Stephanie Wooster is an artist with a pedigree. Not only does this Michigan native hold an MFA in painting, she also has her MS in art history from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY with academic and fine art honors. Her art history specilization is 19th-century Russian art specifically the realist painter Ilya Repin, and her paintings have been exhibited throughout the US and in Scotland. Presently she’s a volunteer at the Grand Rapids Art Museum and is on the Visual Arts Committee at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (www.uica.org). As a Grand Rapids insider, Stephanie was kind enough to share with us her picks of where to go and what to see while visiting her city as well as what this burgeoning metropolis is all about. For more information on Stephanie and to view some of her works, check out her website: www.stephaniewooster.net
Most stores, coffee houses, and restaurants are closed on Sundays unless there is a festival. What’s open on Sunday are cultural centers like the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the Grand Rapids Public Museum, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA), the Grand Rapids Symphony, Opera Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Ballet Company, and the Grand Rapids Civic Theater. The city itself is quite small and the downtown is tiny in comparison to other cities. There’s not much by way of shopping in the downtown area but there are some nice local boutiques. There’s more shopping in Eastown (also known as East Grand Rapids) which is the trendiest area of the city where the young professionals and bohemians live (www.eastowngr.com). Eastown’s also where you’ll find unique architecture and great restaurants. Grand Rapids as a whole has a lot of restaurants and cafes and not enough shopping. Most people come into downtown when there is a concert or festival and that’s it, although more people are moving into the city thanks to the new condos being built in the city so the city center is looking less desolate. Still, don’t be surprised if the city looks empty with very few people walking around during the week and weekends.
Tell us what you are currently working on.
Right now I’m working on a new body of artwork based on the ideas of perception and illusions, that which is known and unknown, as a way to explore the deeper reaches of the human psyche. Romanticism and Surrealism inspire my work as well as science fiction and horror in literature, television and movies. My aim is to challenge the viewer to question what they think they know about art or the everyday. I’m working on a new body of work that will be a group of paintings that I hope to show in Grand Rapids as a solo show.
Are there any yearly Grand Rapids art events should put on our calendar?
ArtPrize is the latest and largest arts event in Grand Rapids. This fall will mark the second ArtPrize competition which lasts about 2.5 weeks from September 22 until October 10th and gives out over $500,000 in cash prizes for artwork voted on by the public. It is one of the largest art prizes in the world and brings in a whole range of artists from teenagers to famous artists from all over the world. Last year almost 2,000 artists were in the competition. The event was so popular that restaurants, fast food venues, and coffee shops ran out of food and drinks within the first few days. This year the competition is larger and even better so this is THE arts event to see if you’re planning a trip to Grand Rapids. People from all over the US, Europe and South America came last year and they were not disappointed (www.artprize.org).
The SMart Festival created by gallery director Zorra Carrier, PhD, of Open Concept Gallery is a week long event during the month of April presenting a cutting edge, multimedia arts festival spread througout the city (www.openconceptgallery.org).
During the spring and early summer, the best events to go to are the Summer Concert Series at Frederik Meijer Gardens, which is set in their outdoor auditorium in the sculpture park, lasts from May through August (www.meijergardens.org). Although the gardens are located outside the city proper, it’s one of the best art museums in the state and is not that far from the city. It’s well worth the drive.
The Grand Rapids Arts Festival is the heart of all art forms in Grand Rapids and great for families with children. The festival is always the weekend after Memorial Day Weekend starting on Friday, and provides live entertainment, a film competition, ethnic and American food, art-related activities for adults and children, local arts and crafts sales, and hosts the regional juried art exhibition. Admission to the festival is free and all performances and activities are free (www.festivalgr.org).
One of the most exciting arts event is the Avenue for the Arts Market located on South Division Street. This art market event occurs four times during the summer and brings in over 1,000 people to see what local artists are selling. There is live entertainment, food booths, and lots of arts and crafts. The Arts Market usually takes place on a Saturday afternoon. Check out their website for more information: www.avenueforthearts.com.For more information and a complete list of events, go to the GRNow website: www.grnow.com or www.downtowngr.org. Information on parking, maps and transportation can be found on these websites.
