Mid-sized cities, such as Grand Rapids, are garnering the interest of important artists to make room for new “art playgrounds” throughout the nation. 

Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle Ice FishingFact: In March 2018, Art Newspaper listed Grand Rapids as one of the most cultured cities in America. 
Photo credit: Experience Grand Rapids of Alexis Rockman's Great Lake Cycle exhibition

How does a mid-sized city attract international artists?

The answer is: it starts with relationships. Sometimes, it’s a relationship that’s been in place for decades that leads to unique opportunities.

“We first met in the 1980s when I was working at a museum in Boston,” says Dana Friis-Hansen, director of the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM), of his long-standing collaboration with Alexis Rockman. “I showed his work when I was working in Japan, and again when in Texas. In preparation for the current show, we travelled together to museums and Great Lakes cities in eight states and Canadian provinces.”

The Great Lakes Cycle exhibition by Rockman will travel to five other cities after its unveiling in Grand Rapids.

Take advantage of unique opportunities

The art community has forged unique opportunities to transform spaces into art experiences.

Take SiTE:LAB, gaining notoriety around the country for its use of vacant urban spaces for temporary site-specific art installations and projects.

“It’s through that work that I’m connecting with folks outside the region in an effort to essentially bring in work that can elevate the dialog around contemporary art,” says Paul Amenta, SiTE:LAB Co-Founder.

Amenta began forging relationships during his eight years as a working artist in New York City from 1998–2006.

“Bringing in nationally and internationally known artists is crucial to elevate the expectations of what the local art community and audience expects of themselves,” said Amenta.

Red Dirt Rug Monument by Rena DetrixheRed Dirt Rug Monument by Rena Detrixhe (pictured above) won the time-based public vote and the time-based juried vote in ArtPrize Nine.
Photo credit: Experience Grand Rapids


The world’s largest art contest, ArtPrize, descends upon Grand Rapids every fall.

Kevin Buist, Exhibitions Director for ArtPrize, attends art events throughout the country to attract new artists, curators, jurors, speakers, and others to the annual event.

“We’re inviting the world here,” says Buist. “Being plugged into a larger exchange of what’s happening—that’s really important to us… [we’re working to help] Grand Rapids become a point of exchange, a place where people can do interesting projects, a place where people can start from, or end up… there’s something about that connectedness that is really important.”

Galileo's Wedge by Beverly Pepper photo by William J. Hebert courtesy of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture ParkThe relationship between artist Beverly Pepper (whose work, Galileo's Wedge, is shown above) and Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park led to Pepper gifting the sculpture park her print and drawing archives.
Photo credit: William J. Hebert, courtesy of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

Engaging with the world

“One of the things that I learned from working with Fred Meijer is that if you want to be world-class, you need to engage with the world,” says Joe Becherer, Chief Curator and Vice President at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.

For those who don’t know, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is not just a collecting institution, such as a museum. It’s also a garden that includes indoor and outdoor wildlife areas that create unique opportunities for artists.

“When we started out 27 years ago, we kept that in mind. We had the prairie areas, the natural grasses, the native trees…” and as the collection developed, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park knew they wanted more.

Since then, they’ve created a special opportunity for artists that rivals any art exhibition.

Us Is Them Exhibition at UICAOne of UICA's most noteworthy collections, US IS THEM by Pizzuti Collection (pictured above), confronted racism, politics, and religion. 
Photo credit: Holly Bechiri

Benefit to the community

The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA), recognizes that not only are these great opportunities for artists, but for the community as well.

“International artists can open windows related to new ways of thinking, about our shared human experience,” says Miranda Krajniak, executive director of UICA. “And about our individual and collective place within our world.”

Thanks to Grand Rapids’ internationally acclaimed art exhibitions, the local art-scene is providing the community and tourists with new perspectives, and an increased value for quality artwork.

Check out Experience Grand Rapids' visual and performing arts page for more information on the abundant art opportunities in Grand Rapids.