Built into an annual art festival happening in Grand Rapids right now is a device employed often during the next few weeks: the art of conversation.
With conversation, we can propel ideas forward. In the more extreme cases, we can shut ideas down -- often followed by an uptick in one’s blood pressure.
One artist’s work created dialogue in our home when it was later revealed to be about the subject of death. From here, we would banter back and forth as one idea was presented with a counter point. People who study art rarely agree, but they do converse and create opinions. Later, many of us will digest the words and decide on our own what to do with this information.
In Grand Rapids, an unlikely partnership between our Grand Rapids Public Museum and a renegade art team that goes by the name of SiTE:LAB have joined forces to advance more conversation. Within a few hours of my initial writing, that first critical step will be complete as their Kickstarter
campaign comes to an end.
The ArtifactGR.org project sprung up out of a need that was not being filled, but could be serviced if a community deemed it worthy. (Sounds a lot like a certain festival where the community’s voice helps an artwork advance.)
To raise the money needed to secure the equipment needed to digitize the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s more than 250,000 items, ArtifactGR created a successful Kickstarter campaign that ends on Thursday, September 20. (As of press time, the Kickstarter has been funded, but the group is seeking an additional $2,500 in funds to be earmarked from donors to begin moving these recorded images from the database and to the web.)
Over the last few weeks, ArtifactGR.org
has invited a long list of historians, professors, writers, artists and other people from all walks of life to wander about the storage collection on one of the many floors in the facility directly behind the old public museum at 54 Jefferson SE (also the location of SiTE:LAB’s ArtPrize venue space).
I, like many from our region, walked among the huge floor to ceiling aisles of the state’s second largest public museum collection. As I opened drawers (with the assistance of my guide, Kendall College’s Assistant Professor of Design Studies, Gayle DeBruyn),I couldn’t help but marvel as she would carefully remove tissue, revealing tiny and carefully preserved gems of our past, knowing all the while that this may have been one of the few times human eyes have looked at this treasure since its acquisition.
I viewed primitive arrowheads from native tribes stacked in drawers. I poked my head inside the dinosaur-themed monorail kids rode from the basement of the former City Center (now the Grand Rapids Police Station). I even discovered, among the racks and racks of men and women’s couture, a bright pink beanie cap. (I smiled at this light-hearted fabric, floating high atop a sea of men’s olive, black and blue jackets and pants just below.)
I would learn more along the way about how the money being raised would ensure that the museum could begin to digitize this collection for others to see and interact with. Now, people must wait until the item is resurrected for a public display at the downtown location on the Grand River.
As I passed items that tickled my imagination, I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of how the past has informed our future. And I began to feel a connection to everything and everyone, and I wanted the public to have this same experience. The Kickstarter project is the way it should begin to happen --for all of us.
When I turned the corner of one aisle, a collection of clocks with giant faces reminded me not only that time has passed for many of the objects, but that my hour with these items was winding down. It was time to make a choice.
“I’ll take that one,” I said, as I pointed to a Simplex time clock, rendered in perfect Mid-Century blond wood with 8 and 4 proudly marked on the inside face. “I’ve looked at a lot in this collection -- from stuffed animals, to switchboards, to printing presses -- today, but this one speaks to me.”
I had formed a personal attachment that people often form with items in a museum’s collection. My Simplex time clock would now move from its strapped-to-the-wall space to the makeshift photo studio in the lower level where, after being photographed professionally, it would be placed on the ArtifactGR
site along with my written thoughts on the piece. The team at ArtifactGR.org envisions others, once seeing the works digitized before them, will be inspired, too. So, they will be offering the option to log stories in with their archive in the future.
There is an old saying that we may think we are done with the past, but the past is rarely done with us.
Over the years, I have discovered the past helps me fill in the gaps in my life and lets me know I am not alone. Others have walked different paths to get to our present, but each met and experienced the world as it was.
It is within the artifacts of the past that I think we can hopefully glean some sort of like pathway or journey out from present tensions, having an archive not bound by the whims of a curator and accessible to all is within our reach. We are good stewards to secure the tools to create access, and creating access is what the museum should be about, rather than just a place for intellectual advancement and study.
There are many other projects that are happening around our city, but I encourage you today to spend some time while at your computer reading the stories of those who have connected with a piece in the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s collection. And if moved, take the time to ensure these objects of our culture are accessible for all for now and into the future.
The Future Needs All of Us.
Tommy Allen, Lifestyle Editor
Email: [email protected]
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