Holland restaurateur honored in ArtPrize exhibit Leadership on Canvas 2021

When Crazy Horse Steakhouse and Saloon opened in Holland Township in 1997, a customer tacked a dollar bill on the wood-paneled walls, sparking a tradition among diners. Some wrote messages to mark special events, like anniversaries and birthdays.

In 2001, owner Mark Herman was inspired to take down the dollars and donate them to help the victims of Sept. 11. In the years since then, the money left by customers on the restaurant walls has been given to support many people in difficult situations throughout the community.

“Mark made it a point to give back to the community, to people in need, to people with health issues, people facing all sorts of crises,” says Sally Laukitis. “Mark has served as a mentor, not only to me but to the hospitality industry in Holland, to his staff, his restaurant patrons, and community members.”

Laukitis, who led the Holland Convention & Visitors Bureau for 26 years until her retirement in 2020, nominated Herman as this year’s Leader from the Lakeshore. It’s an honor she had in 2018.

The ArtPrize entry Leadership on Canvas is the brainchild of Cynthia Hagedorn. Many know her as the founder of Holland’s popular Live Mannequin Night, an annual event that lets people become characters in elaborate window displays.

Leadership on Canvas began in 2014 when the West Michigan artist invited a team of Grand Rapids community leaders to paint alongside her to create a series of works, transforming ArtPrize supporters into artistic contributors in the process. 

What started as an experiment has become a self-propelled leadership project and a tradition, with Leadership on Canvas 2021 becoming the sixth iteration of this unique and vital ArtPrize exhibit.

“Leadership on Canvas is a compilation of conversations in color,” says Hagedorn, who curates and produces the project. “It’s a collection of paintings, each created in collaboration between myself and a community leader. Our leaders promote and support ArtPrize in a variety of ways. I wanted to give them a chance to approach and experience this unique event from an artist’s perspective, and to give them an opportunity to contribute to ArtPrize in a different way, to express their voices as artists.”

Meaning of upside-down triangle

This year’s crop of eight leaders brings the total to 62.

The eight pieces will be on display at Rockford Construction, 601 First St. NW in Grand Rapids, which is serving as an ArtPrize venue this year. The art competition runs through Oct. 3.

Hagedorn says working with Herman was an honor.

“This man has given back so much to the community, and I'm grateful that I had the experience of painting with him.” 

Herman says his painting of an upside-down triangle with a circle inside it was inspired by his unique approach to business and philanthropy.

“At the top of the upside-down triangle are the customers. In the middle are the employees, and I’m at the bottom. I have the least amount of influence on the customers. I painted this a little darker,” Herman said, pointing to the largest layer of the triangle, “because it represents the customers and the employees, who have the most effect on guest satisfaction. Our role as management and owner is to provide our staff with a great working environment where they can flourish and be the best version of themselves. That’s a role that we take very seriously and, hopefully, we live by it every single day.”

He said the circle reflects the restaurant’s fundraising efforts, including the dollars patrons pin to the walls.

“Half the circle is the connection with our customers,” Herman said. “The other half of the circle is taking those dollars off the wall and giving them to the community. The circle connects us to our customers and our community, and represents our story at the Crazy Horse.”

Making art approachable

Hagedorn has created a sister program, Care on Canvas, which is for children during their stays at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital and Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. They paint with Hagedorn as part of their rehabilitation. The program is sponsored by the two hospitals, physicians, and other donors.

With Leadership on Canvas, Hagedorn often is pulling leaders out of their comfort zones to reveal themselves in a new way. 

The 2021 Leadership on Canvas artists: Mark Herman, Mark Washington, Christopher Andrus, Emily Loeks, Nelson Sanchez, and Maggie Lancaster with Cynthia Hagedorn on the right.

For Hagedorn, an additional goal of the project is to show that art is approachable. 

“I hope this work will encourage others to participate in collaborative creativity and to make connections — artistic connections and human connections,” she said. “At its core, that’s what leadership is: to try things, to take risks, to work in collaboration with others toward a greater vision and to create new synergies that exceed the sums of their component parts.”

Leadership On Canvas 2021 Presenting Artists for ArtPrize are:
  • Christopher Andrus, co-founder of The Mitten Brewing Co.
  • Maggie Lancaster, CEO, Grand Rapids Children's Museum.
  • Ashley René Lee, vice president of public relations and marketing, Grand Rapids Community Foundation.
  • Emily Loeks, director of community affairs, Studio C.
  • Nelson Sanchez, chief operating officer, RoMan Manufacturing Inc.
  • Carol Van Andel, executive director, David and Carol Van Andel Family Foundation.
  • Mark Washington, city manager, city of Grand Rapids.
  • Leader from the Lakeshore: Mark Herman, owner of Crazy Horse Steakhouse and Saloon.