Banding together as the Cultura Collective, a group of Grand Rapids artists have temporarily taken over a warehouse in the heart of the vibrant Roosevelt Park neighborhood at 912 Grandville Avenue. This site is being used to explore themes of race, cultural identity and personal experience as the exhibition This Space Is Not Abandoned. In Grand Rapids, spaces driven by and for people of color are often approached with layers of assumption, social fear, and stereotypes that place people into a box that is frequently held up as “ethnic” or “exotic.” This Space Is Not Abandoned seeks to overcome these assumptions through the vehicles of expansive murals, paintings, photographs, multi-media installation, fashion, dance, and theater. Community members will own the space, create freely, and hold up one another’s cultures, identities, and visions, inviting viewers to learn more about artists who live and work locally; who they are as creators and as people.
A mural created by the Cook Arts Center Teen Leaders and the Hispanic Center of West Michigan SOL Peer Leaders covers the north wall of the building where visitors enter. Piper Adonya’s Queens will be on display with Eve, the final part of her mixed media portrait series. Andre Daley’s recorded conversations about racial equity in Grand Rapids allow visitors to listen to their neighbors’ perspectives and then record their own part of the conversation. George Eberhardt and David Frison will unveil new murals that transform the interior of the warehouse. Noemi Gonzalez will show a series of photographs that explore how people and objects carry history and identity with them. Ricardo Gonzalez promotes the space with bold statements of neighborhood pride and culture in the recognizable format of supermercado signs. Nancy Quero uses modern Mexican fashion to display 16 different dresses from her Oaxaca y sus Regiones series. Colby Roanhorse plays with draped drawings on long rolls of paper, while viewers hear different voices reciting a fable from his childhood. Alejandro Ruiz also recalls memories from his childhood translated through painted symbols on concrete. Abstract and colorful digital drawings by Javier Torres will be on display on the exterior of the building, inviting people into the space. Briana Urena-Ravelo invites viewers even further into a shared sacred space with a Dominican altar she has created. In addition to these visual and audio elements, there will be performances by local hip-hop group The Great Ones, dancers from No Limit Dance coordinated by Yesenia Gomez, and Ebony Road Players’ recent production of A Simple Question, produced by Edye Hyde.
During a time when the entire city is in competition, undergoing cultural upheaval in its attempt for relevance to the contemporary art world, the work of the Cultura Collective is an ambitious symbol of local solidarity, rather than a token of diversity. Throughout the past decade support has emerged for creative placemaking, which encourages leaders to use art in community planning and development projects, intending to revitalize abandoned spaces, stimulate local economies, and improve public safety. This exhibit welcomes viewers to think critically about what it really means to “make a place,” and for whom these places are being made. What impact does art have on the different communities in a segregated city, and how can it be kept accessible for all art-makers and viewers throughout the year? Is there a real commitment to identifying and reinforcing the identity of an existing community when revitalizing spaces that are not abandoned?