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Connection through expression: Building community through art

An update on Avenue for the Arts and a look at what’s to come ahead. This Friday, January 6, Avenue for the Arts becomes "South Division Avenue becomes "the ultimate destination to find artwork by local artists, handmade goods, and food and drink specials."

/Photo courtesy of Avenue for the Arts

Underwriting support from:

Meet Artists, Get Connected

To sign up for Break It Down. Make It Better event register on the Avenue for the Arts website.
  • The Collective ArtSpace is now accepting Members
  • Cerasus Studios is accepting show idea submissions
  • UICA openings and events online at

/Photo courtesy of Avenue for the Arts

/Photo courtesy of Avenue for the Arts

Grand Rapids, like all cities, is a fluid place made of schools, businesses, buildings, and most importantly: people. The city, especially the corridor between Fulton Street and Wealthy Street referred to as “the Avenue for the Arts," has seen great growth and progress over the last several decades. The Avenue is a very lively scene with local gallery hops every First Friday, OPEN programing classes, the grassroots Art.Downtown., and the Break It Down, Make It Better event hosted at the UICA occurring in early February among local artist shops and studio spaces. Consequently because of these events and so many other creative opportunities, downtown area artists and residents use art as the catalyst for building community.

Avenue for the Arts is a commercial corridor along South Division Avenue, with its title chosen by the local community made of artists, galleries, shops, and residents. Amanda Carmer Rainey is among those very familiar with the Avenue for the Arts. An admissions officer at Kendall College of Art & Design (KCAD) and current volunteer with Dinderbeck Studios she is also the former director of Craft House. While in grad school Carmer Rainey established the live/work space Craft House through Dwelling Place. Allowing students and young professionals to show their work in a gallery setting, Craft House actively participated in First Friday events until the space closed in April of 2016.

Since closing Craft House, Carmer Rainey has taken on the active role of Avenue for the Arts Advisory Board member and patron instead of curating a space. She recently showed work during the October First Fridays event at the 307 S. Division space curated by Ethan Ross, a fellow KCAD alum. She said, “I think art generates community because it inherently needs an audience. As artists we create work in order to communicate ideas and interpretations of the world around us, that conversation is only complete when an audience engages with the work.” is Carmer Rainey’s current project, featuring local and Avenue-connected artists while allowing her to practice curation, celebration, and promotion of art. She goes on saying, “Beyond that, many of us feed off the energy of other artists, we get better at our craft through the critique, advice, and guidance of others.”

When Craft House closed, the space was transformed into The Collective Artspace, which debuted on First Friday in June 2016. Collective Founder, Rachelle Wunderink, envisioned helping develop and active artist community. She is a graduate of Calvin College with a degree in studio art who said, “After school is done, most artists find themselves in a creative no man’s land, where the opportunity for critique is lost because they have graduated having classes and due dates for projects.“ In addition, some artists who did not choose the academic route also still need the creative and constructive feedback of fellow working artists.

She said, “Here at the Collective Artspace we just want to bring artists together and want to chat about art and how to change and shape a community through ourselves and the Avenue.” At the Collective they have monthly member meetings, studio spaces available for members, and critique nights to talk about ideas and work being currently made.

Wunderink said she is still navigating the road to what exactly the Collective Artspace is, because they are there to provide the need that local artists have. On First Fridays they exhibit artwork and offer open studio time to invite people in to make work alongside each other. “There is a synergy that happens when creative people get together, especially when those artists are practicing different mediums.”

Further down the street, Cerasus Studios, opened in August 2016, it is an educational gallery that provides exhibition opportunities for art students at local colleges. Founder and curator Callie Cherry, is also a studio assistant at Parliament the Boutique, and graduate of Aquinas College where she studied art history. Cherry hopes to be an ambassador for Aquinas, creating a presence featuring student artworks in the downtown area. Beyond practicing her own fiber works, she views curation as an artistic practice of its own kind. “Art can be a really strong method for people to relate to one another because it’s often very personal. By opening ourselves up to an audience, we can create stronger bonds with infinitely more people. In sharing vulnerability, we foster community on the grounds of respect, understanding, and support.”

This month Callie Cherry launched Makers in Safe Spaces (MiSS) with the help of Mariah Cowsert. MiSS uses Cerasus Studios as a venue for monthly co-working opportunities for female- and non-specific identifying individuals. The first MiSS event was in partnership with The Bandit Zine and Cowsert and Cherry hope future MiSS events will be inspired and motivated by groups or solo artists.

“Visual and performing arts provide a platform for dialogue and open opportunities for individuals to connect to and learn from the people and places in their community on a new level, creating a sense of belonging,” said Katherine Williams, the Community Programs Coordinator for the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art (UICA). On the corner of Fulton and Division the UICA is a powerhouse bookend to the corridor of the Avenue for the Arts. Founded in 1977, the UICA is the largest contemporary arts institution in Michigan. It shows art house films in its theatre and curates groundbreaking visual arts exhibitions that are constantly and consistently changing throughout the calendar year, as well as being host to many educational and expressive art events for youth and adults.

“I would like to see these community building initiatives continue to grow outward into the diverse neighborhoods that surround the downtown area.” The UICA seeks to engage their audience’s minds and push the envelope to nourish critical thinking of challenging topics. To do so, the UICA partners with Avenue for the Arts and ArtPrize to host the Break It Down, Make It Better. event which Katherine describes it as, “A program that supports our dedication to inclusive dialogue, lifelong learning, and the career advancement of innovative emerging and mid-career artists.” It is an event with dedicated time for panel discussions with practicing artists, curators, and venue coordinators displaying both institutional and grassroots perspectives of professionals.

The downtown community is a rapidly changing neighborhood, with many studios, galleries, businesses, and collectives using art as a community tool builder to help unite those who live and work in the area. Dwelling Place helps provide assistance for those who live downtown in their spaces and helping sponsor Avenue for the Arts. For a complete list of events that are happening along the Avenue, visit the Avenue for the Art’s website.

The Avenue for the Arts is a neighborhood title for the South Division commercial corridor. We are residential, commercial and nonprofit groups working together in a creative community. We are residents in Heartside, and active participants in shaping change in our neighborhood. In 2005, we choose the Avenue for the Arts as a title to represent our commercial corridor and the projects and events that we create. Because the Avenue is powered by volunteers guest writers create our Rapidian content. Special thanks to JoLee Kirkikis, Avenue member, photographic artist and Art History alum from Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University for contributing this piece.

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