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New perspectives built on creative foundation



As new creative workers move in and out of the Avenue for the Arts live/work spaces, exhibits and events are infused with new perspectives, building on the existing creative foundation. We spoke with a long term resident, a business celebrating one year in business and a resident on the move.
Chris Cox (L) and co-founders of Gaspard Gallery

/Courtesy of the Avenue for the Arts

Chris Cox (L) and co-founders of Gaspard Gallery

Have Company (Hanson, Middle)

Have Company (Hanson, Middle) /Courtesy of Have Company

Hugo Claudin

Hugo Claudin  /Hugo Claudin

Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported

The character of South Division Avenue between Fulton and Wealthy is unlike any other. This collection of blocks is inhabited by makers and organizers who are active, creative and motivated to provide artistic experiences for the community. The artists who reside there embody a wide spectrum of creative talent and each individual contributes to the culture of the Avenue for the Arts. Events like First Fridays, Art.Downtown. and Free Radical are shaped each year by the makers and organizers who live, collaborate, exhibit, work and volunteer on this commercial corridor. As new creative workers move in and out of live/work spaces, exhibits and events are infused with new perspectives, building on the existing creative foundation of the Avenue for the Arts.

Have Company is growing fast and has accomplished a lot in just a single year. Business owner Marlee Grace Hanson has just celebrated the one year anniversary of opening her shop on 136 S Division Avenue.

"The space that Have Company has the privilege of being in is stunning! The light that comes through the huge windows, the exposed brick- it's all part of what makes the space beautiful and makes the objects in it stand out," says Hanson.

This store holds a collection of handmade goods ranging from vintage clothing to artist prints to jewelry. Recently, Hanson has created an artist residency in Have Company that invites artists and artisans from all over to live and work in her shop. She asks that all of the residents host a workshop to teach their craft to the public.   

"Have Company is my passion project, my job, the thing I've become the best at," says Hanson. "It is a joy and a gift to be able to sell the work of some of my closest friends & collaborators. Providing a space for resident artists has proven to be the funnest and most enriching part of this project. The community engagement and workshop attendance continues to grow while the caliber of work being produced here keeps getting better. I love being in this space and getting to be a part of it." 

While Have Company celebrates its successful first year and looks forward to the future, the summer of 2014 also marks the closing of a South Division space. Gaspard Gallery has been a part of Avenue for the Arts for two years and has exhibited work from a collection of contemporary local artists. The live/work experience opened up new opportunities for resident Chris Cox.

“There have been times when I felt a bit like I was out of my element running a store front space. I'm primarily an artist, not a business person or gallerist. Therefore Gaspard didn't have regular open hours and focused on highly curated and thought out exhibitions and projects. When I realized that it was alright that we weren't a proper storefront gallery it allowed me to be much more creative with the gallery and work on projects that were more significant," says Cox. 

The clean, modern aesthetic that the curators brought to Gaspard was notable because they utilized a selective eye to fully engage a smaller sized exhibition space.

“When we decided to leave any idea of commercial success behind and focus purely on exhibiting strong artworks I realized what I was on the Avenue to do: to manage a space that focused on highly curated and professional exhibitions, and to make the best artworks I could," notes Cox. 

Cox departs for graduate school this fall. For the members staying in town, the Avenue for the Arts will continue to be used as an outlet for creative projects, providing new opportunities.

Mexicains Sans Frontières has been actively operating for over eight years. Artist, musician and resident Hugo Claudin has been hosting music shows in his live/work space on almost a weekly basis.

“Annamarie Buller turned me on to the possibility of getting an artist live/work space before the building was done, so I had early dibs on the space. I was homeless at the time, with no job, so my chances were scant," explains Claudin. “I am one of three artists left from the original batch- I think there were over 50 of us at the start. I have been at 120 South Division for eight years but my involvement in the area goes to the '90s when the Enclave Cafe was open at 101 S Division where the early bohemian occupation really began.”

Claudin uses his apartment to showcase musicians from Grand Rapids and from all over the country. Visitors are surrounded by brightly painted walls, colorful, modern furniture and his own paintings and photographs. The casual apartment setting is an intimate way to enjoy music and a comfortable setting to meet and converse with other visitors. This space has become an important and inviting presence in the Grand Rapids music and art scene.

As the Avenue for the Arts continues to change and transition, the spirit of community and collaboration remains constant with fresh perspectives and projects on the horizon. Avenue for the Arts exists because of the people who make things happen and are passionate about artistic growth. There are now close to 50 live/work apartments on South Division Avenue with five more opening this fall. Part of the renovation of the Herkimer Apartments in the 300 block of South Division, the new units range in size from 980 to 1,607 square feet, with rents starting at $775. If you would like to find out more contact Heather Ibrahim at 616 855 0418 or [email protected]. Affordable rate apartments in both Martineau and Kelsey live/work apartments are currently available starting at $557. For more information contact Rachel Osbon at 454-0928 extension 409 or [email protected]


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