The Rapidian

Exploring lesser-known venues pays off for serious art lovers

Tucked away in an industrial area on Monroe Avenue, a local church gains ArtPrize visitors’ attention by bringing in pieces that work together to provide meaning and connection.
"Congress in Action" and "The Cielo" at Monroe Community Church

"Congress in Action" and "The Cielo" at Monroe Community Church /Allison Bannister

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Monroe Community Church is located at 800 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

"Falling Sky" in the forefront at Monroe Community Church

"Falling Sky" in the forefront at Monroe Community Church /Allison Bannister

"Congress in Action" and "Scorched Vestments" at Monroe Community Church

"Congress in Action" and "Scorched Vestments" at Monroe Community Church /Allison Bannister

Grand Rapids Art Museum, DeVos Place, UICA, The B.O.B. If you’re thinking about heading downtown to ArtPrize, one of these destinations is likely on your list. Visiting big venues that host multiple artists makes sense if you’re looking for a good time-to-reward ratio. But you may be missing out. In fact, I’m pretty sure you are.

All around our city, there are smaller venues—some with as few as one piece of art. Those venues—and their featured artists—are all hoping, really hoping, you’ll give them a chance. Monroe Community Church is one of them.

Since the opening of ArtPrize in 2009, Monroe Community Church has been a must go for me. Last Saturday, they confirmed, once again, why that is. I chatted with the greeter and he explained to me that the person who selects the artists has a very thoughtful process. I was intrigued.

When I went inside, I encountered the same specialness that I feel every year. A sense of cohesion between the artworks. Works that feel purposeful, and, at times, raised the hair on my arms or a lump in my throat. Works that forced my introverted self to talk to the artists to learn more. Works that obviously demonstrate talent or innovation. Or both.

What is it that they’re doing that creates this result? To find out, I tracked down the man behind it all: Steve Fridsma. He outlined how he and his team curate their space:

“We look for work that has meaning and tells a story, or work that celebrates beauty and Creation. But we also look for work that is clearly done with excellence and skill, allowing the story to be told with conviction. We love it when pieces of artwork appear to ‘talk’ to one another across the room. We have that this year with ‘Wall of Courage,’ ‘The Shelter,’ and ‘The Cielo,’ all of which deal with alienated or orphaned beings who are on the road to adoption, safety and security," Fridsma said.

As an architect by day, Fridsma draws on his education and background to evaluate the artists and works that will fill their space. He elaborated, “I have an undergraduate degree in art from Calvin College and a Masters of Architecture from the University of Michigan. The former helps me lead a curator team of three that discerns the artwork. The latter helps me visualize, locate, and attach the art into what is really quite an unconventional display space.”

Knowing this, I now understand how one piece that stuck out to me—or, more accurately, mesmerized me—has a significant place in this year’s collection. The 3-D entry titled “Congress in Action,” constructed by Darl Gilliland, is a perpetual motion contraption that consist of ramps, elevators, and gears that send a handful of marbles on an endless ride.

I asked Gilliland about his machine, and learned that it is the first of its kind that he’s built. He talked to me about how he started the piece, one section at a time, and the need for the marbles to continue to move, and not get stuck at a high or low point. Careful orchestration of each component provided the final outcome: a hypnotizing display that fascinates and confounds. In my mind, it speaks to the heart of an architect, as well as the mystery of the universe’s inner workings. A perfect fit for this place of worship and for Fridsma.     

It’s not to be missed—Gilliland’s submission, yes, but also the space itself and its complementary works. Go. And I’ll bet you go back again next year.

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