I was at a meeting with some friends at the UICA last night. We came together to share ideas and insights regarding the future of visual arts in Grand Rapids. Joseph Becherer who is chief curator at Fredrick Meijer Garden and sculpture park spoke about the lack of foundation our city has historically for the visual arts. Mr Becherer pointed out that though music and theater were adopted early as significant cultural expressions, the visual arts remained under valued. An example of this in our history is the fact the Martin Ryerson who gifted the city with its magnificent downtown library was also an avid collector of some of the best contemporary art of his time. Unfortunately Reyerson's Renoirs and Van Goghs went to the Art Institute of Chicago instead of the Grand Rapids Museum. Apparently he did not have faith that the people of Grand Rapids would be able to appreciate these works of art as the true treasures that they were. Some of this reticent attitude towards visual arts has it's roots in the Protestant religious world view that had a large influence in forming the early culture of our city.
This is interesting for me to consider because I have suffered from this cultural deficit for years and yet I don't know that I had ever heard it so clearly articulated than I did last night. I must say thinking of this does not discourage me because I know that in our present time we are experiencing a tremendous wave of interest and experimentation with the visual arts in our community. It is as if the gate has finally swung open and the we have this new cultural territory to explore and its just getting started. It should be expected that there will be plenty of stumbling and embarrassing first attempts along with some beginner luck as well. Some important work that lies ahead may be;
We need to find ways for working collaborations between the different art departments in our local colleges.
We need to find ways to link programs and resources between local art institutions to make for deeper engagement from the community.
We need to find ways to encourage and educate local art collectors so that they can continue to collect the best and most relevant art available.
We need to find ways to help our local artists develop the sound business skills to accompany the great artistic chops they came out of art school with.
We need to find ways to bring established art writers into our community to critique as well as illuminate what is brewing in our own local contemporary art scene and share it with the world at large.
We need to continue to bring in the best of the art from other places into our community because now we are not only ready but hungry for it the challenge it will bring.
These are just some thoughts that I have. I'm sure you have your own that I have not even considered. You may know of places where these "finding ways" are all ready happening. I would love to hear from you.
(Perspective Lifters installation at MadCap Coffee ArtPrize '12, photo by Eric Tank)