Who are some of your favorite local artists?
There are too many superb local artists to list but here are a select few: Brett Colley is an Associate Professor of Foundations at Grand Valley State University who specializes in printmaking. His work deals with current social-political issues. His most recent work addresses sustainability and the food we eat, and his exhibition at ArtPrize 2009 called “Meet Your Meat” dealt with farming practices and sustainability and introduced the public to a subject not known by many people in the area.
Mary Reusch is a landscape artist who creates beautiful, luminous landscapes in oils that have an otherworldly aura. Mary has a BFA from Aquinas College in East Grand Rapids and her work is shown throughout Michigan (www.maryreusch.com).
Chris Stoffel Overvoorde is a local celebrity who is a professor of art emeritus at Calvin College. His work has been shown throughout the US and abroad with exhibitions at the Grand Rapids Art Museum and a book on his work published in 2002 called Passing the Colors: Engaging Visual Culture in the 21st Century (http://www.calvin.edu/~over/). Chris’s work consists of landscape paintings that have an abstract feel to them that play with the shapes of clouds and the expanse of the sky and ground. He also works in wood cut using Christian symbols and has completed commissions for artwork in churches. His work is fresh, innovative and exquisitely executed.
Is there a “Grand Rapids style”? Or is there an arts community/scene vibe in the city?
Grand Rapids is a city in transition from a lethargic, rundown, early 20th-century town to a vibrant, rapidly expanding, bonafide 21st-century city thanks to the growing arts culture, Grand Valley State University, new condominiums, and medical facilities that are developing everywhere. With the new film studios being built and more movies being filmed in and around Grand Rapids, the most recent is Ben Stiller’s movie 30 Minutes or Less to be filmed this summer and fall, Grand Rapids is finally becoming a destination for its arts and architecture.
If I were to name a “Grand Rapids style” I would say that Grand Rapids is a stoic, sophisticated city with a lot of pride in its locals. There is a thriving arts community that’s quickly growing and adding to the unique culture of the city. With film festivals, the art festival, art galleries, ballet, symphony, local music bands and open artist studio events, there’s always something to see and do. The city boasts its own art institute Kendall College of Art and Design right in the downtown that’s a part of Ferris State University and local colleges such as Calvin College and Grand Rapids Community College have their own galleries in Grand Rapids showcasing student and faculty work. Galleries such as the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA), which is one of the largest non-profit arts center in the Midwest, bring in cutting edge art from all over the world and shows independant films. Open Concept Gallery is one of the newest non-profit contemporary art galleries whose mission is to cultivate a dialog between contemporary art and artists and the community with its exhibitions, lectures, and events. Last fall they brought in Dennis Oppenheim as part of his exhibition called Dennis Oppenheim and Public Space to give presentations, meet with students and complete a commission for the city, a sculpture that’s located by the main bus terminal.
New housing developments in Grand Rapids devoted to artists and musicians bring in artists into the city proper and these artists celebrate by having open studios events for the public to see and hear their work. Most of these artist apartments are located on Division Avenue known as Avenue for the Arts that not only has apartments but also galleries and hosts the Arts Market I mentioned earlier. The latest venture of local artists is revitalizing unused buildings by curating large-scale exhibitions with funding by local companies who see value in the arts. With so many vacant buildings there is unlimited possibilities for artists. Paul Amenta, an adjunct professor at Kendall College of Art and Design, is the curator of these exhibitions. His latest exhibition project was the old public museum building. The exhibition, called Michigan–Land of Riches Re-examining the Old Grand Rapids Public Museum, included professors and students from local colleges and universities and the University of Michigan across the state who utilized the display cabinets and left over exhibits that were abandoned after the new museum was built in 1994 as primal ground for creating art. The exhibition brought in hordes of people to its opening and the educational public programming surrounding the exhibition(www.michiganlandofriches.org/about/). These sorts of collaborative, large-scale exhibitions add a unique flavor to the city and a fun experience for any tourists passing through.
