The Rapidian

Local arts organization SiTE:LAB's volunteer

Artist Leigh Ann Cobb shares her experience with SiTE:LAB, her appreciation for art, and her love for Grand Rapids.
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Want to join the ranks of SiTE:LAB volunteers?

SiTE:LAB is always in need of willing volunteers to help run their events.

They have a calendar on their website which has their volunteer schedule listed.

Not only does a volunteer get to view exhibit-quality art for free, they also receive a complimentary SiTE:LAB t-shirt.

Inside SiTE:LAB's current location at 2 East Fulton.

Inside SiTE:LAB's current location at 2 East Fulton. /Brittany Nagelkerk

Cobb in her SiTE:LAB shirt.

Cobb in her SiTE:LAB shirt. /Leigh Ann Cobb

"Apparition," one of Cobb's favorite pieces at SiTE:LAB.

"Apparition," one of Cobb's favorite pieces at SiTE:LAB. /ArtPrize

One of the most interesting things about ArtPrize is the vast range of venues that exhibit entries. Restaurants, schools, local businesses, sometimes completely atypical spaces allow us to see art in unique settings. This season’s SiTE:LAB is, in fact, in the old Junior Achievement building. Displaying artwork at abandoned buildings is not uncommon for SiTE:LAB, a nonprofit arts organization. For Leigh Ann Cobb, a volunteer since 2008, being involved with SiTE:LAB is a way for her to express her passion for art and the city.

Cobb joined SiTE:LAB when Paul Amenta, Kendall sculpture professor and mastermind behind the project, took her on as a student aid. “He, of course, would take his classes to the spaces for cleaning or building and I would join in,” the 22-year-old says. “That’s how I got started.” The size and scope of SiTE:LAB’s usual fall and spring events requires a lot of volunteers, who, like Cobb, are “there almost every night beforehand, taking things down, putting things away, sweeping, mopping, everything.” She’s now been involved with “four or five” events, gaining more responsibility with each one. 

SiTE:LAB’s current location at 2 East Fulton Street will be exhibiting ArtPrize entries until October 9th. The majority of the building is exposed concrete with chipped paint, and some windowpanes are windowless. Cobb says that Amenta prefers abandoned buildings to bring in the “hype factor,” giving the owner the opportunity to sell it. The old Herpolsheimer’s building has already been purchased and “there is speculation that something like a Trader Joe’s is going there,” Cobb says in a hush-hush tone. “But the owners are totally up for ideas,” she suggests, regarding what local residents would like to see end up in the vacant building. The new owners would like, however, for the building to become home to “something that is more necessary downtown.”

Recently graduated from Kendall College of Art and Design with a BFA in Printmaking and Drawing, Cobb has always had a soft spot for art. She was coined the “art kid” in high school, growing up in the small town of North Branch on the east side of the state. “I don’t know if I really had anyone else that I knew personally that could draw in my little town.”

Like most artists, Cobb believes that ArtPrize has its positives and negatives. “It’s good for our community but it’s not so good for the fine artists.” She feels that most fine artists in our society are looked at as being elitists. “A lot of people are turned off by the idea of going to a gallery,” Cobb says. They believe that “you need to know something about art to have a say. It’s a shame, but I can understand that viewpoint.” Cobb remembers returning home to her parents, trying to tell them about what she was learning at Kendall. “They were just automatically turned off. They’re supportive of me, but I could never have a conversation about art with them.”

What Cobb does appreciate about ArtPrize is that it brings art “to a family level. It brings it to a level where people don’t feel belittled when looking at pieces.” She just simply wishes the top pieces were judged by someone more knowledgeable of the forms, genres, and mediums of art. ArtPrize does, however, give Cobb the opportunity of “seeing art through different eyes” which makes her appreciate ArtPrize a little more. She believes that some art isn’t worth the time and effort it may take to find its meaning. “I appreciate art because it can make something boring, interesting. Yet it can do the complete opposite.”

Working with SiTE:LAB gives Cobb the chance to see art being created from start to finish. She also gets to meet the artists and hear the inside scoop behind each work. One of Cobb’s favorite current SiTE:LAB installations is “Apparition,” a collaborative piece created by Meghan Reynard and Patrick Ethen. It consists of a bright, white light shining across and descending down fishing line and elastic, giving the illusion that the piece is floating. “I loved that it is simple, yet it says so much.”

“Apparition” is set up in SiTE:LAB’s basement, which Cobb believes is a perfect setting. She loves the combination of a dark, “creepy basement” with an ambient piece. “The space is just as important as the piece, in that instant. It has such a presence.”

Cobb, having grown up in a small town, believes that Grand Rapids can’t go anywhere but up at this rate, with a big thanks to ArtPrize and recent developments in the downtown area. “I love Grand Rapids. I’m just really excited for all that has happened in the past few years here. It’s just getting bigger and bigger.” Cobb even hopes that with the growth of Grand Rapids comes something quite unfamiliar to our city’s skyline: skyscrapers. “It would be so cool. I’ve always wanted that out of Grand Rapids. I think we could achieve that.” 



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