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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.

/Nathan Slauer

Underwriting support from:

Cultura Collective

For more information about the Cultura Collective, please visit 


An old church, an industrial warehouse, and a white clapboard house. This unusual collection of 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 followed 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 show was "how can we document a community in transition?" 


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 lacked racial and economic diversity. 


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


Rosalez invited fourteen artists of various ages and skill levels to form Cultura Collective. Any people of color interested in art and community building were welcome to join.


Cultura Collective partnered with Site:Lab in 2015 to establish the first ArtPrize venue in the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood. The predominantly Hispanic residents enjoyed welcoming newcomers to their visit their home. 


"People used to come in and say 'I thought this place was the ghetto,'" Rosalez said. "The place broke down barriers."


When residents learned that a construction company would demolish several local buildings, they were stunned. 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?"

Cultura Collective struck an agreement with Habitat for Humanity in 2017 to allow for the demolition of eight buildings, while leaving 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 in Hispanic garb stretched out in bold colors across the walls, recalling the music of former jazz clubs and festivals. 


Inside the buildings, artists played trumpets and dancers in wide dresses spun in intricate circles. Nearby printmakers designed custom t-shirts and hoodies, mixing the modern with the traditional.


Pieces like Keyon Lovett's "Home Sweet Home" addressed justice issues. Lovett lived in the living room of a dilapidated house subsisted on bottled water in solidarity with the victims of the Flint Water Crisis. To pass the time, he spraypainted the walls with new messages every day. 


Other works such as Sofia Ramirez Hernandez's "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 morning and evening. 

The dimly lit hallway of St. Joseph the Worker church served as the focal point of the exhibition. Inside the sanctuary, projectors played 28 recorded interviews of residents sharing memories.


Unlike the rest of the exhibition's noisy, lively spaces, this section remained quiet. 


"We're in a state of constant progress, but we never stop to commemorate," said Kat Mattisse, a Cultura Collective volunteer. "Sometimes, you need to stop, hold on to stories."


A time for change


The end of ArtPrize came as a relief to Rosalez. 


ArtPrize maps and Critics' Choice Experience Guides initially failed to list Cultura Collective as a venue. ArtPrize staff eventually fixed the error, but the incident made a negative impression on Cultura Collective. 


"It was a mistake, but not a simple one," Rosalez said. "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. But Rosalez does not plan to wait for others to  bring attention to her neighborhood. She hopes to partner with Habitat for Humanity as it plans additions, including a public school, a pharmacy, and housing units. 


With the community changing fast, Rosalez hopes that locals will continue to embrace art. 


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

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