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Con Artist Crew: Underdog Art Welcome

Magdalene Law and Reuben Garcia formed the Con Artist Crew in October of 2011. It was a combination of frustration over the local art scene and a desire to make their own scene that led them to meet every Sunday for months, forming an idea of what exactly that meant. They came up with the tongue-in-cheek name, and began looking at properties. When the pair walked into the 4800-square-foot space at the warehouse complex at 1111 Godfrey SW, they knew it was the place.
Before the artists took over, the space used to be an MMA fighting studio. Garcia says when they first walked in, they saw dirty mops, punching bags, throwing mats, and a tire from a monster truck. "The back area looked liked it was furnished for someone to live there, with a bunch of kids' toys," he laughs. "In a wall, there was a hole for where someone would put an outlet, and a bunch of toys just fell out."
CAC tore down the walls, sanded floors, scraped ceilings and painted it black. After putting a lot of time and their own cash into building the home that best suited them, it was time to fill it.
Law says the great thing about the space is that they're able to offer artist studio spaces with a lot of freedom at a cost that is not prohibitive. Currently, CAC houses seven artists.
"Some of them come in and work in the gallery with us," Law says. "[It] creates an art community that has the freedom to be as creative or expressive as they want while still being safe and respectful. That's what we kind of felt wasn't going on anywhere else, as well as this kind of contemporary art." 
"There's a lot of landscapes and crafts in Grand Rapids, and that's not really our cup of tea," Law adds. Garcia says the aesthetic often gravitates toward a street art kind of feel, but the gallery is open to working with any artist practicing contemporary art who wants to grow, and champions the "underdogs." Their artists don't have to have huge collections to be showcased, and they're very accepting of new artists. Con Artist prides itself on offering a culture of growth with the ability to nurture newcomers.

"We want to be there to help teach, for people to learn and grow," Law says. "There's a constant conversation going on."
CAC is also not afraid to showcase an artist more than once. "These folks that we work with are mad diligent about pumping out work and immersed in the scene they're trying to make a career of," Garcia says. Unless it's, of course, terrible, he says, why not?
The studio provides its artists with 24/7 access, security via electronic keypads, and private locked spaces. "[Artists] can come any time they get inspiration," Law says. "We're protective of our artists, too."
The Con Artist Gallery might be an ideal place for artists to work, but it's also an ideal place for unique events.
"[This] area [of Grand Rapids] is less occupied at nighttime, so it lends itself for us to be a little wild and have a lot of fun," Garcia says. "There's parking, and you're able to play music."
The Crew is starting to work more and more with music, recently acquiring a booking agent. While they don't intend to become a venue, it's a part of their mission to include all forms of art. Recent events have included art shows, dance parties, laser installations, a Halloween party, music video shoots, and more.
A future event involves a partnership with Open Concept Gallery where two graffiti artists will create a piece to donate to the Clemente Skatepark. The Clemente Skatepark, when finished, will be Grand Rapids' first skatepark. CAC has, in the past, hosted a fundraising event for the endeavor.
As the model expands, CAC is looking to explore other arts communities including fashion, toys, and installations as well as put out a zine. They are also hoping to give back to their alma mater by accepting interns, continuing in their mission to nurture art. You can connect with Con Artist Crew on Facebook

J. Bennett Rylah is the Managing Editor of Rapid Growth Media. 

Photographs by Adam Bird
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