What is your favorite place to see art and where should we go to eat around there?
My favorite places to see are are the Urban Institute for Contemporary of Arts where I serve on the Visual Arts Committee, the Grand Rapids Public Museum, the Calvin College 106 Gallery, and Frederik Meijer Gardens. You’ll see some of the best quality artworks in these venues and others that I haven’t gotten around to yet. You can access the gallery guide through this website: www.grga.org. I don’t eat out much in Grand Rapids, or in general, but a few places I’ve been to more recently are the Sundance Grill, which is an inexpensive grill and bar with a Southwest flair on 40 Pearl Street NW, and Restaurant Bloom that’s an upper-scale dining experience with artfully presented tasty food for reasonable prices on 40 Monroe Center Street NW (www.bloomgr.com). Charley’s Crab is a fantastic, upper-scale fish restaurant on the Grand River that’s one of my favorite places to eat on 63 Market Avenue SW(www.muer.com). My favorite Irish restaurant is Flanagan’s on 139 Pearl Street NW if I’m in the mood for hearty food.
What’s your perfect day out in Grand Rapids?
I enjoy a quiet day at the Grand Rapids Art Museum especially when they have a film showing in their theater or a new exhibition then walking around downtown peaking in stores especially Schuler Books Downtown on 40 Fountain Street NW. They have a little cafe in the book store where I like to munch on something while I read.
Any other musts to see and do in Grand Rapids?
A few great place to see are the Grand Rapids Public Museum and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. The Grand Rapids Public Museum overlooks the Grand River and has displays on Grand Rapids history and special exhibitions. It also has a planetarium that’s fun to see (www.grmuseum.org). The Gerald R. Ford was a Grand Rapids resident so the museum is a special place for the city (www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov). The area called Heritage Hill is a historical neighborhood with spectacular architecture and is worth a drive through. You can purchase tickets for the Heritage Hill Garden Tour to see the architecture first-hand (www.heritagehillweb.org). There are also some historical homes that are open for people to view. It’s well worth it since the homes are so beautiful and unique.
Besides Grand Rapids of course, what is your favorite city to travel to for art and why?
New York City, Chicago and St. Petersburg, Russia are my favorite places to travel to see great art. I went to graduate school at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn so I spent a lot of time in the galleries and art museums in Brooklyn and Manhattan. You can’t do any better than one of the biggest cultural centers of the US than NYC. Their galleries and museums are world class and diverse so there’s something for everyone and every mood. I love the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art. I haven’t been on the gallery circuit yet, but that’s next on my list the next time to I visit Chicago. What’s great about Chicago is it’s Midwest flair. It’s a down-to-earth city that values their local artists who are some of the best in the U.S. Russia is one of my favorite countries and I’ve traveled and lived there. You can’t beat the Hermitage for art and culture. No where else will you see an entire room of Picasso paintings and sculptures as part of a permanent collection, but then the Russians were one for the first to collect early 20th-century avant garde art. The Russian Museum is where the best of Russian art dating from the Middle Ages to the 20th century is located. This was the first art museum in Russian established in 1895. I also enjoy visiting the Russian Academy of Arts (established in 1757) that’s along the Neva River. I’ve met students and faculty there who are magnificent artists. The school has a permanent collection, exhibitions, and gift store. The galleries in St. Petersburg are quite diverse and fun to see as well as the artist markets where you can haggle with artists for their artwork. The architecture of the city is breathtaking and seeps with history.
Urban Institute for Contemporary of Arts
41 Sheldon Boulevard Southeast, Grand Rapids, MI – (616) 454-7000
Grand Rapids Public Museum
272 Pearl Street Northwest, Grand Rapids, MI – (616) 456-3977
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum
303 Pearl Street Northwest, Grand Rapids, MI – (616) 254-0400
Schuler Books Downtown
40 Fountain St NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan – (616) 459-7750
139 Pearl Street NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Frederik Meijer Gardens
1000 E Beltline Avenue Northeast, Grand Rapids, MI – (616) 957-1580
Visit GrandRapids.org to find hotel packages and to help plan your visit!