The Rapidian

Place Unmaking

As a local artist and venue operator, I now look across the street and see the empty space where the Division Avenue Arts Collective used to be. I see a place unmade. What will we do to move forward from here?
Puppeteer Adam Ende performs Sacred Candy at Mexicain Sans Frontieres

Puppeteer Adam Ende performs Sacred Candy at Mexicain Sans Frontieres /Eric Tank

Underwriting support from:
Rick Chyme's LP release party at MSF

Rick Chyme's LP release party at MSF /Eric Tank

Wealthy Orphans performing at the DAAC

Wealthy Orphans performing at the DAAC /Eric Tank

There is a big rush to do some serious placemaking in Grand Rapids now. We were not place enough before. But just last week I had some visitors come to Grand Rapids as beer tourists. My new friends came to Grand Rapids from across the lake just to sample GR’s finest new brews. They were thrilled with all the microbrews that they sampled and bought some to take back with them to show their friends. At the end of their day they asked me, Hugo Claudin, if there were any places nearby where they might be able to see some good bands. I had nothing planned that evening at my joint, Mexicains Sans Frontieres, and I looked across the street to see the place where the DAAC had been; there was nothing there now. The place had just been un-made. Like when you want to get rid of a pesky friend on Facebook, the thing is just gone. An empty space, a place where these new friends might have gone if there was a show there to quench their thirst for culture. They ended up going to a venue where there was a jukebox playing.

Many of my talented friends had already seen this coming and have quietly packed their bags and moved to places where their talent might be appreciated a little better than what they got in Grand Rapids. I am afraid more of this will continue if we don’t do some serious questioning of what exactly Grand Rapids offers artists for their trouble. I know-insert get a job, get a haircut jokes right here.

I have been working sometimes with others, sometimes alone, to make Grand Rapids a destination for avant music. The DAAC was doing the same with indie music. It was a nice mix, a friendly competitor, and between my studio and the DAAC, there is Vertigo Music and just down the street there is Dodd’s record store. People flocked from all over to the Avenue of the Arts to get their culture fix. A fragile ecosystem of shops and venues that together made a bustle in the otherwise mostly tame downtown. The vacuum created by the loss of the DAAC is felt and heard. The young people that came to shows also ate in the nearby restaurants and bars and stopped by early to pick up some tunes or to look at the tattoo shops. With them, they took their wallets.

So what is left to do? If we are strategically talking about placemaking which is supposed to make the inhabitants of an area reap the benefits of its riches (read culture), then we must also talk about unplacemaking like it happened to the DAAC. The moment is ripe to use the momentum to think of all the potential. How can we harness the power of culture to make it work for us? Will it be through Community Sustained Arts programs, guilds or another way of taking what we have, uniting and moving forward?

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