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Exploring the disposable world

Listen in on conversations with local artists and curators as they prepare upcoming ArtPrize exhibitions along South Division's Avenue for the Arts.
 Featured art work of Artist Jennifer Steensma Hoag

Featured art work of Artist Jennifer Steensma Hoag /Courtesy of Jennifer Steensma Hoag

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Stop by the Avenue for the Arts [Gallery] Space to see the Adapt/Evolve exhibition during the October 5 First Friday event from 6-9 p.m. or during ArtPrize exhibition hours weekdays 5-8 p.m. and weekends beginning at noon. Experience the UICA, exhibition, Sense, open now. Follow artists Jennifer Steensma Hoag and Ryan Wyrick on Instagram. 

Artist Ryan Wyrick

Artist Ryan Wyrick /Courtesy of Ryan Wyrick

/Courtesy of Avenue for the Arts

It’s an experience like no other, walking into an exhibition that takes on a familiar theme and transforms your understanding of the content through the artwork. Curator of the upcoming exhibition Adapt/Evolve, Ethan Ross, promises visitors an intimate and engaging visit to the Avenue for the Arts [Gallery] Space. Taking on a traditional art trope, the landscape, Ross strives to bring the viewer to the understanding that no place is untouched by mankind regardless of perceived distance.

In a recent conversation, Ross, who is a recent Kendall College of Art and Design graduate and ArtPrize Curatorial Fellow, explained that his vision for the show was inspired by the idea that environmental issues are often related places that are disconnected from the places we call home.

“Not only are environmental issues happening in the 'wild' places that we are trying to conserve, but also in our cities and towns,” he says. Ross found two artists whose work has long had an impact along the Avenue for the Arts to feature in this month long exhibition.

Jennifer Steensma Hoag has had a studio space in the (106) Gallery for the last decade. Steensma Hoag reflects on her time along the Avenue.

Avenue is a crucial part of Grand Rapids' art scene and fosters the art community in ways that the local art institutions do not," she says. "I find Avenue to be open to a wide range of artforms and practices, creating an exciting opportunity for anyone to participate and become involved. It is dynamic and celebratory of the arts. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that?”

The sole photography professor at Calvin College, Steensma Hoag has been photographing the landscape for 20 years, but sees a conflict with traditional landscape images.

“I enjoy beautiful landscape photography, but personally feel conflicted in making this type of work because I believe it conveys the notion that the earth is healthy and will always remain so. I wanted to make a series of photographs that drew from the tradition of landscape photography but used it to address environmental concerns,” says Steensma Hoag.

Exhibiting along with Steensma Hoag is emerging artist Ryan Wyrick, creating an installation that will transform the windows of the gallery space into an exhibition.

“[My work] comes from notions of personal interaction and observation about how we treat the environment around us, of both the natural and human built places we encounter in our lives,” he says. For this exhibit during ArtPrize, he is taking on a larger scale than he typically creates.

“[It's] a reflection on observing the small, personal and seemingly unimportant actions we make in our daily lives, and of the large, corporate and permanent that change us,” he says.

Wyrick and Steensma Hoag both make work that trigger memories and references that are compelling to the viewer, but Ross plans on taking the exhibition further by creating a layout that is interactive.

"The whole show is about humanity's physical impact on the earth so I wanted people to be able to physically interact with part of the show," he says. "Action creates a tangible connection to the environmental issues being address by the others works in the show."

An ArtPrize Curatorial Fellow, Ross has been working alongside curator Heather Duffy at the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art.

"It's a completely different curatorial experience than the small scale projects I've worked on in the past," he says. "So many people are involved on many different levels of logistics that being a part of the entire process of putting together the upcoming SENSE exhibition has been incredible. It's really helped me keep my own show organized and helped give me an idea of just how much I need to put into it to make this show as good as I think it can be."

Duffy, who started curating shows along the Avenue for the Arts during graduate school, explains the value of the experience of creating shows in noncommercial spaces like the Avenue for the Arts [Gallery] Space.

“It allows curators to take calculated risks in bringing strong shows to Grand Rapids that otherwise may not find a setting for presentation. The Avenue for the Arts [Gallery] and the Avenue programming, specifically, offer a support system of resources and access to an established network of arts professionals as well as regular attendees of arts openings that emerging curators might not have otherwise,” says Duffy. During her time curating shows at the Avenue for the Arts [Gallery] Space, Duffy infused her exhibitions with a creative use of space, celebrating local talent alongside an international lineup of artists.

In reflecting on the experience Ross has had as an Artprize Fellow at the UICA, Duffy says he worked on everything from creating systems of organization to international shipping and research and writing for exhibition materials. Working alongside UICA staff on the installation of complicated large scale works and communicating with artists, Ross has spent that last few months in a variety of roles working on behalf of the UICA in formal and informal settings.

Duffy mentioned that working alongside Ross has been a great experience.

“The Adapt/Evolve show is going to be amazing," she says, "and I personally cannot wait to see it.”


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 Jenn Schaub, Avenue for the Arts Coordinator, for sharing this month’s story. An artist, organizer and top notch pizza maker, Schaub can regularly be found hanging out on the Avenue for the Arts.

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