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Community arts series builds creative momentum

Low-barrier art activities foster community in Heartside and beyond.
Jane, a fervent art enthusiast and Dwelling Place resident, uses potatoes and her hands to paint a custom tote bag

Jane, a fervent art enthusiast and Dwelling Place resident, uses potatoes and her hands to paint a custom tote bag /Matthew Provoast

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Be on the lookout for the Community Arts Series' upcoming UICA partnership and exhibition, opening April 5th!

The Friendship Fiber Wall Hanging, designed by Kelly Allen, now hangs in the Herkimer Community Room

The Friendship Fiber Wall Hanging, designed by Kelly Allen, now hangs in the Herkimer Community Room /Courtesy of Dwelling Place

The statues created at the Verne Barry Garden Creatures workshop, designed by Kelly Allen

The statues created at the Verne Barry Garden Creatures workshop, designed by Kelly Allen /Courtesy of Dwelling Place

On October 11, 2018, the year-long Community Arts Series kicked off with residents creating recycled garden creatures at Verne Barry Place for their community garden. Thanks to grant funding from the Michigan Center for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA), Dwelling Place’s initiative plans to connect and empower low income residents to the culture of their communities at no cost to them. The goal is that this funding will eliminate financial and cultural barriers that inhibit residents from partaking in rich opportunities and connections within the Heartside neighborhood and beyond, all while having fun in the process! The programming to date has included 7 events as a product of collaborations with staff from Artists Creating Together (ACT) and local artists Matthew Provoast and Erika Townsley from Light Gallery + Studio.

The programming began working with local artist Kelly Allen teaching the first three workshops, which were held at Verne Barry Place, Herkimer, and Ferguson Apartments, respectively. At the first workshop, “Recycled Garden Creatures” (pictured, right), residents used materials such as wooden beads, stickers, foam pieces, pipe-cleaner, and paint to create miniature sculptures. The activity was designed as a beautification project for the Community Garden at Verne Barry, adding life to the space during winter. Susan, a Dwelling Place resident who participated in the event, stated that “this event typically reserved for youngsters gave us residents a chance to enhance our level of creativity. It was fun!”

While reflecting on some of her favorite moments from the workshops, Allen states, “I really enjoyed getting a little taste of the fun and interesting personalities of the individuals who were able to join us and watching their projects develop in such diverse ways. Certain people expressed healing through making their work of art. That was deeply moving. Others liked to tell jokes and kid around, while others worked fastidiously to create elaborate works, especially the gentleman who created the massive wooden assemblage during our garden critter workshop at Verne Barry. He worked silently and swiftly and blew everyone away with his creation. It was amazing!”

With nine months left of programming remaining, Dwelling Place is hoping that these collaborations with resident leaders and local organizations will continue to celebrate resident voice and vision. At Dwelling Place, we believe that residents should have the access, knowledge, and skills to interact collaboratively with local systems and make choices to improve their community or place.

Other workshops that have been a part of this Series include “Friendship Fiber Wall Hangings” (pictured), “Fun and Funky Collages," and a “West African Djembe Drumming Circle.” The focus of many of these workshops was to strive for building a strong sense of community as residents work together on exchanging ideas, promoting each other’s work, and giving out their creations. In the instance of the “Friendship Fiber Wall Hangings” and the “West African Djembe Drumming Circle”, residents focused on creating or performing a portion of the program, that when put together with the creations or rhythms of their neighbor, made for a complete experience.

As a means of encouraging and promoting resident artwork and voice, any resident who participated in the “Fun and Funky Collages” workshop was able to submit their final piece to the 10th annual ACTion Art Exhibition March 26 – March 28, 2019 at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. The exhibition, hosted by Artists Creating Together, is designed to assist adult artists with disabilities to portray their art in a professional gallery, as well as provide the opportunity for the artist to sell the body or bodies of work when they otherwise might not.

Creativity is a human birthright. We are all inherently creative to varying degrees. Being creative benefits the mind, the heart, and the soul in ways that nothing else can. There is a medium for everyone. If someone can give themselves the time to explore some materials and the grace to refrain from self-judgement, one can find a satisfaction that might never be able to be experienced otherwise,” says Allen.

Ongoing workshops are being led by Light Gallery + Studio. Many of these workshops have focused on free crafts for people to either keep or give away for the Holiday season including “Wooden Sign Decorating," “Terracotta Plant Decoration," “Wall Hangings," and “Tote Bag Decorations." The tote bags, for example, were created by carving designs into the flesh of potatoes, which were then used as stamps for embellishing the canvas totes.

Due to the diverse background of residents in the Heartside Neighborhood, Dwelling Place wanted to offer different programs that appealed to a large audience while introducing creative ways for neighbors to get to know one another. Upcoming programming as a part of the Community Arts Series for 2019 includes involvement with the Break It Down Make It Better discussions, a behind-the-scenes tour of the archives at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, a spring resident show at the UICA, an outdoor summer market, make and take workshops, attendance of a theatrical production at the Civic Theater, and more!

With a mission to improve the lives of people by creating quality affordable housing, providing essential support services and serving as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization, Dwelling Place serves families and people in 4 counties across West Michigan. Dwelling Place is powered by volunteers and numerous staff persons, guest writers create our Rapidian content. Special thanks to Learning Lab Intern Kristen Hollingsworth for her support of the 2018-2019 Community Arts Programming at Dwelling Place.

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