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What Does This Artwork Meme to You?

Students Portray Heroes via Simulated Smart Phone

When assigned to create a portrait of someone she admires, Megan Lindeboom didn’t have to look far: Grand Rapids’ own Betty Ford, First Lady to President Gerald Ford.

The senior was drawn to Betty Ford’s publicly sharing her bout with breast cancer and battles with substance abuse.

“I just think it’s awesome how she was very open about what she was struggling with,” Megan said. “Girls these days should model themselves about being open and accepting of everyone.”

Tech-ed teachers Ryan Whitmore, left, and Brian Richardson fit a trim piece onto the artwork

Megan’s pencil drawing of Ford is one of 32 portraits gracing a simulated iPhone, created by a collaboration among art, tech and multimedia students at Rockford High and Freshman Center as an ArtPrize entry. Their artwork, “This Memes a Lot to Me,” is entered in the Youth Collaboration Award featuring entries from several West Michigan schools.

On display at the JW Marriott in downtown Grand Rapids, the nearly 7-foot-high piece features portraits of unsung heroes instead of the often-jokey memes students transmit through their ubiquitous smart phones. It’s a way of having “students share their artwork the way they share their daily lives,” said Barb Kent, a teacher of AP art and drawing.

“The whole piece was focused on youth, the way they communicate and making it an installation,” Kent said, noting the memes idea was suggested by Dan Costello, a graphic designer and former ArtPrize curator, and embraced by her students. “We’re really proud of our students and the work they’ve done.”

STEAM Team Effort

Besides the portraits her students produced, the work required fabrication of the phone by some of Brian Richardson’s tech-ed students. Its infrastructure is wood and the surface made of an aluminum composite, set in a simulated charger. The portraits were photographed, printed, mounted on styrene and covered with Plexiglas. The whole process involved science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM), Richardson said.

“This is just a great opportunity to collaborate with multiple departments and kids on an open-ended problem,” he said. “In my mind, this is a perfect definition of STEAM.”

Tech-ed instructor Brian Richardson puts finishing touches on the simulated phone’s lettering

Further collaboration came from Melissa Burkholder’s multimedia class students, who made business cards with QR codes that will link ArtPrize viewers with students’ statements about their portraits. Spanish Immersion students translated the statements into Spanish, and teacher Jeff Hayes translated the portraits’ names into Chinese.

Portraits include local heroes such as Rockford High grad and long-distance runner Dathan Ritzenhein and RHS English teacher Jackie Decker, to nationally renowned figures like Marie Curie and Rosa Parks.

Senior Alex Jenkins’ rendering of Parks is a photo collage of Parks’ statue at Rosa Parks Circle, the Blue Bridge and The Rapid bus station, symbolic of Parks’ historic refusal to leave her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus.

“I thought I might be able to show more of Grand Rapids and more of what she’s about” by using the downtown scenes, said Alex, whose portrait proclaims, “Using non-violence changed the rights of millions.”

“iPhones are used by our generation a lot,” Megan said of the artwork’s concept. “Using the memes and iPhone as a way to communicate to our generation is a way to make it relatable.”


ArtPrize Youth Collaboration Award

Students’ images of unsung heroes ranged from local legends to nationally renowned figures
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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers series and issues stories for all districts. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive 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 and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio


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