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Local artist builds community through 3D art

Mark Rumsey, creator of site-specific installations and East Hills Council of Neighbors staff member, engages the community both in his art and his job.
"Deshabile" by Mark Rumsey in High Five Project Space, Grand Rapids, MI

"Deshabile" by Mark Rumsey in High Five Project Space, Grand Rapids, MI /courtesy of Mark Rumsey

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A print from 'Minor Geographies at the Palace Hotel' series by Mark Rumsey

A print from 'Minor Geographies at the Palace Hotel' series by Mark Rumsey /courtesy of Mark Rumsey

"Cascade" by Mark Rumsey. Located at Edgewood College in Madison, WI

"Cascade" by Mark Rumsey. Located at Edgewood College in Madison, WI /Courtesy of Mark Rumsey

On the corner of Cherry and Eastern, there’s a little pink building. That’s where Mark Rumsey works and where the East Hills Council of Neighbors convenes. This may not be the place you’d think an artist would work, but it’s Rumsey’s day job.

“Art is my vocation. It’s something I’m driven to do beyond reason. Quite often, beyond financial reason,” Rumsey shares, chuckling.

Rumsey has discovered that his work on the council and his artwork intermingle.

“Most of my work now is about planning and trying to create modes of engagement within the community,” he says.

His work seeks to instill in everyone the belief that they can make a change in their world. He does this through engaging people by using materials that they can relate to: paper.

“I find paper really seductive because it takes on so many different forms,” he says.

But it is also about “creating entry points,” he says. “Anyone, however they’re engaging in the process, whether there’s someone who actually shows up as a volunteer to fold, or if they are just a viewer at the end, if you use office paper, that’s at least a point of engagement that they can choose to use to start some sort of dialogue with the piece.”

Involving people in the process and using the site where the piece is located as a basis, he can inspire people to engage in their communities like they engaged with his artwork.  

“It’s getting people to understand that small actions can make a bigger change,” he says. “When you get it down to as simple as folding a piece of office paper, and you do that long enough with enough people, all of a sudden you’ve completely transformed a space physically.”

By bringing people together to work as a team on his artwork, Rumsey creates a real life example that in order for a community to grow it needs all of its members’ participation.

“So many social issues are getting people to understand that there is a connection, not a disconnection,” says Rumsey. “Especially with the making processes that are engaged, those are opportunities for people from different backgrounds to sit together. That’s something that is so rare in the Midwest. We’re very homogeneous: we stay in our own little clusters and we’re not very comfortable mixing.”

Besides the site where the piece will be located, he is also inspired by nature and a variety of other things.

“I look at a lot of information,” he says. “Regardless of whether you are talking about science or art, it’s all using different paths to try to understand things and to try to present information.”

The process and the medium are not what are essential to Rumsey’s work.

“The process changes every day because the people change, the place changes and the conditions of it change,” he states. Rumsey says an artist should not be a slave to their medium.

“Media should be in service to your ideas,” he argues. He doesn’t only work with paper. Some other mediums include prints that he made during his residency in China for ArtPrize, land art in a project he hopes to do in the future, and textiles in a project he wants to organize where people crochet small squares that he will use to make a child’s mental map of their home.

Similar to his work in the East Hills Council and as an adjunct teacher at some local colleges, Rumsey’s art seeks to bring people together, teaches them to think positively and interact more proactively in their communities.

His vision in his art may catch people off guard since they probably didn’t know what they were getting themselves into.

“Art is maybe a more aggressive way to present things,” Rumsey says. “Like you’re trying to elicit an experience from someone.”

“That would be success to me,” he says. “Versus the old school mentality of trying to create the masterpiece.”

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