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Heartside Gallery continues to unchain Neighborhood

The Heartside community was already a culturally and artistically rich and vibrant community before the developers or ArtPrize jurors recognized its value.
Juwan Kirkpatrick signing his mural print

Juwan Kirkpatrick signing his mural print /Courtesy of Heartside Gallery

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Heartside Gallery is located at 48 S. Division

The Gallery’s podcast,  “An Irregular Heartbeat,” is on Soundcloud. The podcast shares personal stories of Heartside Neighbors


This article is part two of a two-part introductory series on the Heartside neighborhood, both its challenges and its strengths. The first article can be found here.

Artist Jane VanDommelen adding finishing touches on her  ArtPrize piece.

Artist Jane VanDommelen adding finishing touches on her ArtPrize piece. /Courtesy of Heartside Gallery

Art from Heartside Gallery

Art from Heartside Gallery /Courtesy of heartside Gallery

Heartside Gallery and Studio, an arm of Heartside Ministry, has been producing and showing art by neighborhood artists since 1993. Art is sold out of the gallery at 48 South Division. The gallery also sells and ships artwork to people around the country. Heartside Gallery works have long been popular with out of town collectors of intuitive and outsider art, but the gallery has kept a lower profile in Grand Rapids, where the taste in art tends to be more conservative. That low profile changed radically in 2014, when “Unchain the Neighborhood,” a collaborative work by Heartside Gallery artists, was the surprise finalist in that year’s ArtPrize Juror Awards.

“Having been to ArtPrize many times, it always felt to me that Division Street has always been the elephant in the room. Here it is we’re talking about this big pot of money and it’s kind of this whole different economy right around the corner, so I’m glad that this work brings that out,” said Nicole Caruth, a Brooklyn-based editor at Art21 magazine during a Critical Discourse discussion of the finalists.

Mr. Hash (full name not disclosed due to privacy concerns), a ceramic artist at Heartside Gallery, thinks the response to “Unchain the Neighborhood” was a long time in coming. 

“It could not have been better for us. For how many years did we toil and nobody ever took this place seriously?" says Hash. "Nobody ever took our artists seriously and then you have a bunch of jurors come in and say, ‘This is a top five piece in their category. You should go look at it.’” 

Deb Dieppa, a soft-spoken woman who describes herself as a self-taught artist, came up with the concept and title “Unchain the Neighborhood.”

“At that point in time last year the neighborhood was going under a lot of difficult things. A lot of people were saying things about the people that were outside on the streets and it was coming down pretty hard,” says Dieppa. “There was a lot of conflict on the streets as far as some of the homeless people and people along Division Avenue who have art space or a business who were like ‘we don’t want these people in front of our building.’”        

Sarah Scott, Arts Coordinator at Heartside Ministries, talked about the some of the other feelings around Heartside at the time “Unchain the Neighborhood” was created.

“Part of the change was all these big buildings popping up in the neighborhood," says Scott. "Where there was a two-story building is now going to be a twelve-story building. It is not a good fit for Heartside.  It’s more than twice the height of any of the neighboring buildings.”

Everyone interviewed at Heartside Gallery agreed that the neighborhood is worth saving. Scott says the neighborhood is culturally and artistically rich and vibrant. 

“There’s not a lot of affordable stuff to do in the neighborhood, but we find stuff to do. We have parties, barbecues, we make artwork and we dance and sing and we talk about problems,” she says.

Dieppa feels a strong sense of community in Heartside. She originally moved to Heartside from suburban Grand Rapids after she experienced a trauma, and says though she's since moved out of the neighborhood, her heart is still here. She likes to lend support to people who are new to Heartside Gallery.

“If I can contribute back into the community to help that person that I once was," she says. "that to me is community.”

Gil Horne, an artist, musician, poet and podcast producer, lives and works in Heartside. He has only praise for the people he has met in Heartside.

“The support is rich. Generally, you have people who want you to do good but they don’t knock you if you do something bad or something that they don’t personally agree with. Nobody ridicules anybody” says Horne. He admires the neighbors in Heartside, including the least fortunate ones. “A person can say, ‘I have this business suit’ but deep down, beyond that business suit, they can still be struggling with something but are not as transparent as this person over here that is someone who might have been in that business suit before but had to sell that business suit to get something to eat.”

“People who struggle," he continues, "you have to look at them with respect.”

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