A Suburban Showcase for Urban Art

An army of artists from downtown’s thriving art scene are leaving their urban habitat and running for the Hills. The first ever Avenue for the Arts Showcase is set to go off at the Forest Hills Fine Arts Center on June 12. More than 42 local artists will transport the sights and sounds of the Heartside neighborhood to the suburbs for the evening.

“This is a come early, stay late event,” says Jenn Schaub, event organizer and a staffer in the neighborhood revitalization department at Dwelling Place, a nonprofit redevelopment firm.

The event truly offers something for everyone.

The Avenue for the Arts, an area along South Division just south of Fulton Street, features numerous galleries, pubs and restaurants, as well as affordable live/work spaces for artists. The district is quickly emerging as the epicenter of downtown Grand Rapids’ youthful, creative energy.

Bridging City and Suburb
Upon arrival at the Showcase, guests will be greeted by the rhythmic drumming that South Division residents have grown accustomed to hearing daily. Break dancing by those body-bending beat boys from 61Syx Teknique and a graffiti demonstration promise to bring that keepin’-it-real-center-city-feel to the suburban venue.

Inside guests can snack on light appetizers from Division Avenue restaurants while touring rooms chock full of drawings, paintings, sculptures, installations and a few objects d’art – such as one piece involving Barbie dolls eerily peering out of waxed sausage casings – that simply defy classification. Artwork will remain on display through June 30.

Fashion shows featuring hot local labels like Madame Bliss, Indie Ops, and Heebeegeebee will take place throughout the evening, as will screen printing and pottery throwing by artists from the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA). The evening literally ends in a blaze of glory with a fire dancing performance scheduled to close out the show.

The Showcase is not only the first multi-artist exhibition held at the Forest Hills Fine Arts Center. It also represents the first collaboration between the Center and the Avenue for the Arts. The goal of the joint venture is twofold: introduce a broader audience to the flourishing local arts scene and expand an already impressive program at an increasingly popular suburban venue.

“I knew that working with these artists would help us go above and beyond what our general exhibits are,” says Meg George, manager of the Fine Arts Center.

The Fine Arts Center is a 62,000 square foot LEED-certified facility originally built to provide cultural and educational opportunities for Forest Hills residents. Yet, in the four years since its inception, the Center has grown into a major regional arts hub.

The Fine Arts Center in the past has worked with Opera Grand Rapids, Circle Theatre and Civic Theatre. And Forest Hills Public Schools students regularly participate in Artworks, a creative job-training program offered by the UICA, an anchor of the downtown arts scene.

The Center’s events regularly draw patrons from as far away as Kalamazoo and Detroit. But the target audience for the Showcase is a little closer to home.

“We have a mailing list of 5,000 and draw people from a 100-mile radius,” George says.

“But we want this show to introduce the community to the Avenue for the Arts. We want to build a bridge between the suburbs and the city.”

Broadening the Audience
Participating artists express similar sentiments.

“A different environment brings new light to the work and what we do,” says Sally England, who manages FWD>>Space/Space Craft, a downtown boutique that embodies a retro-futurist aesthetic and specializes in locally made wearables, home furnishings, and artwork. Along with business partner Nick Stockton, England will offer clothing, bags and framed photography at the Showcase.

Heather McGartland, another artist featured in the Showcase, expects that the Fine Arts Center event will help introduce a new group of people to her work. In a “personal protest against affluence” she reimagines “other people’s garbage” into striking, unearthly sculptures. McGartland owns Imagination Creations, a hair salon and boutique located on the Avenue for the Arts that’s reminiscent of both an old curiosity shop and a pirate’s cave filled with forgotten treasures.

“Young people are already coming downtown from the suburbs for shows,” says Annamarie Buller, co-founder of Flux, a gallery on the Avenue for the Arts.

“This exhibition is an opportunity to broaden the awareness of downtown arts among the families of these young people,” Buller continues. “While young people might not have the ability or desire to begin collecting art, their families might. And the diversity of work that will be there is something a collector would simply have to go to multiple galleries to get.”

The Showcase is a free event and kicks off the evening of June 12 at 6 PM. All proceeds from artwork sold at the Fine Arts Center go directly to the artists.

Ruth Terry is a freelance writer and artist living in the East Hills neighborhood. She also works as a fund developer and consultant for local nonprofit organizations.


Event organizer Jenn Schaub

Kelly Allen and Jay VanPortfliet of Heebeegee will participate in a fashion show

A storefront along Avenue of the Arts on Division Avenue

Photographs by Brian Kelly - All Rights Reserved
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