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Art at the Heart

The online GRAM cam offers live coverage from the construction site. Pamella DeVos is organizing an Inaugural Ball in late September for the sleek concrete and glass facility. Members and donors will get a sneak preview of the expanded educational, auditorium, and gallery space in early October. And before you know it the new Grand Rapids Art Museum will celebrate its Grand Opening on October 5, 2007.

As much as any other major development project underway in the city, the modern facility represents all that Grand Rapids is becoming, a center for innovation, equal opportunity, and civic enlightenment. And the anticipation of opening day is growing across the region.

“Museums are a great place for creative inspiration, that is what I am looking forward to," said Cynthia Mallory, a local artist and photographer. "Attitudes change when art is introduced. This endeavor is going to help shape and change attitudes.”

"I live far outside of the city and this is going to get me to go downtown Grand Rapids,” Mallory added.

The new health care facilities and residential palaces in the sky springing up all around town might hog all the attention. But the expanded art museum too will provide an important anchor to the new growth. It will also help to legitimize Grand Rapids as a major player in the regional, even international, cultural sphere.

From Good to Great
Like everything great, the GRAM started out small. The Grand Rapids Artists Guild established the fledgling museum in the 1960's with only 15 pieces. But those 15 pieces soon touched off a community wide campaign to move the Guild to a permanent home, which was established in the old Post Office building on Division Avenue in the early 1970's.

More than 30 years later, the passion behind the museum remains the same – to be an educational and cultural resource for West Michigan.

Today, the collection consists of some 5,000 pieces. The current museum facility has limited gallery space, so only 10 percent of the collection is typically on display to the public. The other 90 percent is locked away in the basement, protected from moisture and temperature fluctuations.

The museum's expanded gallery will feature 18,000 square feet of space - three times the area in the current facility. That will enable much of the collection stored away for safe keeping to finally see the light of day. The art set to be featured permanently on third floor will no doubt impress and delight.

Perhaps the most notable work in the museum's current collection is a piece by California artist Richard Diebenkorn. The painting, titled Ingleside, was done in 1961 and today is valued at more than $3.5 million. The museum originally purchased the piece in 1984. Diebenkorn, an important player in the greater American contemporary movement that emerged out of WWII, is now widely recognized as one of the more influential artists to emerge in the nation in the 20th century.

No local museum would be complete without furniture. The museum holds in its collection furnishings crafted in Grand Rapids as well as those from around the globe. Part of the new permanent furniture exhibit will feature the evolution of furniture – from antiquities to the mid-century modern. The sign of a good museum is one that shows the evolution of art and artists over time.

GRAM Takes Center Stage
Grand Rapids is not a newcomer to the national art scene. In fact, the city is widely recognized for its commitment to the arts, public art in particular. The expanded museum, soon to be located at 101 Monroe Center, will continue that commitment and ensure public access to unique works of art for residents and visitors alike.

To commemorate the opening of the new facility, the GRAM also commissioned a unique work of art by Ellsworth Kelly. The piece, titled Blue/White, will be permanently displayed in the museum's entrance. Kelly is a renowned minimalist artist who emerged during the late 1960's. The GRAM currently owns 70 of his plant lithographs.

“The museum is important for Grand Rapids," Ross Arce, a local resident. "Truthfully, I haven't heard a lot of young people talk about it, but I know my friends and I are planning on going as soon as it opens.”

The bigger, better GRAM is a $55 million investment in culture, education, and the future of Grand Rapids. It's rising literally at the center of the city. And it represents much of what the community values. Indeed, the new facility even incorporates 'green' building practices, making it the first LEED certified museum in the country.

Art buffs won’t be the only benefactors of this architectural and cultural marvel. The small outdoor sanctuaries, sculptural elements, and landscape surrounding the museum will be a wonderful new place for summertime lunch breaks, the walking warriors (career types with a pair of white sneakers in their bags for their 20 minute afternoon break), and evening concert goers.

"The new art museum next to Rosa Parks Circle is the best thing for Grand Rapids," said Fonda Mitchell, a local resident. "Already there is a feeling of openness and community. This museum is going to show kids in the inner-city that art can be a way of life and that creativity is a valuable quality.”

Photos:

Lobby rendering - Courtesy of GRAM

Exterior progress

The Federal Building circa 1960's; the building was sold to Kendall College

Painting by Richard Diebenkorn

Exterior construction

Photographs and Renderings Copyright Grand Rapids Art Museum 

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