RapidChat: Richard App

Owner and founder of his eponymous Cherry Street gallery, Richard App is a photographer, curator, and business owner with a passion for public art. Read on for his musings on ArtPrize, art's economic impact, and who art is for (hint: everyone).
Rapid Growth: What inspired you to open your gallery?
Richard App: Twenty-three years ago, I started the business because as a photographer I didn’t find any place in town that did black and white processing the way I liked. I was already doing photography on my own and I knew that opening a gallery was something I could do. Prior, I did a lot of work for other companies. I was very fortunate out of the gate.
RG: You were also in charge of curating the Sixth Street Park venue for ArtPrize this year. How long have you been working on projects such as this?
RA: This is actually my fourth year curating space for ArtPrize. In the past I have worked with Ah-Nab-Awen Park, the Blue Bridge, and I have helped put pieces in the water. In addition to the Sixth Street Bridge, I also worked on Calder Plaza and City Hall this year.
RG: Can you explain to me how the curating works?
Not only do artists apply to be at a venue, but we seek them out as well. Specifically with Sixth Street Park, since it is city property, there was a different process than there would be working with a private business. With the city you need to go through the Arts Advisory Board and city engineers for larger projects.
With the mural that is in the parking lot over there (Stream of Life’), we had to get approval from the City, talk with the Parks and Recreation Department, the head person in charge of that particular surface parking lot, and so make sure the paint was low VOC. We also had to seek out funding – which we were fortunate enough to get from DGRI - and that was for only one piece.
RG: How did you go about selecting the pieces that are featured?
RA: I reached out to people. There are several pieces I am pretty proud of – particularly the ‘My Our Yours’ piece that was featured in the Grand River, which DGRI also helped fund.
When I saw the piece, I was immediately attracted to it because of the relevance of it with GR Forward, the Grand Rapids Whitewater Project, and how those both tie into the importance of clean water. The piece is also located where we are trying to engage the Grand Rapids community with the river.
By putting this a little further away from the beaten path, there was additional value added to this piece. It was a way to talk about effects of this city, not just in downtown Grand Rapids, but further north.
The city is really starting to fill up again; there was so much urban flight for a while. Now that people are moving back downtown, you can really stake claim in these parks.
RG: What about ‘Stream of Life’- the piece you previously mentioned?
In regards to ‘Stream of life’, I saw the registered piece and thought: “Wow, I love the idea. I love the direction and relevance of the piece.” From there, I called the artist and talked to her about it. The parking lot was 10 times larger than what she envisioned, but it had a big tie-in and focus on what was already being highlighted in that area.
RG: What has the feedback from the public been like?
RA: Sixth Street Park has had more people in it this year than any other year, by leaps and bounds; it’s great to see from a social media standpoint, as well. Those pieces have been shared thousands of times.
My Our Your Water’ was actually first introduced in Scottsdale, Arizona, and the artist has gotten much more interest here in Michigan than she has had out there.
RG: Beyond ArtPrize, what are your thoughts on public art?
RA: I have many thoughts on the idea of how we can get more public art within our community, and what the impact of that is –specifically the economic impact.
In general, pieces that are outside and site (location) specific have the most impact, since they have so many pairs of eyes on them. Think of the mosaic piece that is on the side of the Children’s Museum, for example.
When you look at cities such as Boston (MA), Portland (OR), and Brooklyn (NY), the impact, economically, is 20-30 times greater than what the original investment is. But the biggest deterrent is always: “Where is the money coming from?”
RG: Where do you think public art fits in within the growth of our city?
It’s identity. Think of the Calder, for example. We see it in our way-finding signage, official press releases from our city, t-shirts, and such other things. Art is an every day part of our lives; we almost take it for granted.
Imagine five years from now and you can go to our tourist bureau and they give you a brochure of 70-80 pieces of public art. Imagine being a teacher at GRPS being able to show kids the artwork that is knitted into the fabric of the city. Art should be free and void of class and financial status. Art is for everyone.

Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
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