| Follow Us: Facebook Twitter Youtube RSS Feed


LINC's Hall Street gallery aims to give southeast-side culture "a little push"

Hugo Claudin

Jorge Gonzalez

Hang out at the LINC Gallery at 341 Hall Street SE for a little while and you’ll see that the “gallery” moniker is a little misleading: “art gallery” only begins to scratch the surface of the possibilities envisioned for the gallery by LINC Community Revitalization and gallery curator Hugo Claudin.

Already, the rehabbed former auto-body shop, which came under LINC ownership via a grant from MSHDA, has expanded beyond artwork display to function as a community meeting space and leadership training workshop, a photo portait studio, a prospective venue for corporate events, and even an animal vaccination clinic for local pets, courtesy of Kent County Animal Control.

If the nature of all those events seems a bit scattershot, that’s only part of the design, says curator Hugo Claudin. While Claudin says he plans to showcase plenty of local artists and operate the space like a traditional gallery at times, his first concern is to find out how the gallery can best serve the community and to make it available to local southeast side residents for whatever functions they need.

“I don’t expect that a lot of paintings will be purchased [here],” says Claudin. “My intent is for this to be a useful place to the community, so whatever the community wants here is what’s going to go. I’ve been living in Grand Rapids for 34 years, and I’ve met a lot of the movers and shakers and seen some of the other gallery curators. So my effort here is to kind of draw on that experience, do outreach through the arts and see what kinds of creative solutions we can come up with for some of the problems that afflict this area.”

Although LINC held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to announce the gallery’s opening in June, the space is only now beginning to populate its calendar and hold regular events under Claudin’s direction. According to Claudin and LINC Director of Economic Development Jorge Gonzalez, LINC hopes the gallery will be able to serve as both a cultural outpost and a community rallying ground in an area of Grand Rapids that is often plagued by gang-related violence and street crime.

“We view this as an economic development for the neighborhood,” says Gonzalez. “So what you saw as a vacant building, if we had not rehabbed it… It would have eventually been an eyesore, an attraction for crime. So what we did, we sought out MSHDA, asked for the grant to rehab it and made an effort to revitalize it. So in addition to having this beautiful space on the inside, we’ve also been able to do some work on the parking lot and the exterior, which has really just added to the visibility and the walkability of the neighborhood.”

As its first formal event, The LINC Gallery hosted Amway’s Project Story in early September and invited local residents in for both a community photoshoot and an opportunity to share some of their personal experiences and aspirations. Claudin says the event served as a way to show residents the cultural richness that was already humming beneath the surface in their neighborhood, waiting for a conduit.

As part of the Project Story event, LINC also asked residents what they’d like to see from the gallery that now shares their neighborhood. The answers on display at the gallery seem to paint a picture of a local community eager to receive their new neighbor and hopeful for a rebirth of culture and economic opportunity in their area.

“I want LINC to…” “— continue to empower the inner city with visions of success, present and future.” “— be there for the kids,” read some of the handwritten replies beneath photos of community residents.

Since then, the gallery has also offered workshops for the community, teaching interpersonal communication skills, techniques of personal empowerment, and tools of social transformation through The LINC Academy of Social Transformation, or “LAST.” The multi-day classes teach students to classify themselves based on animalistic personality types like a “deer” or “eagle,” and learn to work constructively with people of various other personality types and working styles.

Besides those events, the gallery also found time to host Kent County Animal Control for the aforementioned animal clinic, offering vaccinations to dogs of local residents and teaching methods for better animal treatment and care.

“Hugo would think of this as an art gallery and I might think of it as a networking space, but you probably wouldn’t think of it as a place where dogs would get vaccinated,” says Gonzalez. “But that’s what the community needed and we provided that space. So, going forward, I’m sure there will be many other usages of the space going by what the community needs are.”

LINC (formerly Lighthouse Inc.) approached Claudin, who already worked for them as a “Natural Helper” or community organizer, in August to ask him to serve as curator for the new gallery, based primarily on his longtime experience operating and curating the avant-garde Division Street artspace Mexicains Sans Frontieres.

Ask Claudin about his work at Mexicain Sans Frontieres and you’ll get a similarly kaleidoscopic image to his many ideas for the LINC Gallery: MSF has functioned as a living space for Claudin, a concert venue, performance art space, band practice space, recording studio, photography studio, home to a theater group… the list goes on. Claudin’s interest in versatility and spontaneity, born out of his long love affair with 1970s New York City loft culture, carries over to his new role at the LINC Gallery, but he says that his new venture will differ significantly from the more personally-motivated and frequently avant-garde work he’s done at MSF.

“It doesn’t have to be paintings or sculptures or videos all the time [at the LINC Gallery],” says Claudin. “It can be things that are important to the local community here. One thing we might do, for example, is braids — like we’d have a braiding show, have some of the local grandmas come and show us how to they learned to do braids and hair extensions and things like that. It doesn’t have to be what I think is important or what avant-garde musicians I think they should listen to. It can be like, ‘Well, what’s already happening here? Let’s feature those things.’”

Going forward, Claudin says that he wants to work on programs that will get kids from the neighborhood involved and participating in art. For example, he says, if the neighborhood has a graffiti problem, the gallery might purchase some boards and spraypaint and hold a graffiti workshop where kids can receive guidance from local artists and produce spraypaint pieces for display at the gallery.

“The idea is not that we bring culture,” Claudin says, “not that the place is lacking in culture, but that we just kind of give it a little push. When we focus on revitalization in terms of buildings and places, it can be kind of boring, but we can pump some fun into it with this. It’s like, who knows, maybe that area will be the next Eastown, the next hub of activity.”

“That’s the most exciting part for me,” he adds, “just to find those people and see what’s already there. So let’s make it happen, let’s make it shine. Sometimes it just needs a little polishing, you know?”

LINC hosts a "First Friday" mixer on the first Friday of each month, featuring local art, live music, spoken word and free food. The mixers are free and open to the public; interested visitors can attend at the LINC main office at 1167 Madison Ave SE, around the corner from the LINC gallery.

Steven Thomas Kent is a Michigan son who ran away to join the circus called Chicago for the better part of a decade. All grown up now and based in Grand Rapids, he can be stalked on Twitter @steventkent or reached at steven.t.kent@gmail.com for story tips and feedback.

Photography by Adam Bird
Signup for Email Alerts
Signup for Email Alerts