Parking Lot Painted with ‘Positivity & Joy’

Annual ArtWorks Program Taps Talent, Builds Skills

Cam’ryn Robinson, front left, and other students create a bright mural on a West Fulton Street parking lot in an Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts project

On a gray-grit city parking lot through some of this summer’s hottest days, a dozen students painted a bright path of hope.

Their zig-zag creation of sunshine colors on West Fulton Street in Grand Rapids emerged from interviews with area businesses and residents. They designed a jagged pathway stretching across a city-owned lot at the northeast corner of Fulton and Straight Avenue, as part of the five-week ArtWorks program of the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts.

Cam’ryn Robinson said the design — a blue-back depression at the lower end connecting to increasingly vibrant colors — symbolized both the area’s historical struggles and “a path to a better future.”

Caitlyn Chua, a junior at Comstock Park High School, quietly colors her own patch of asphalt
Caitlyn Chua, a junior at Comstock Park High School, quietly colors her own patch of asphalt

“I want this to inspire the West Side and spark some wonder into the eyes of the children, and also to kind of remind the West Side of its past,” said Cam’ryn, a sophomore at Innovation Central High School, as he painted angled patches of bright orange.

The mural was one of three projects tackled by 36 ArtWorks students ages 14 to 18, aimed at developing job training, design thinking and problem-solving. Another group worked with downtown businesses and artists to create works of art and write a blog, while a third created designs for clothing and accessories for UICA’s early childhood education program.

All projects involved community clients and partners and were offered free to students, who each received a $100 stipend. Supporters included the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Herman Miller Cares and Amway.

To create the mural, students met with representatives of Herman Miller, John Ball Area Neighbors and nearby businesses. They wrapped it up the week of Aug. 8 by inviting neighbors to pitch in.

“These kids are such achievers,” said Laura Weber, an art teacher from Ovid-Elsie Area Schools district who led the group. “We had a high bar set from the beginning, and these kids rose to exceed that. … We really just want to bring some positivity and some joy into this parking lot.”

Amanda Nguyen, a junior at East Kentwood High School, brought her love of painting and mural-making at school to a civic-minded project.

“We’re all here and we want to beautify the community for the greater good,” Amanda said.

As for the residents who will walk by or park on it, she added, “I hope they feel the same way as I do when I look at it. I’m really proud of it.”

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UICA ArtWorks program

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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