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Con Artist Crew brings activism, visionaries to art scene

A collaborative gallery and event space conceived by Kendall College grads Magdalene Law and Reuben Garcia, Con Artist Crew has plans for a film festival and several upcoming exhibits.
Con Artist Crew founders Magdalene Law and Reuben Garcia

Con Artist Crew founders Magdalene Law and Reuben Garcia /Jim Gebben


Gallery Address: 1111 Godfrey SW




An artist speaks about their art in the Con Artist Crew gallery on Godfrey

An artist speaks about their art in the Con Artist Crew gallery on Godfrey /Michael Willis

Visitors look at the artwork on display in the black and white Con Artist Crew gallery

Visitors look at the artwork on display in the black and white Con Artist Crew gallery /Michael Willis

Vivid black and white painted walls greet me as I enter the Con Artist Crew gallery space one afternoon. Despite the distraction of noisy traffic outside and the loud, color-rich art that adorn the walls, the soft-spoken voices of Magdalene Law and Reuben Garcia express concern for relevant art and social issues. They’re at work to change the world, or at least one place at a time.

Currently, Con Artist Crew is working on a film festival for this August that will feature five to eight short films by Michigan filmmakers. The festival will include a panel of professional filmmakers to judge the films screened. They have plans to travel to Costa Rica sometime this summer to join a writer friend there and do a residency to focus on their personal art. The residency will make a documentary and artwork for an exhibit, which they will bring back to Grand Rapids. Their work in Costa Rica will also be related to sex trafficking and prostitution. They hope their experiences abroad will add to their efforts regarding this issue in Grand Rapids.

Garcia and Law are already actively involved in battling issues here, spending one day a week making art with women at a nonprofit that helps survivors of sex trafficking. They hope to spread the word to stop this problem that is affecting several hundreds of women in West Michigan.

“We’re going down there to help combat this. Then come back here, show our efforts, and help the issue here as well cause it’s kinda happening in our own backyard,” shares Garcia.

Con Artist Crew is actively searching for performance artists to use their space, particularly dancers. They are expanding their artistic community to include artists from Detroit, Chicago and Guadalajara, Mexico. Their gallery is also a music venue. After having won money from Start Garden, the gallery has a digital aspect with the website and some experiments like a device that physically lights up when the piece of artwork next to it was bought online.

Relatively new to the art scene as Con Artist Crew, Law and Garcia finished painting and renovating their warehouse space on the Westside in the spring of 2012. Law studied graphic design at Kendall and Garcia studied sculpture and functional art. Both are painters and illustrators. Garcia has painted a few murals. Law loves working on digital art.

“For me art is a very emotional thing and helps me get through a lot of stuff,” shares Law.

“My work has a street, comic feel to it,” says Garcia.

They wanted to bring a different aesthetic to Grand Rapids and began brainstorming ways to achieve that in October 2011.

“If you want it then you create it,” Law states. That’s just what they did. The result is a refreshing, mischievous and playful take on art. It’s a “fun awareness of art,” Law says.

One of their main goals has always been to change perceptions of art. As a result, they have brought it to a new kind of crowd.

“We have gained the attention of more of a younger crowd that are the new collectors,” says Garcia. “These folks come through and learn to appreciate art and that it is not all just landscapes and abstract, non-confrontational pieces.”

With a younger crowd comes the freedom to delve into new aesthetics that are not often seen in galleries.

“We are trying to get artists to do more provocative work and not feel so stifled by the conservatism here,” says Garcia.

“We’re con artists but we’re not like real con artists,” says Garcia, smiling. “We’re just trying to change things and bring up issues that we think are super important to tackle. Art does change the world.”

Law encourages artists to reach out to them.

“We really believe in having artists do what they want to do,” says Law.

“This place cannot exist without you and your support,” says Garcia. “We want you to come and view the artist’s work. They don’t show that often. They don’t get to see gallery walls that much. Come out and support. Ask questions. Interact with people. Talk to the artists. You might see something in their work that you never did before without talking to them.”

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