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Curators take over: Non-traditional spaces on South Division

A new workspace has been launched at 307 S. Division, with an open call for artists and curators to submit show proposals.
Underwriting support from:

Important dates and information

307 Gallery Call For Submissions due March 29:
Avenue for the Arts website:
Break It Down, Make It Better. Registration:
Art.Downtown. webpage:
2014 Education Event Panel Discussion

2014 Education Event Panel Discussion /Courtesy of Avenue for the Arts

Outside 307 S. Division

Outside 307 S. Division /Courtesy of Avenue for the Arts

Inside 307 S. Division

Inside 307 S. Division /Courtesy of Avenue for the Arts

When curators launch dynamic and enthralling shows, magic happens.

Frequently, large-scale institutions like the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA), Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) and Kendall College of Art and Design (KCAD) are recognized for well-curated shows. However, curatorial practice is growing in smaller and unexpected settings, like shops, restaurants, trade companies, residency sites and spiritual hubs. 

“From gallery walls to streetside, performance to painting, curators shape the viewer experience by building relationships between the artwork, space and audience,” says Molly TiesmaEducation Coordinator with Avenue for the Arts.

Recognizing the potential for great shows to happen in locations of any size, the Avenue for the Arts is working to expand the capacity for local artists to curate outside of institutional protocol.

“Curating in nontraditional spaces provides new opportunities for people to engage with work outside of the context of a museum or gallery, opening this creative engagement to a broader audience,” Tiesma says.

The role of the curator in creating an art exhibition is often behind the scenes, acting as a liaison between location staff and artists, while also constructing a tasteful and captivating arena for the audience. A curator must consider lighting, display, contract specifics, scheduling and communication. The flow of an exhibition is a curator’s artwork.

“One of the biggest challenges for a curator in a city like Grand Rapids is to find unknown or new artists, or artists not exhibiting somewhere else," Amanda Carmer, Avenue Advisory Committee Member, explains. "There are a handful of artists motivated to making the rounds, pushing promotions in coffee shops and elsewhere, like entrepreneurs following a business formula, to the point where that formula is being repeated over and over. It’s thrilling to see work that is surprising, new or uncommon.”

Curators and artists share many similar expectations. To maximize audience flow, curators and artists must build up a synergy between each other. Curatorial procedures are enhanced through hands-on experience along with discussions between artists and professionals coming together.

In Grand Rapids, the opportunities to develop curatorial and artistic procedures are continuously increasing. On February 28, Avenue for the Arts will host “Break It Down, Make It Better.,” an educational event that will cover artistic and curatorial practices. A featured panel will deconstruct a variety of curatorial practices in traditional and nontraditional settings, and regionally selected panelists will share methods from both institutional and grassroots perspectives. This event is great for beginning curators, artists, appreciators and documenters.

Complementing the traditional art institutions in Grand Rapids, unconventional sites are unveiling a vast potential for curatorial liberty. One non-traditional location on the forefront is the Avenue for the Arts [Gallery] Space at 307 South Division. This new workspace is small and intimate, yet provides unlimited flexibility for the variety of visions that a curator can have. 

In 2005, Avenue for the Arts (Avenue) was formed to represent residential, commercial and nonprofit groups from within Heartside Neighborhood working together in a creative community, specifically along the South Division Avenue corridor. In 2015, Avenue created a headquarter space located at 307 S. Division (307) and opened a call for artists and curators to submit show proposals. 

The Open Call for 307 is focused on events in May, June and August, specifically centered on First Friday Gallery Hops. On the first Friday of every month, South Division Avenue becomes the ultimate destination to find artwork by local artists, handmade goods, galleries and eateries. Taylor Greenfield, professor at KCAD and Avenue Advisory Committee Member, has shared the criteria for 307’s Open Call.

“Any artist working in any medium who is 18 or older is eligible to apply. This includes performance, music, visual art, written and spoken word, new media," she says. "It’s as open as it gets.”

307 serves as an information hub for the Avenue, a drop-in space and a gallery space, with resources for artists both local and from outside the community. The Open Call includes but is not limited to artists looking for enrichment and opportunities, residents of the Avenue for the Arts and community stakeholders, members of the Avenue, patrons of the arts who frequent other cultural organizations and potential donors. Call-for-submissions are due at midnight on Sunday, March 29.

Curation at 307 is currently being operated through a group rather than individually. This curatorial approach is explained by Greenfield as “the most effective use of the time we have in the space, and because it was too much work for one individual to take on.” The 307 Curatorial Committee allows for as much creative potential as the unconventional space itself.

Space is a crucial consideration in curating great shows. Several criteria play into curating avant-garde spaces like 307 S. Division. Vision and arrangement can change frequently. Carmer, who is also a 307 Curatorial Committee Member, illustrates the significance of an Open Call to utilize the 307 space.

“We hope to find a wide variety of artists to contribute work that the Avenue has never seen before, and to expand upon the aesthetic image of the Avenue and Heartside Neighborhood,” says Carmer.

This year, the Avenue for the Arts is reaching out to creatives locally, regionally and beyond, launching spaces like 307 and sharing resources, education and awareness to all those who wish to participate in Grand Rapids’ collective artistic movement. Grand Rapids has continued to grow as a place where art professionals experiment with curatorial practices in both traditional and nontraditional settings. Join Curatorial Committee members for the debut of the Avenue for the Arts [Gallery] Space during Art.Downtown. on April 10, and find out more about Break it Down. Make it Better. online at


The Avenue for the Arts is a neighborhood title for the South Division commercial corridor. We are residential, commercial and nonprofit groups working together in a creative community. We are residents in Heartside, and active participants in shaping change in our neighborhood. In 2005, we chose the Avenue for the Arts as a title to represent our commercial corridor and the projects and events that we create. Because the Avenue is powered by volunteers, guest writers create our Rapidian content. Special thanks to Learning Lab participant Dustin Coon for his contribution to this piece. Dustin is educated in research, marketing, artistry, public and intercultural relations, crisis management, creative writing and community sociology, with a BA in Communication.

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