Here They Come! Students Pour Downtown to Soak in ArtPrize

ArtPrize Seven is under way, and that means thousands of students will be streaming into downtown Grand Rapids.

With the annual art competition kicking off Sept. 23, teachers across the Kent ISD are taking the opportunity to use public art as a living curriculum for their classes.

Many are fashioning lessons around art appreciation and understanding, others are launching their own school-based art competitions, and some are entering works in ArtPrize itself.

Moreover, the ArtPrize organization is offering its own educational programs, including field trip kits and transportation grants, and the Grand Rapids Public Museum is hosting activities for K-8 students in its ArtPrize Education Days, Oct. 5-7. More than 13,000 students and educators statewide are expected to participate, according to MLive.com.

At Forest Hills, students have participated in ArtPrize every other year since it began.

For this year’s entry, more than 7,000 of the district’s art students, plus their art teachers and retired district art teachers, worked to create “Connectivities.” The nearly 70-foot L-shaped hanging sculpture, conceived by retired district art teacher Bob Penning and made of yarn and foil, snakes from the second to the first floor of the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. The Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation contributed toward the cost of materials.

Gabby Dunn has exhibited her artwork before, but being in ArtPrize “is like, pretty big,” said the Forest Hills Northern High sophomore. Gabby made her contribution last spring over a few days in Intro to Art class. Students were encouraged to “make it their own way,” she said. And now that she has seen photos of the finished product? “I think we could be in the Top 100,” she said.

“Connectivities,” an ArtPrize entry by thousands of Forest Hills students and staffers, is displayed at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market

Laura Madison, a Forest Hills Northern art teacher who played an organizing — and certainly artistic — role in the project, said the piece achieves “what art is all about. More than the outcome, it’s about coming together. That’s what we love to see in our art rooms.”

Madison said groups from schools across the district plan to make the trip to the market, which she calls an ideal venue for the piece.

“The architecture, the way the natural light filters through and the perspectives you get from seeing the piece from so many angles is awesome,” she said. “It’s well worth the trip (from the center of downtown).”

“Break the Glass Ceiling!” is on display at Fountain Street Church. The 8-foot-by-20-foot display comprises individual works by sophomore students at Kent Innovation High. After studying feminism and gender issues, historical and current, students used ceramics, textiles and photos to communicate messages about past and present culture, including equal pay, equal rights, domestic abuse, body image and discrimination at work and in society.

And some 120 fifth-graders from Cherry Creek Elementary in the Lowell Area Schools district will head downtown to tour entries in and around the Van Andel Public Museum, then meet with artist Cara O’Brien. After she shares the concept of her entry with them, students will make their own clay tiles, which will be placed around O’Brien’s piece.

Pam Jasperse, art teacher at Forest Hills MeadowBrook Elementary and her student teacher, Naomi Poel from Kendall College of Art and Design, pose near “Connectivities”Cherry Creek Principal Shelli Otten said the experience is profound because O’Brien will be working with the students later this fall as part of the school’s new artist-in-residence program.

“We are so thrilled to have students experience ArtPrize as artists themselves,” Otten said. “When they work with (O’Brien) at the school they’ll be able to connect what they’re doing to having their own work in the ArtPrize setting. We’re really looking forward to building this connection to their inner creativity.”

School News Network will feature more stories of students’ ArtPrize experience in the coming weeks.

CONNECT

Student artists’ descriptions of individual parts of “Connectivities”

Forest Hills ArtPrize entry

Cara O’Brien’s ArtPrize entry

Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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