Diverse Communities in Grand Rapids to Experience Artprize for the First Time

Julie Bitely

| 4 min read

Sixteen-year-olds Ke’aireis Edwards and Royal McKinney will have no trouble getting to ArtPrize this year. Both will have a wristband that allows them free access to The Rapid bus system throughout the event’s duration. “It will be easier to get there. It’s just a bus ride away,” said McKinney, a high school junior at Innovation Central. For Edwards, a junior at Covenant House Academy and an aspiring clothing designer, the chance to see art is an opportunity to be inspired. “Art is everywhere,” Edwards said. “Sometimes art speaks to people and they can express themselves in their art.” Sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Rapid Rides to ArtPrize is designed to introduce new audiences to the numerous art exhibits that will flood downtown Grand Rapids starting September 24 as part of the world’s largest art competition. The program aims to break down barriers for members of communities who might not otherwise attend the event. Through various community organizations, 10,000 wristbands will be distributed to people who face income insecurity or language barriers. Edwards and McKinney received their wristbands through the Grand Rapids Urban League. They attend a summer college preparatory program called Urban Fellows. Lisa Butler, who helped facilitate the summer program, said a trip to Kendall College of Art & Design this summer showed her how much students would appreciate the chance to see more art. “They came alive when they went in there,” Butler said. The Urban League will work with local churches to distribute some of their wristbands, along with offering them to people who stop by the center for the many services offered there related to education, employment, health and wellness and housing. Butler said the wristbands would allow some of the Urban League’s clients to get out and explore something different, leaving behind day-to-day struggles and concerns with ArtPrize as a needed break. “People are the happiest when they’re going somewhere and they’re doing something different,” she said. “It makes you think on a broader scale. I think it encourages you to dream.” Artists Creating Together (ACT) is an organization that brings people with disabilities together with artists and art projects. Becky Baker is with ACT and said the center will likely distribute wristbands to adult art classes and students in transition who are learning to use the bus system. Students usually take a walking tour of ArtPrize every year, and those who want to continue on their own will now be able to with the wristbands. “We usually start from our office and walk a little ways downtown, but we can only see so much on that walking tour,” Baker said. “They always want to continue to see what else is downtown.” The Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities (GAAH) also plans to distribute wristbands to people who utilize their facilities. The organization serves the Roosevelt Park neighborhood, south of downtown Grand Rapids, with Grandville Avenue being a primary corridor. According to the last census, the population is 76.6 percent Hispanic and 11.1 percent African-American. Ninety-five percent of students in the neighborhood qualify for the federal lunch program. Bridget Breneman said many of the families GAAH serves face barriers such as language, poverty, and illiteracy and that many wage earners struggle to meet their families’ basic needs. She said GAAH’s mission to enrich the lives of neighborhood youth aligns very well with the overall culture of ArtPrize. “Providing these wristbands gives this population the opportunity to participate in one of Grand Rapids’ most premier and popular events of all time,” she said. ArtPrize representatives hope the wristbands encourage use of The Rapids’s recently launched rapid-transit bus system, the Silver Line, to not only discover art, but to discover different parts of the city of Grand Rapids. Getting a more diverse audience downtown will be beneficial for the event and the conversation it evokes, said ArtPrize director of community engagement Amelea Pegman. “Art is for everyone and ArtPrize is actively working to remove barriers to engagement, to welcome a more diverse audience to the event this fall than ever before,” Pegman said. “The most captivating conversations will happen when our audience reflects the diversity of our community.” ArtPrize 2014 will run from September 24 to October 12, when 1,536 entries at 174 venues will vie for a combination of public vote and juried awards totaling $560,000. Photo credit: The Rapid
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association