Students collaborate on eye-catching entries to ArtPrize competition

Youth Collaboration Award attracts inventive works from area and beyond

(Courtesy Photo) Byron Center student Hannah Reda shows her faces

ArtPrizeAs ArtPrize 10 gets under way on Wednesday, Sept. 19, the global competition will feature the artwork of students from three Kent ISD school districts: Byron Center, Grand Rapids Public Schools and Rockford. Here is a glimpse at their works entered in the Youth Collaboration Award, sponsored by Western Michigan University, for which they may win prizes of $2,500 from both public voters and a jury of experts.

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Byron Center Public Schools  

In her eighth-grade art class, Marie Baar painted and sketched little portraits, each unique and interesting, inside bottle caps.

“I came up with the idea to portray diversity and how everyone is different but together we can create something bigger than ourselves,” said Marie, now a freshman at Byron Center High School.

(Courtesy Photo) Freshman Marie Baar created bottle-cap faces as an eighth-grader, inspiring the collaborative ArtPrize entry

Art teacher Janine Campbell was so impressed with Marie’s work, she used it as inspiration for a collaborative ArtPrize entry, for which 4,000 students, staff and community members decorated caps with countenances – smiling, frowning, silly and serious – and all kinds of physical characteristics. The faces are drawn on thumbprints stamped in paint inside each cap.

“I thought it was such a clever idea,” said Campbell, who taught Marie at West Middle School. “It was a different use of material, and her message of individuals coming together was inspiring.”

The entry, “Reflecting Differences,” is on display at the Downtown Market, 435 Ionia Ave. SW, in Grand Rapids. The public can vote on student entries at various venues across the three-square-mile ArtPrize district during the 19-day event, Sept. 19 to Oct. 7.

“It’s cool because it was my idea and it will be there for everyone to see,” Marie said.

The large-scale collaborative piece includes fellow art teachers and students at Byron Center High School, Nickels Intermediate and Brown, Marshall and Countryside elementary schools. Students in kindergarten through 12th grade soon got to work making bottle-cap art and creating students’ silhouettes on 4-by-4-foot paintings.

(Courtesy Photo) Marie Baar’s inspirational art

“They are all different colors because everyone is different,” said West seventh-grader Lily Zeinstra.

Added Nickels sixth-grader Madison Fonnesbeck: “We each have our own personalities and that’s what makes this world unique.”

Countryside fourth-grader Jordan Baker explained what it’s like to bring different people together: “It’s like a whole family over here.”

Art teachers used the books “It’s Okay to Be Different,” by Todd Parr, “The Colors of Us” by Karen Katz, and  Magic Trash, A Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art” by J.H. Shapiro to inspire students and help them understand the theme.

After ArtPrize, each school building will display its piece from the project.

Grand Rapids Public Schools

Hundreds of colored filters were glued to a mat, creating a 7-foot-high artwork suggesting the striking glass sculptures of Dale Chihuly
Coffee filters were transformed into flower-like shapes by students at three Grand Rapids Public Schools

Teacher Lori Reuben’s art students have seen the colorful glass artwork of Dale Chihuly on field trips to Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, and over the past three years have emulated it in everything from record albums to plastic plates. Their ArtPrize entry, “Spot of Color,” features an especially novel medium: coffee filters.

Students used crayons, markers and paint dabbers to color hundreds of filters, which were then spray-starched over cups, dried and glued to a mat board.

GRPS students, including those in center programs for students with disabilities like Sam, used markers, crayons and paint to color their coffee filters

The colorful culmination of their work hangs in the Grand Rapids Police Department, a 7-foot-high festoon of flower-like filters that brings to mind Chihuly’s striking sculptures.

The cheerful artwork is the product of students from three schools: Pine Grove Learning Center and Lincoln Developmental Center, both center-based programs for students with special needs; and kindergartners through fifth-graders at Ken-O-Sha Elementary.

Chihuly’s art has big appeal to her students, whether they’re in general or special education classrooms, Reuben said.

The filters were sprayed with starch and dried over cups, each with the student artist’s name written on it

“It’s very colorful, very bright, it’s not your typical shape,” Reuben said. “It’s something that really strikes their imagination and gets them to be creative.”

For her students with disabilities, it’s a rewarding and attainable way to make art, she added.

“Some of the things we take for granted, like coloring, sometimes (are) hard for these kids. They got to experience a different material they really enjoyed working with.

“It made a huge difference for them to be part of something so big.”

Rockford Public Schools

2018 Rockford High School graduate Tabatha Cass helped design and paint this ArtPrize student entry celebrating the beauty of the Earth but warning of its degradation

After moving from California to West Michigan a year and a half ago, Tabatha Cass was struck by the area’s physical beauty — and by the relative lack of citizen efforts to protect it.

“There’s so much nature here that I feel like people take it for granted,” the 2018 Rockford High School graduate said.

So for her, helping to create an artwork about caring for the earth was a perfect way to express her worries about the environment. She was one of four senior independent-study students, working with six from the Freshman Center, who designed and painted “Curae di Orbis Tellus,” Latin for “Care for the Earth.” The three-panel work highlights both Earth’s pristine beauty and humanity’s degradation of it.

“We were trying to capture the raw beauty of nature,” Cass said, as well as “the destruction that can happen when we don’t protect our natural resources.”

Soaring hawks, swimming sea life and lush forests contrast with glimpses of barren waste in the 16-by-8-foot piece, which will be displayed at Fountain Street Church. The setting is appropriate for a socially conscious work whose design suggests the triptychs historically used on altars in Christian houses of worship.

“I would like (viewers) to see our various elements — earth, water, air — as an altarpiece,” Cass said, “and to reflect on how really incredible and sacred our environment is, and how we need to actively protect that.”

She collaborated with fellow seniors Zachary Newhouse and Arden Goodwin, with input from Amanda Gorecki, to create the acrylic on plywood piece along with freshmen Evelyn Frasier, Kylah Buikema, Lydia Buning, Alayla and Adeline Renberg, and Morgan Zink.

Their teacher, Cyndi Madry-Len, whose husband David built the framework, said each student brought something special to the whole. “The beauty of collaboration is each kid teaches each other from their strengths,” she said.

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ArtPrize 10

Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2012. Read Erin's full bio

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