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Craft House creates place for opportunity, community, conversations about art

Craft House, a part of the Avenue for the Arts, is a collaborative exhibition space founded in 2012 that aims to encourage community and provide artists with opportunity and experience.

/courtesy of Amanda Carmer

/courtey of Amanda Carmer

/courtesy of Amanda Carmer

In many ways, Craft House is not your average art gallery. It’s a blank canvas just waiting for new artists to come and color it with their own vision.

The 300 square-foot gallery space has 50 linear feet of bare white walls which transform with each visiting artist’s installation. Large storefront-style windows allow light to fill the entire room, and two large-scale moveable walls make for a customizable floor layout.

Craft House (40 Division Ave S), founded in 2012 by Amanda Carmer along with Hunter Bridwell, is a collaborative exhibition space that provides numerous opportunities and experience for artists. The gallery is open on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 5:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. It is also a part of the Avenue for the Arts, a network of spaces along South Division that works to encourage community, often through arts events.

“What we do is more of a supportive community role than it is a commercial gallery,” Carmer says. “Though it’s a plus when work gets sold, that’s never the goal.”

Rather, the goal is more so exposing artists to the community of Grand Rapids and giving them a chance to exhibit their work in a professional setting in a way that is self-curated and often self-hung.

“Every artist does things a little differently,” says Carmer. “We’ve had artists come in and totally paint sections of a wall. We had an artist once take one of these [moveable walls] off its wheels and paint the insides black, so you were walking through the black hallway.”

Carmer moved to Grand Rapids from Chicago in the fall of 2011 to attend graduate school for photography at Kendall College, where she now works as an admissions counselor. Carmer says soon after moving, she found the Avenue for the Arts and participated in an event which is now known as First Fridays.

“Through that event I met a guy named Hunter Bridwell who is also a photographer and curator and we decided the next spring to curate a show for art downtown - that was 2012,” Carmer says.

The two initially had trouble finding a space for the exhibition, but through a connection with the Avenue of the Arts, they were introduced to a vacant live-work space which is now Craft House.

“It was this great, bare-boned space,” she says. “The way that this place started was because of necessity and opportunity. I wanted to do something like this and here this space was...just sitting there waiting for someone and something, so I jumped in and made it work.”

Carmer says Craft House is a place for connections and conversations, for artists to not only be exposed to their community, but to each other as well.

“The heart of the value that is Craft House is that it is a community builder,” She says. “It’s a place for people to meet each make significant connections, beyond just ‘oh I want to buy your art, or I think your work is really cool.’”

Craft House has occupancy opportunities for individual or groups of artists for different lengths of time. The details, along with rates, guidelines and deadlines are available on their website.

The next event at Craft House will be August 7 from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m., showing the work of Grand Rapids artist Salvador Jiménez Flores, before he moves to Boston for an artist residency.

“He’s super talented and a very insightful artist,” Carmer says. “He works a lot with ideas around his identity as a Mexican-American artist. He’s also really successful. He had work in the GRAM for ArtPrize that they actually purchased.”

All of the proceeds from the exhibit will go to support Flores on his travels and during his year of teaching and creating artwork during his year as the artist-in-resident at the Office of the Arts at Harvard University at the Harvard Ceramics Studio.

“It’s both this really wonderful send off celebration but it’s also a chance to purchase some work by a Grand Rapids artist who will no longer be a Grand Rapids artist,”she says.

As far as what’s next for Craft House, Carmer says she has plenty of daydreams about it. She says she’s thought about the option of having working artist studios within the space and expanding to having more regular hours.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to use the space in a lot of different ways so we’ll see where it goes,” she says.

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