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Meet civic investor Rick Beerhorst: Investing in the city as muse

Rick Beerhorst talks about what Grand Rapids means to him and why he has chosen to invest in his community. After finishing grad school in the late '80s, Beerhorst moved back to his native Grand Rapids and began to see the city with new eyes.
Rick Beerhorst

Rick Beerhorst /Eric Tank

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Rick Beerhorst is a a local artist with deep roots in Grand Rapids. He grew up in Kentwood when much of what is now developed was still farmland. His flight to the urban core greatly influenced his artistic vision.

"I started going out into the city with my paint box on the back of a bicycle -or sometimes I just had charcoals, pencil and paper and ink wash- and I would set up different places in the city and I would just draw. Particularly if it was something kind of dilapidated. That had my interest. So I did a lot of these drawings and in the process people would come up and talk to me. I really felt that it was during that time- kind of fixing my artist's gaze on this place, this city- that I really started to fall in love with it in a deeper way and have a connectedness," recalls Beerhorst.

He wasn't the only one looking at the city through a new lens. This was during the same time that investors were starting to take a look at downtown and explore the potential for reuse of many existing buildings. In hindsight, Beerhorst recognizes the correlation.

Fast forward a couple of decades and countless pieces of art. Beerhorst's work has been purchased all over the world and at home alike. Locally, some of his paintings adorn places such as the GRAM, Heartside Gallery and the Mayor's home. The themes typically explore relationships and community. There is often a contemplative aspect about them. Many of his paintings draw implicitly upon the Grand Rapids community.

His current project is an eight feet by 12 feet in size, made up of three panels. The painting will be entered into Artprize 2014. 

"[It's] really celebrating what I think of as Grand Rapids' cultural coming of age. There are a lot of things that are coalescing right now with the UICA, Ferris/Kendall merger, the new art museum and still new art museum director Dana [Friis-Hanson] and the Avenue for the Arts which is really gathering its own momentum. And all these things along with Artprize just feel like this is a unique time in our history as a city, especially culturally. So the painting is my way of celebrating that and catching that wave," says Beerhorst.

In 2010 Beerhorst joined Leadership Grand Rapids where he was able to diversify his relationships with other community investors. 

"Going through Leadership GR was my way of meeting people that were more corporate leaders, executives and so forth. And so coming out of that program there was a handful of people that I felt a certain camaraderie with. We continued to meet for lunch or invited some of these folks for studio visits. And they're excited to meet an artist, a working artist. I'm excited to meet somebody who understands how to pay attention to a bottom line, how to keep a company solvent because artists aren't so good at that, traditionally. And so, really looking to bridge that gap between people in the business community, people in the art community and what does that look like when those start to overlap and collaborate together. That's at the heart of City as Muse project. Because I feel like when that happens that's when things get really exciting," he says.

Within the past year Beerhorst has become a citizen reporter for The Rapidian. He challenged himself as a writer and art critic. He sees a platform such as The Rapidian as the future of community storytelling. 

"Well, I feel like obviously we're in this time in our history where a lot of traditional ways of doing things are either just disappearing or caving in on themselves," he says. "I remember, [in Leadership GR] we had a month looking at media and we visited the Grand Rapids Press. I can't remember the CEO, great guy, showed us in their building and you could literally see half the desks were empty. They were like shrinking. And it was shocking and it was sad. And he was very realistic about it. I grew up reading the Press and looking at the cartoons and it was something you would never think would go away. And kind of with that in mind, The Rapidian to me is this vital conversational link with what's going on in the city as a new way of doing journalism. Because you know, there are people like myself who would never have been interested in writing for the Press. But The Rapidian, it feels new, it feels fresh and hey everyone's invited to the table. Even if you don't think of yourself as a writer -in my case traditional art writer- so yeah that's exciting."

Beerhorst encourages others to get involved in their community, and start with examining themselves and their interests- as well as their complaints.

"I would say, what are you interested in? What are you passionate about? And what have you been bitching about," he says. "Maybe you don't think there's enough diversity in the music scene. My bitch was that nobody was writing about art. Well how long am I going to complain about that? So my bitch was no one was writing about art. Well, write some articles then. You know about art. Well, I'm shy about that. Well just do it. And you know Holly was really great cause she was like look we can work with this. Change this and this and this is publishable. Really, it's that easy?!"

Beerhorst says there are a million ways to add to your community. Whatever you do, says Beerhorst, it's just time to do it. 

"Maybe your kids are into skateboarding and there's no park in the city. Maybe you could make that happen. Maybe you've got a lot of books and maybe you create this miniature library clubhouse in your front yard. You know, that could be your way to give to your neighborhood. Maybe you put a park bench in your front yard and people can sit there on their way to the farmers market," he says. "Where's the iron hot for you? Where's it happening in the city -or where does it want to?"

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