The Rapidian

Cultura Collective commemorates Roosevelt Park neighborhood at ArtPrize Nine

Cultura Collective's exhibition "Documented/Undocumentado" stood as a testament to Roosevelt Park residents affected by development.
Underwriting support from:

Cultura Collective

For more information about the Cultura Collective, please visit https://culturacollective.com/. 

 

An old church, an industrial warehouse, and a white clapboard house. These buildings, located on a vacant stretch of 333 Rumsey St. SW, formed a venue for ArtPrize Nine.

Since ArtPrize officially ended on October 8, a bulldozer will soon tear them all down.

Cultura Collective, a group of fourteen artists, decided to follow up their previous award-winning installation by displaying art in the middle of a construction zone.

The exhibition, entitled “Documented/Undocumentado,” memorialized the experience of former residents of the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood. A central question informing the exhibition was how to document a changing community.

As the transition began, Cultura Collective hoped their art would shape the process.

One last show

Steffanie Rosalez, lead curator of the Cultura Collective, never felt comfortable with the art scene in Grand Rapids. Downtown businesses and art institutions like the Grand Rapids Art Museum, UICA, and Kendall College often lacked racial and economic diversity.  

“Grand Rapids has a very white culture,” said Rosalez. “I wanted to create a space for people to do things differently.”

Rosalez invited everyone from experienced artists to up-and-coming teenagers to join Cultura Collective. Any people of color with an interest in community building were welcome.

In 2015, Cultura Collective partnered with Site:Lab to establish the first ArtPrize venue in the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood. The predominantly Hispanic population enjoyed welcoming newcomers.

“People used to come in and say ‘I thought this place was the ghetto! It’s so much nicer than I thought,’” Rosalez said. “The place broke down barriers.”

When the locals learned that the site was scheduled for removal, they were taken back. They requested the preservation of the space, inspiring artists to launch the exhibition.

“This is the heart of the project,” Rosalez said. “There’s a transition happening. Let’s start the conversation. What do you think of this?”

In the late summer of 2017, Cultura Collective struck an agreement with Habitat for Humanity. The demolition crew knocked down eight buildings, but left three buildings intact.

A “perfect storm” of funding, location, and personnel came together, allowing Cultura Collective to host one last show.

Stop, Hold On

Undocumented/Undocumentado featured a wide array of mediums, ranging from photography to textiles.

Murals depicting jazz musicians and women twirling in traditional garb stretched out in bold colors across the walls. They recalled the music of former jazz clubs and festivals. 

Inside the buildings, all kinds of performers played. Dancers moved alongside trumpet players, while printmakers designed custom T-shirts and hoodies.

Some pieces, like Keyon Lovett’s “Home Sweet Home,” addressed justice issues head on. For his piece, Lovett spray painted new messages in a makeshift living room each day. He subsisted only on bottled water, living like the victims of the Flint Water Crisis.

Other works, such as Sofia Ramirez Hernandez’ “Sofia Draws Every Day: Years 2, 3, and 4,” were more intimate. During a period of depression, Hernandez set out to accomplish a small goal: draw one image each day. The collection’s 1,096 entries shared self-portraits and quotes, expressing the highs and lows of each passing day.

The dimly lit hallway of St. Joseph the Worker church acted as the focal point of the exhibition. Inside the sanctuary, projectors played twenty-eight recorded interviews of residents sharing memories.

Unlike the rest of the exhibition’s noisy, lively spaces, this section remained quiet. Cultura Collective volunteer Kat Matisse explained that the space hung in tension, reflecting on the past and anticipating an uncertain future.

“We’re in a state of constant progress, but we never stop to commemorate,” said Matisse. “Sometimes, you need to hold on to stories.”

A time for change

The end of ArtPrize came as a relief to Rosalez, who wished to return her focus toward her work at the Cook Arts Center and her neighbors.

ArtPrize maps and Critics' Choice Experience Guides originally did not include Cultura Collective. ArtPrize acknowledged and fixed the error, but the incident made an impression.

“It was a mistake, but not a simple one,” said Rosalez. “No one was trying to exclude us intentionally. It showed that existing systems don’t work for us, though.”

Rosalez suggested that ArtPrize promote equity by expanding registration options and grant funding. She also called for the growth of neighborhood art scenes outside of downtown.

After acquiring two blocks of property in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood, Habitat for Humanity planned additions of a public school, a pharmacy, and housing units.

With the area changing fast, Rosalez hoped that the new community continued to embrace art.

“We’re looking at what happens to a community in development,” said Rosalez. “Whose stories get told and whose don’t. How do we preserve these histories, stories, memories?”

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