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Community updates: Wednesday, June 10

Grand Rapids leaders announce operational changes to improve policing, ArtPrize 2020 cancelled over pandemic concerns, and Grand Rapids Windows project turns downtown Grand Rapids' boarded windows into murals promoting racial justice.
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Plywood-turned-murals in front of WOOD TV8 and Grand Rapids Art Museum's Media Arts Center.

Plywood-turned-murals in front of WOOD TV8 and Grand Rapids Art Museum's Media Arts Center. /Brett Townsend

Grand Rapids leaders announce operational changes to improve policing

City of Grand Rapids leaders announced on Wednesday a series of operational changes to improve police-community relations. The changes come in response to continuing unrest over racially-based police brutality, now spanning beyond the U.S.

Discussing the changes during a live town hall, City Manager Mark Washington said he’s directed Police Chief Eric Payne and Office of Oversight and Public Accountability (OPA) Director Brandon Davis to implement 20 actions within the next 60 days.

Among the actions are banning chokeholds, requiring officers to intervene in force-use by other officers and report these incidents to a supervisor, identifying funding to expand the OPA, and ensuring the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) works with community organizations to increase efforts in recruiting more diverse candidates.

We must be diligent and continue to listen to the community and adopt best practices on a continuous basis,” Chief Payne said. “It is my duty and obligation to make sure our department is doing these things. We will do our due diligence in working with the OPA and the community to make sure we have the best policies, practices, and training in our police department.”

City Manager Washington also outlined suggestions from the community requiring additional time and consideration before possible implemention. The suggestions are making negotiation meetings between the City and its labor unions’ public, expanding power for the Civilian Appeal Board, settlement with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights on its investigation into GRPD patterns and practices, and redirecting funding from the GRPD toward economic development, housing, and other community programs.

We recognize the need to embrace new ideas, methods and approaches that may have been uncomfortable in the past,” said Washington. “Today’s proposed changes and improvements are aligned with our vision for Grand Rapids to be nationally recognized as an equitable, welcoming, innovative and collaborative city with a robust economy, safe and healthy community and the opportunity for a high quality of life for all.”

The full list of announced operational changes, as well as progress noted by Washington as already being made, is available in a statement on the City of Grand Rapids’ website.


ArtPrize 2020 cancelled over pandemic concerns

ArtPrize has cancelled its 2020 exhibition over COVID-19-related uncertainties, its board of directors announced Wednesday. The organization is also pausing operations and evaluating the possibility of future events.

Everyone had hoped to find modifications that would enable us to host the exhibition safely,” said ArtPrize board member Marc Schwartz. “We initially shifted plans to focus on outdoor spaces and large indoor venues. However, after analyzing the situation further and considering the unknowns, we realized that hosting such an event was not the best course forward.”

This year’s event had been scheduled to take place from September 16 to October 4 in Grand Rapids. ArtPrize’s three-week art competitions have drawn around 500,000 visitors per year in many of its past years. A similar number in 2020 would make it difficult to ensure mitigation of COVID-19 and a possible second-wave outbreak.

Logistical challenges factoring into the 2020 event’s cancellation include artist and tourist travel, uncertainty regarding venues and possible restrictions, unpredictability regarding permitted gatherings in the state, and other safety, health, and planning unknowns.

“While we won’t come together to experience art as we have in prior years, I hope that all of us can find our own unique way to connect with Grand Rapids in the months ahead,” said ArtPrize Founder Rick DeVos. “Our community is known as one that comes together in challenging times and we all need each other now more than ever.”

ArtPrize will be refunding 2020 artist and venue registration fees. Sponsors that had previously committed to participate in this year’s event will be contacted in the coming days to arrange for the cancellation of partnership agreements.


Grand Rapids Windows project turns boarded windows in downtown Grand Rapids into murals promoting racial justice

While there will be less public art in downtown Grand Rapids this fall with ArtPrize 2020 cancelled, the city’s downtown has no shortage at the moment. Grand Rapids Windows, a community-based project, has transformed the downtown’s boarded-up windows following May 30-31 protests and riots into painted imagery promoting racial justice.

Led by artists of color, up to 500 windows worth of funding were made available to them and their artist teams to paint commissioned murals and messages highlighting the reasons behind protests over police killings of unarmed African Americans. Lions & Rabbits commissioned the artists’ work, with the City of Grand Rapids, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., and other partners providing support.

What is happening in the world right now makes us remember the importance of Civil Rights and the power of Art,” Lions & Rabbits said in a statement. “It is our job as artists to communicate through our work. Our mission is to intentionally repair our City, educate, and learn together.”

Painting mostly took place between June 6-8, with African American and other minority artists prioritized for funding.

With many white artists still participating, one African American artist, Venus Flyytrap, promoted Monroe Center St. as a downtown area where passersby may find murals painted by artists of color.

Photos of the Windows project can be found on Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and Avenue for the Arts’ Facebook photo albums. More details about the project are available on Lions & Rabbits’ website.


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