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Art+Design's space awarded best venue

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — A two-story abandoned building in downtown Grand Rapids transformed into a gritty, urban gallery received BEST VENUE at this year’s ArtPrize. The venue, formerly known as the Junior Achievement building, is a project between the University of Michigan’s School of Art and Design and Grand Rapids-based SiTE:LAB.

While individual artists’ awards in the third annual ArtPrize were determined by popular public vote, there were also awards decided by a jury of professional artists, curators and educators. The juried awards were introduced last year. Winners of each of the juried categories receive $7,000.



In addition to best venue, awards were given in the following categories: Best 2-D work, Best 3-D work; International Award, Time Lapse, and Best Use of Urban Space.

In recent years, A&D has focused on forging community alliances, seeking out new and mutually beneficial ways to connect students and faculty with cities across Michigan.  To date, A&D has established work and gallery spaces in downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit.  Grand Rapids’ burgeoning arts community, its large contingent of A&D graduates, and its highly successful launch of the annual ArtPrize competition in 2009 made it the next logical site for a collaboration.

The alliance with SiTE:LAB came about through the efforts of numerous individuals, all connected in one way or another to the city of Grand Rapids and the University of Michigan.

In the fall of 2010, Grand Rapids’ art advocate and U-M alumna Mary Caroline ‘Twink’ Frey formed a committee to explore opportunities for an arts alliance between A&D and her home city. Among the committee members were Kendall College of Art & Design Professor Paul Amenta and Grand Rapids attorney-turned-artist Tom Clinton, a U-M alumnus. A few months earlier, Amenta and Clinton had co-founded SiTE:LAB, with the goal of repurposing vacant buildings as temporary art spaces throughout the city.

Other members of the committee included Professor Bryan Rogers, dean of the U-M School of Art & Design, and A&D faculty member Elona VanGent, who had previously taught in the sculpture department at Grand Valley State University.

Amenta and Clinton shaped the original concept for the collaboration. “By that time, Paul and I had identified the Junior Achievement Building as a new ArtPrize venue,” Clinton says. “The site had been made available to us for a period of seven months by the building’s current owners, Locus Development. So we suggested that, rather than setting up a permanent gallery in Grand Rapids as its own ArtPrize venue, A&D consider working with us to prepare this amazing space for large installations that wouldn’t find a home anywhere else in the city.”

For Rogers, the prospect was immediately appealing. “We view this as an excellent first step in linking with the city,” he says. “It gives us a great opportunity to be part of the creative energy of Grand Rapids and to support ArtPrize. We have a large base of students and alums from West Michigan, so we welcome the opportunity to become part of that community. It’s also a chance to collaborate with two experienced and creative entrepreneurs, Paul Amenta and Tom Clinton.”

To date, $20,000 in gifts from donors has been used for general repairs, emergency lighting, safety upgrades such as ramps and railings, and other site improvements to the JA Building. Grand Rapids major donors include Bissell Inc., Plastic Surgery Associates of Grand Rapids, Varnum LLP, Lotus Development, Betsy and David Horning, James and Janet Watkins and Twink Frey and James McKay.

Participating artists, selected by Professors Amenta and VanGent, included:

  • Assocreation — includes U-M A&D Assistant Professor Roland Graf
  • Ericka Beckman
  • Anya Belkina
  • David Bowen
  • Alois Kronschlaeger
  • Loren Madsen
  • Meghan Reynard and Patrick Ethen — Reynard is a graduate student in U-M’s MFA program; and, Ethen is a U-M graduate with a degree in architecture
  • Nick Tobier and Juliane Stiegele — Tobier is an associate professor in A&D
  • Shinji Turner-Yamamoto

By Linda Fitzgerald