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You’ve cast your vote for Artprize, now vote for community.

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

The people that attend the 'Free Radical 2011' will be the people that sincerely care what the future of the arts is not only in Heartside, but the whole of Grand Rapids. They were here before Artprize overshadowed them, and they’ll be here after its annual furor has gone into hibernation.
Street performers at Free Radical 2010

Street performers at Free Radical 2010

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Free Radical 2011, Oct 29th, 6-10pm

The Division Street Business District is holding its annual Free Radical Event along South Division Avenue between Fulton and Williams on October 29th from 6 until 10pm!  Known as the Avenue of the Arts district, local business/gallery owners such as Sanctuary Folk Art, Heartside Gallery, The DAAC and Vertigo Music will be opening their doors for the aforementioned extended hours! Alongside these businesses local artists and craftspeople will be lining the streets selling unique handmade art and objects.

Conveniently located in the center of downtown Grand Rapids Heartside District, this event is only a few blocks from the Van Andel Arena, Ionia street business corridor, and Monroe Center-with ample on street parking available.

Free Radical 2010

Free Radical 2010

After a bout of persistent e-mailing- Jenn Schaub of Dwelling Place has given me the chance to learn some of what it takes to organize the annual arts event ‘Free Radical’. It was a bonus for me that it happens to take place on the southern end of one of the most interesting Avenues in Grand Rapids- Division. Over the past few weeks I have been able to meet and talk with various Artistic inhabitants of the City, many of them based on that very Avenue; each and every one of them has been dedicated, articulate and astute- often with enviable bone structure. Their enthusiasm for the neighborhood and its ongoing revitalization has been admirable and infectious.

Having taken such a liking to these folk, I find myself worrying that ‘Free Radical 2011’ will get lost in the huge artistic fray of this City. I am sure the $5,000,000 boost that the Artprize lottery offers the Grand Rapids economy will help keep things pretty, but to suggest, as Doug Small of ‘Experience Grand Rapids’ has that it has also ‘helped to significantly elevate our profile nationally as a true arts destination,” seems wishful. What it actually does, is elevate Grand Rapid’s profile as a national base for the most obscenely huge cash award for ‘art’ ever.

Like Artprize, ‘Free Radical’ is a gallery hop, each venue donated for the evening, some incorporating businesses. Unlike Artprize, each venue has been assigned local artists and curators and they will be working together to put on the best show they can. If it all works out then there will also be some performances to admire and delicious eats. It will not be slick but it will be genuine; an attempt to breathe life into the empty storefronts of the Avenue, to bring about awareness and expand the customer bases for young and established businesses and to give artists a chance to showcase themselves to a wider audience- a bona fide community event if ever I saw one.

The revenue and debate that the cash juggernaut Artprize generates can be a wonderful thing; It is bittersweet though, when one realizes how many arts-related things were already happening in Grand Rapids, that may not boast a mega budget but do possess priceless integrity. A lot of money and effort is being channeled into creating mirror mosaics or giant metal pet replicas-everyone chasing that life changing prize. Yet after over a decade in existence genuine community events, such as Free Radical, struggle to generate even a tenth of the interest of ArtPrize, despite the huge cultural dividends available.

The money spent on Marketing Artprize seems to be a comfort to many attendees, there is no suggestion of charity or of revolution- only of cheerful affluence. Huge droves of weekend  families making the streets seem welcoming and safe. This cash injection is like a flash flood- many businesses can barely cope with demand, the sidewalks become dense and alien, its usual inhabitants ignored; there is no hint of the ongoing cultural enrichment that events can offer a community, just a scramble for entertainment and lunch.

By ‘cultural enrichment’ I mean that the people who attend ongoing cultural events are driven to do so by their awareness of and love for the Grand Rapids Arts community; they appreciate the importance of keeping Avenues like Division relevant and alive. ‘Free Radical’ is borne out of the willingness of others, the curators, organizers and artists have given their spare brain time to make sure it all comes together in one night- for no cash prize! The people that attend this event will be the people that sincerely care what the future of the arts is not only in Heartside, but the whole of Grand Rapids. They were here before Artprize overshadowed them, and they’ll be here after its annual furor has gone into hibernation.

Please mark down the evening of the 29th of October as partially occupied from 6 until 10pm and spare whatever time you have to take a look at what has been happening on South Division Avenue and in the local arts community. 'Free Radical' is an important investment in the future of the Grand Rapids Arts community and the only way to cast your vote is by attending.


Disclosure: My name is Emma, I'm new to Grand Rapids, I am currently interning at Dwelling Place, helping to organize the Free Radical 2011.

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I really appreciate your coverage of the robust arts culture that existed long before AP colonized our fair city. FRG is just one (wonderful) example of the "scene" that is overshadowed each did a great job summarizing the situation.