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First annual Art Outdoor Project draws attention to Grand Rapids with local art

The Art Outdoor Project, a part of Experience Grand Rapids' Cool City. Hot Art. campaign, is a selection of artwork from five local artists to be displayed on billboards along Michigan highways.
The artists in front of their work at the opening reception.

The artists in front of their work at the opening reception. /Gabi Brown

Underwriting support from:
Guerra's work top, Bandstra's work bottom

Guerra's work top, Bandstra's work bottom /Gabi Brown

Nortier's work left, Chilver's work right.

Nortier's work left, Chilver's work right. /Gabi Brown

Five local artists have been selected to have their work displayed on billboards along state highways this summer, from June 29 until October 3, for a new project developed by Experience Grand Rapids.

The Art Outdoor Project aims to use highway billboards to inspire art enthusiasts to visit Grand Rapids. The project is a marketing concept that came from Experience Grand Rapids, and correlates with the “Cool City. Hot Art.” campaign.

“The Art Outdoor project was inspired by a few other projects around the country where visual artists were using billboards as the gallery for their work,” says Janet Korn, Senior Vice President of Experience Grand Rapids.

Richard App, owner of the Richard App Gallery, worked closely with Experience Grand Rapids throughout the project, between organizing the call for artists, selecting the committee who would pick the pieces that would go up and hosting the opening reception.

“As the idea was germinating, our team consulted with Richard App to develop the specific scope and details for putting a call out to local artists to submit their work to adorn our billboards around the state.”

Experience Grand Rapids put a call out for local artists to enter an original Grand Rapids-themed design for the first annual Art Outdoor Project. 27 artists submitted work, and five were chosen by a committee of “art devotees” in Grand Rapids.

The committee was comprised of Director of Exhibitions for ArtPrize, Kevin Buist; Exhibits Coordinator at GVSU, Cathy Marashi; Curator at Kendall College of Art and Design Michele Bosak; Executive Director at UICA, Miranda Krajniak and Chief Curator at the GRAM, Ron Platt.

The opening reception was hosted at the Richard App Gallery on July 23. The reception invited the public to come and meet the artists as well as see the original pieces on gallery walls.

“I was approached with the idea for a project that had something to do with Grand Rapids, but not from the perspective of something like the GRAM or Meijer Gardens,” App says.

The artists who were selected include Emily Chilvers, Alynn Guerra, Alex Gilford, Maggie Bandstra and Nick Nortier.

Chilvers’ design, made from watercolors and marker, can be seen on a billboard near Lansing. Her piece shows Grand Rapids as a city full of beer and music. Guerra’s detailed block print can be seen near the lakeshore on I-96. Gilford submitted an oil painting titled “Modern Window Cleaners;” it can be seen along I-96 in Livingston County. Nortier’s imaginative street art design combines illustration and photography and can be seen along I-96 near Oakland County. Bandstra’s colorful painting, titled “Rosa’s Park,” can be seen along I-94 in Washtenaw County. 

A map of where each artist's work is located can be seen here.

“The pieces that were selected were very unique in the way they represented Grand Rapids,” App says. “I think they were mostly what Grand Rapids meant to the artists. Overall the five pieces are really diverse.”

When deciding which pieces would be selected, the committee were drawn to choosing a diverse group of work, representing different viewpoints of the city.

“It shows one of the many facets of the city,” App says. “It’s been a lot of fun to work with Experience Grand Rapids and it’s been a really fun and unique project to be a part of.”

The goal of the Art Outdoor project is to express to visitors that Grand Rapids is a place and destination for artists and art lovers.

“Not only does Grand Rapids have ArtPrize, three amazing art museums, and Kendall School of Art and Design but it is also is home to hundreds of working artists,” says Korn.

Korn says that she is hopeful that the Art Outdoor project will become an annual event.

“We had 27 artists submit their work for consideration, she say. “We are hopeful that when we put a call out to artists in 2016 that we will have more.”

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