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Heartside Gallery expands street team to include podcast, more art shows

Heartside Gallery and Studio now offers online shopping, more art shows, a podcast and art making opportunities to grow support for local artists.

/Courtesy of Heartside Gallery and Studio

Underwriting support from:

/Courtesy of Heartside Gallery and Studio

/Courtesy of Heartside Gallery and Studio

Written by Alysha Lach, Street Team Coordinator for Heartside Gallery and Studio

My mom deals with a bit of personal stress. She also swears she doesn’t have a creative bone in her body. Anyone keeping up with science though knows that “born talent” doesn't really exist: artmaking is an acquired skill and passion. Step one is making the mental decision to allow yourself to create in the first place. Step two is having access. One evening I was able to force a paintbrush in her hand and show her how to paint some shapes with watercolor. She painted for four hours without a break. This is art therapy in its finest and simplest form.

Our gallery and studio space represents around 70+ artists in a typical year. This is a lot of talent to represent, as any typical art studio will tell you. However, our artists are far from the commonplace expectation. Artists here are self­-taught, prolific creators that span from all walks of life. Many of them deal with mental and physical disabilities, homelessness, trauma, and re­entry into society from incarceration, isolation or abuse. Some alternatively may just be from the Heartside neighborhood and wish to make community and find a voice through art.

Whatever the reason folks are here, they are our creative family, and it has been our mission for 22 years on South Division to give a creative outlet when needed, with cost never being a barrier.

I’ve been volunteering with Heartside Ministry for six years this December. I’ve witnessed in that short time phenomenal growth within its arts programming. One of the greatest privileges I’ve had is to be witness to the grassroots ways our studio is reaching out to the community and the greater West Michigan area.

In December of 2013 we received a grant from the Dyer-­Ives Foundation to ​e​xpand our arts programming ​through social media efforts and mobile­-run sales and shows. I joined as staff a few hours a week as Street Team Coordinator and Gil Horne joined on as Online Sales Coordinator. These new positions have allowed us to increase our art sales by roughly 30% (74% goes right back to the artists) and acquire buyers of our work as far across the globe as California and London. For anyone running their own creative shop these days, this may not be a big deal. But for an artist that has just kicked an addiction, or found housing recently, this type of attention is very powerful and transformative.

Our Street Team is a straightforward concept: take our mission, stories and beautiful artwork on the road and get people knowing about the amazing work that happens in Heartside.​ W​hile we would love to have Rapidians potentially interested in us to visit the studio, it can be equally as impactful to present ourselves in digestible and accessible ways around town, regionally and globally. Since January of 2014 we have participated in over 16 art sales, ranging from small pop­up sales at indoor events to Eastown Streetfair and Festival of the Arts (our best sale EVER).

Artwork has been shown in 13 local spaces, including two continuous shows that are refreshed every few months at The Salvation Army Divisional headquarters and at S​t. Mark’s Episcopal Church.​ We’re also primed to get our work in more office spaces that could benefit from visual wealth, like our recent large-­scale commission of artwork at the P​ine Rest DeMay Clinic, ​located inside of the Herkimer Building. Through these exhibits we continue to make greater connections within our community, and bring commerce into the hands of creative, hard­working individuals in our studio.

Our online sales have been a beta effort to utilize the dynamic ways social media can project our unique message. Horne began using Instagram and our Facebook page to post updates on new works in the studio, upcoming sales and real stories of process and hope. Our most exciting addition yet is our podcast on Soundcloud, A​n Irregular Heartbeat. The podcast is ​a collection of candid conversations with Heartside artists, ranging from personal stories to in­-depth conversations about the changing of the neighborhood, art­making, jokes and songs. It is our greatest hope that folks will be able to plug in their earbuds, sit back and listen to amazing stories from the heart of this city. Want to know who we are? Want to hear what we have to say? Listen up.

To help sustain these efforts and give visitors another unique experience, we have been selling an affordable and fun package to interested groups: for less than the popular wine and cheese parties, come in with a group on a Saturday to an actual community­-run studio, paint on our upcycled wood and stretched canvases, and interact with our artists who will help facilitate the artmaking.

These avenues give us a chance to connect with local folks who may not have heard of us, or even know the benefit of therapeutic art to an individual or community. Artists here see their work hung professionally and feel a sense of validation of their talents, and of their work having just as much value as anything hanging in the MOMA. When you hand an artist a microphone and let them know that their story matters, something incredible happens: the individual changes, the community changes and the world cracks open a little wider.

For ways that you can connect with and support Heartside Gallery and Studio, check out our Facebook page ​for upcoming events, email our A​rts Coordinator​ Sarah Scott to ask about commissioning work or having work hung in your space, listen to our p​odcast,​ see us on First Fridays during the gallery hops put on by A​venue for the Arts,​ share your new and gently used art supplies with o​ur studio,​ and stop down to get to know us during our open hours. Coming up is our annual holiday sale December 4 from 4-­10 p.m. at the studio, and 25 artists will be there with their own tables displaying their creations, ready for a home. 

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