading workshops to teach kids how to create mural elements and working with 20 WMCAT students to install the piece, Van Duinen led the charge for an ArtPrize entry that was fully entrenched in the community. Winning second place in 2011, “Metaphorest” became another permanent fixture for art goers and Grand Rapidians on their morning commute.

"We love Tracy's approach," says ArtPrize Exhibitions Director Kevin Buist. As an "open challenge" to create engaging art in the competition's international art form, ArtPrize encourages pieces that purposefully bring together community members. While some of these experiences are transient (think performance pieces), others engage in the physical, leaving a visual reminder of one's experience with a particular piece. Mostly, Buist enjoys when artists ask the question, "How do you create circumstances that create real community?"

Other pieces that really got ArtPrize goers talking were "The Furniture City Sets the Table for the World of Art,” a 2009 eighth place winner, and “Nessie on the Grand,” a 2009 sixth place winner. "They generated so much interest," says Buist. The famous table and chairs is now permanently located at the Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center and Nessie found a home at the John Ball Zoo. These pieces, like “Imagine That!” and “Metaphorest,” were donated to their particular organizations, but these were eventually relocated.

Another such piece is 2010's first place winner, “Cavalry, American Officers, 1921” by Chris LaPorte, a 30-by-nine-foot pencil sketch. After winning the competition, ArtPrize took ownership of the large-scale piece and displayed it at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) until December of that year. The nonprofit then transferred the piece to the Grace Hauenstein Library at Aquinas College as part of a long term loan, and ArtPrize is currently negotiating the terms of the donation of the piece to the college.

"It's a natural place for it to be," says LaPorte, an Aquinas alumnus and assistant professor of art at the college. LaPorte worked with Professor Emeritus Ron Pederson to determine the best location on campus, as well as the necessary environmental preparations that needed to be made to house the massive portrait. Now on display for all of campus and the surrounding community on a daily basis, LaPorte agrees that it's a perfect fit. "So much of what I learned as a student and continue to learn as a professor went into this work," says LaPorte.

The artist and professor has even heard stories about locals who have visited the piece and had meaningful connections while discussing the sketch's purpose, intent and style. "What more motivation is there?" asks LaPorte, noting that the community's interaction with the piece is the greatest reward for the work.

Through their chosen media, Van Duinen, LaPorte and other artists have had the opportunity to leave an indelible mark on the city and engage the community in artistic conversations long after the coveted prizes have been awarded. Physically taking up the Grand Rapids art space, these permanent fixtures remind locals and visitors of the city's yearly art festival, and a culture dedicated to art and community.
Past ArtPrize Winners still on display:
Permanent Installations in ArtPrize 8:
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