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Celebrating their differences with art

Godwin students share their uniqueness in a collaborative exhibit with a local venue

Godwin Heights — Senior Natalie Moore admits the art piece standing on the stage of The Stray café is not her typical style.

“Originally I was going to do something with me laying down and crying with the tears creating a river and having a lot more blues,” Natalie said. “But I decided to show a happier side of myself instead. I wanted to try something new.”

Instead, her piece, which was part of the recent “Identity” exhibit at Wyoming’s The Stray, a music and arts venue, features bright colors springing from her head, giving color and life to the flowers at the bottom.

“It really portrays a more positive side of me,” Natalie said. “It shows a lighter manner and through the process I was able to develop a different type of awareness as to the person I am.”

Building a Collaborative

When The Stray opened this past fall, a goal of the owners was to build community collaboratives. Hunter VanKlompenberg, the cafe’s music and arts manager, said his team reached out to Godwin High School art teacher Deanne Basse about finding ways to collaborate.

“Part of our aim is to be an accessible venue to all ages and provide space for teens to display their creative gifts,” VanKlompenberg said. “With Godwin right down the road and sharing the same neighborhood, it seemed like there was a bridge to be built between us. This is our first collaborative event together and we hope to have more down the road.”

Basse said the district’s arts team was excited about the possibility of having student work showcased outside a school setting. Basse’s students had just begun working on drawing the face with other grade levels also having done similar projects. 

“We had just started working on a skill of drawing the eyes where the student gazes into their eyes and focuses on that feature,” Basse said, adding that the “Identity” exhibit idea sprung from there as it was an opportunity to celebrate everybody’s differences.

“It seemed very appropriate because what have you been seeing the past two years because of masks?” Basse said. “It has been everyone’s eyes and how expressive those ideas could be.”

‘Part of our aim is to be an accessible venue to all ages and provide space for teens to display their creative gifts.’

– Hunter VanKlompenberg, music and arts manager for The Stray cafe’

A compilation piece featuring several of the students’ works on eyes was put together for the “Identity” exhibit. Basse said she also had her two painting classes work on self-portraits. For some students, such as senior Imani Beasley, it was not an easy assignment to complete.

“I didn’t want to do it,” Imani said. “I already knew I liked to draw other people, but I don’t like to draw myself.”

Then she decided to utilize the technique of pointillism, using small dots to build the final piece. Imani said she did not realize what a time-consuming process pointillism was – and it’s something she does not plan to do again.

“As for all the colors, I am a colorful person and I wanted to represent that,” Imani said. “I didn’t really know how it was going to turn out but it came together and represents my personality.”

Sharing Who They Are

The exhibit featured the compilation piece as well as a selection of artworks from kindergarten through 12th grade. And just like each person’s identity is unique, so were their paintings.

Ninth-grader Ava Niewiek was a triplet but her two siblings, Patrick and Joseph, died at birth. However, she has always felt that her brothers were her guardian angels, so her painting features her with two halos and wrapped in two different colored wings.

“I have always known and felt that they were a part of me,” Ava said. “Seeing it on paper gave it more of a connection.”For Katie Wise, her love of makeup inspired her piece of a young lady surrounded by blue and purple clouds.

“My piece is about how you can always set your sights on doing better than what you were doing,” she said, “whether that is makeup or whatever you are doing.”

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma covers Kent ISD and Godwin Heights. She was born in the Detroit area but grew up in Brighton where she attended Hartland Public Schools. The salutatorian for the Class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism and minored in photography and German. She expanded her color palette to include orange and black as both her daughters graduated from Byron Center Public Schools; maroon and white for Aquinas College where her daughter studies nursing and also brought back blue and maize for Grand Rapids Community College where her youngest daughter currently is studying music. Read Joanne's full bio

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