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Past the gallery doors: Alternative spaces to find art

Aside from traditional art galleries or your local coffee shop, there are numerous venues to discover new and exciting artists.
Screen printed hand towels made by a local artist, sold at Bluedoor Antiques and Elements.

Screen printed hand towels made by a local artist, sold at Bluedoor Antiques and Elements. /Gabi Brown

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A table at Have Company with various handmade items.

A table at Have Company with various handmade items. / Gabi Brown

Handmade cards at Bluedoor.

Handmade cards at Bluedoor. /photo by Gabi Brown

Whether it be stopping at the stand of a jewelry maker at the farmers market, taking a minute to check out the name of the artists whose painting is hanging on your local coffee shop’s wall, or heading downtown for First Fridays for an entire night filled with art, Grand Rapids is filled with unexpected venues to find art, with more popping up each day. Finding art is just is just a matter of getting out of a routine, visiting someplace new and acknowledging that art lives beyond the walls of a traditional gallery. 

The city of Grand Rapids has so many wonderful places to visit when you’re in need of some artistic inspiration, or just want to be awed by pieces of fine art on gallery walls. This isn’t to say that visiting the UICA or the GRAM or even some of the other galleries in the area aren’t exceptional places to discover art, but beyond gallery walls are some shops carrying work from local artists just waiting to be discovered.

Those who have spent time visiting some of the antique shops in Grand Rapids may have noticed that at a number of them, not all of the items are antiques. Many also include hidden treasures made by local artists who happened upon this alternative venue for selling their work. Maybe an art gallery wasn’t right for type of work they were making. Whatever the reason, antique shops are one of the many alternative spaces the public can discover an artist they like, whose work they may even want to purchase.

Bluedoor Antiques and Elements (946 Fulton St E) is currently selling handmade, screenprinted hand towels by local artist Kyle Harmon.

“We’re all about local,” says Bluedoor owner, Kim Meedham. “The art is really just a compliment to what we do here. It brings so much color and life and joy to the store and compliments what we already have.”

The type of artists' work that is chosen to be sold at Bluedoor often has an antique aesthetic.

“It’s a great place for artists that are trying to find a venue and can’t alway get their stuff into a gallery. It just feels great to have their stuff in the store,” she says.

A go to for all things handmade, much of which is local, is Have Company (136 Division Ave S). Located along the Avenue for the Arts, on South Division, what’s different about Have Company is that it’s not just a shop, but a gallery and artist residency space as well.

Between the designated gallery wall and the store space, Have Company is a one stop shop for finding amazing new artists and finding beautiful functional pieces of a fine art.

The owner, Marlee Grace Hanson, has acknowledged that many people may have qualms about buying fine art. The designated gallery space, curated by Michael Rodriguez, provides a payment plan for those wanting to invest in local artists but in need of a more affordable way to do so.

“It was important to us that everything could be purchased on a payment plan to try to kind of restructure how art buying looks because it seems really inaccessible to people,” Hanson says. “That’s been exciting for us and it was kind of part of the mission of the gallery to empower and educate people about the importance of buying fine art and starting that collection.”

Hanson mentions that she’s always looking forward to what Rodriguez decides to put up and which artists he pairs to show their work together.

“I always love to see these random humans from totally different places and backgrounds and race, class, gender, all these things that are really variable and Michael finds a way to put their work together in a way that’s really incredible,” she says.  

Have Company curates a seletion of jewelry, zines, clothing and yarn- and everything in between.

“We carry prints, screen prints, digital printed work, which is nice to offer folks a more affordable option if they’re maybe starting to add art to their homes, and a lot of that is local artists from Michigan,” Hanson says. “We carry and sell a lot of ceramics, which to me are like this quintessential functional fine art piece.”

Hanson mentions Kate Lewis and TJ Mathieu as just a few of the many ceramic artists whose work they carry.

Rebel Reclaimed (1409 Robinson Road SE), located in the heart of Eastown, is a home decor and gift shop that carries work from several local and Michigan-based craftspeople. It’s another one of those retail-type places that you may go in to shop for a gift, or something special to accent a room, but leave having discovered a great new artist.

“It's these things made by people's hands that give our little place soul,” says owner of Rebel Reclaimed, Dann Boyles.  

For Boyles the process of searching for art when Rebel Reclaimed started five years ago consisted of scouring websites like Etsy and going to artisan markets searching for handmade items from Michigan.

“At this point, we've built relationships within the maker community and a lot of people reach out to us,” he says.

From there, the Rebel Reclaimed team seeks out what art will fit into their carefully curated selection, looking for work that is fairly priced and will intrigue customers, but also artists who support the community and other artists as well as those who a knowledgeable about the market and consistent in craftsmanship.

“Our mission is to offer a collection of beautiful gifts that people are proud to give, but it's also to make a living so we can support other people in the community. Artists, makers and other small businesses,” he says. “If we want Grand Rapids to be great, there aren't many better ways to do that than, as they say, put your money where your mouth is.”

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