Behind the project titled City As Muse is an inspiring story of how I reached out into my local community to raise support for a project that was far beyond my own means. Three years prior to attempting this project I was having lunch with my friend Chris who is an attorney downtown. (I think Chris and I always enjoy getting together partly because we both live in very different worlds.) A gentleman came over to our table and Chris introduced us and explaining that he knew this man through a program he had gone through called Leadership Grand Rapids. Later Chris went on to explain that LGR is a nine month program run through our local chamber of commerce that takes people who have already demonstrated their ability to lead and provides them with opportunities and understanding to develop their leadership gifts to a greater level. He described how LGR exposes the participants to the various aspects that make up the city and gives them up close opportunities to experience those aspects. So the month you will look at the criminal justice system and then have an opportunity to do a ride along with a police officer wearing a bullet proof vest. Well it was six months after my lunch with Chris that I was enrolled into the LGR program and meeting all kinds of interesting people that I may otherwise never have had access too. Typically it is birds of a feather flock together and artists hang out with artists and attorneys have lunch with either other attorneys or other people who can afford to hire an attorney. LGR was an excellent way for me to broaden the scope of people in my network so when I began to develop the scope of the City As Muse project, I had a number of real friends with real business acumen and real resources to whom I could appeal to for help.
Another important part of this story is Pam Vitaz. When I first met Pam she had recently relocated to Grand Rapids from Louisville Kentucky. Her husband, a neurosurgeon, had been recruited by one of our local hospitals. I had met Pam at a party and at this very first meeting it was evident that we had some good chemistry. It was not long after this that I invited her to work along side of me as my business manager (at term she always batted away) on the City as Muse project. In particular she would help me to raise the funds I needed to complete the project. Pam brought her experience of raising money for various causes back in Louisville into our project. I suppose because of the financial strata that Pam and her family live within, she has a certain ease moving among affluent people that, though I try my best, I will probably never have. Besides her business smarts, Pam is funny, creative and very kind which made her wonderful to work with. (She accepted a painting in exchange for her important role within the City As Muse project that year.)
Over the next several months working with Pam and inviting various LGR friends into my studio to see what I was working on, we were able to raise just over $25,000.00. $5,000 of this came from a Kickstarter campaign which was money raised in smaller increments from a much larger community base. This money not only helped my purchase art materials, it also enabled me to pay the household bills (We had five children at home during this time.) while I worked on the painting with out the worry or pressure of making the typical kind of work that I was able to sell. As a result of our successful fund raising I was able to completely focus on one large painting. This was something I had never done before. While I worked through the winter and summer of that year I was often very conscious of the fact that I was able to keep painting because of the kindness and generosity of the community around me. This gratefulness became its own engine to drive me forward and create beyond what I had ever done before.
City As Muse was my ArtPrize entry 2014. Thankfully the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art came along side of me as my venue that year. On the week ends during the festival the numbers of viewers each day were reaching around 7,000. I spent a lot of time with the installation and talked to hundreds of people over the course of the next two and a half weeks of ArtPrize. The installation included a large flat screen playing the short documentary video (The video is the one that accompanies this article.) playing in a loop telling the story of the paintings evolution from beginning to end. There was also a large seven foot by three foot flat table display case that had an assortment of all kinds of odds and ends that also served to tell the paintings creation story. In the case displayed like scientific specimens were paint brushes, scrapers and pallets, reference pictures and books open to important pages. There were old square nails pulled from the hundred year old white oak house trim that I built the giant frame out of. I was intent on telling the story of how one of my paintings comes to be.
Just after ArtPrize was ending and I was trying to figure out where to store such a large painting I received an inquiry from a local corporation interested in purchasing the City As Muse painting. We settled on a price of $53,000.00. And as fate would have it, the painting was to find a home hanging in a board room that was just two years before redesigned by ADMG Architects who had been the very first company to make a major contribution to the project.
I wanted to take the time to tell the story of how I was able to gather the resources to realize the City As Muse project. It was the realization of a dream made possible by friends. It was made possible because I reached out for help with out apology, with out shame.
The companies that came along side of me that year to help make the project come to fruition are as follows :
The video for City As Muse was created by John Mark Hanson.