Thanks to a new grant program, four artists will take over shipping containers placed around downtown Grand Rapids, giving their work a chance to take center stage. Visitors can meet the street artists and see them transform the containers September 15 – 17 before ArtPrize officially kicks off September 20.

ArtPrize’s grant program helps fund artists, helping to bring a wide variety of art installations to Grand Rapids. This year, part of that grant money was used for a new street art mural program. Four artists were each given $1500 to create their work on shipping containers brought into “unexpected temporary venues, activating centrally located spaces.”

Why shipping containers?

“We wanted to give murals a center space,” says Katie Moore, Exhibitions Manager for ArtPrize. She notes that murals haven’t often been in centrally-located spaces. Thanks to shipping container rental companies, murals become logistically manageable projects to take on without the red tape of painting on buildings and working with private and city-owned properties. Not to mention, this is also logistically easier for the artists too – the relatively smaller size of a shipping container makes it possible to create the work in just four to five days. But convenience is not the only reason to draw attention to street art.

Street art mural by Detroit artist Sheefy McFly
Previous work by Sheefy McFly. Photo courtesy of ArtPrize

“Street art is not as common in Grand Rapids,” says Moore, despite the local increase recently with the "Exit Space" mural project at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts and the work of local artists like George Eberhardt and Nick Nortier. “It’s not like Detroit who has The Belt and the Inner State Gallery or other programs that bring in a lot of artists… I’ve always looked up to those programs, so to be able to do something on a smaller scale here for ArtPrize is really fun.”

This new program – inspired by mural projects in larger cities – includes four artists coming from Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Detroit who will share their art with Grand Rapids.

Detroit artist, Tashif “Sheefy McFly” Turner, says various forms of street art, murals, and graffiti are a “powerful and undeniable force in public art. It brings life, culture, worth, and in some cases a legendary presence to different cities and neighborhoods.”

Turner also explains his own mural, “Surreality,” is intended to evoke multiple emotions, “illustrating a yin and yang aspect through warm and cool colors plus my unique pattern placement.” You can find his work on Calder Plaza.

Street art mural by Atlanta artist Tanner Wilson
Previous work by Tanner Wilson. Photo courtesy of ArtPrize

Atlanta artist, Tanner Wilson, draws inspiration from traditional Korean art to create “Dancing Tigers.” The X-Rite Pantone-sponsored entry shows a colorful contrast of two tiger figures painted on opposite walls of the shipping container on the Blue Bridge.

“The tiger is a common trend not only in mythology but in folklore as well. In many cultures, but especially in Korea, the tiger is regarded as a guardian that drives away bad spirits. There is a struggle within the tiger due to it constantly being hunted and regarded as a beast – he has been through a huge amount of trials and tribulations,” explains Wilson. “With this piece, I want to instill a sense of courage and strength within anybody who views this shipping container mural.”

Street art mural by Los Angeles artist Tyke Witness AWR
Previous work by Tyke Witnes AWR. Photo courtesy of ArtPrize

Burt Nguyen, aka Tyke Witnes AWR, coming from the Los Angeles area, notes that the grooved, rippled metal surface of the shipping containers is not the ideal surface to paint on. However, he is undeterred and will create his shipping container mural at the corner of Fulton Street and Ottawa Avenue, right in front of Van Andel Arena.

“Art and life are about inevitable deviations from our plans or ideas, so adaptation is the only solution to progression and reality,” he says.

His work, “Relative Realities,” will feature his trademark style influenced by comic books, graffiti, and pop surrealism, and it will focus on presenting two different sides to one reality. Reality, he says, is also changing in our modern world.

Making a Mark in Grand Rapids

“Over the last 50 years, commercial advertisements have taken over most of our visual real estate and we have no choice but to see and process it in some sort or fashion,“ he says, noting the importance of recognizing the skill and importance of artists in a digital-influenced world. “Street art, graffiti, and public art seem to be taking back that vital visual real estate and public art-viewing avenues seem to be opening up and reconnecting people with art on a human level, rather than a digital, corporate, or commercial level.”

Art mural by Chicago artist CJ Hungerman
Previous work by CJ Hungerman. Photo courtesy of ArtPrize

The only shipping container that will remain in place will be taken over by Chicago-based artist CJ Hungerman, who will apply his style of patterned, kinetic color to his piece “Universal Translator” in the ArtPrize venue, North Monroe Park at 525 Monroe Aveune, NW. The shipping container was purchased by the City of Grand Rapids for storage in the park after the event is over. Organizers hope more permanent locations or private purchases will be possible in future years, but for now, only one of these creative works will be available to view after ArtPrize ends.

“Creating is one of the main aspects that make us human beings,” explains Wilson. “Since the dawn of [humanity], we have been writing our names on walls, telling our stories, writing our history… Graffiti isn’t a culture that just goes to bed when the city lights turn on. Hate it or love it, people will always be leaving their mark somewhere.”

You can see these artists making their mark in person over the weekend of Preview Week, with artists working on their murals on September 15 - 17. That weekend has always been a great time to wander around downtown, meet artists, and see them creating or installing their work. With the new grant program from ArtPrize, we can now add the chance to meet street artists to our ArtPrize adventures.

For more information about the ninth annual ArtPrize, including details on the ArtPrize Shuttle, which is available for guests staying in suburban hotels, visit the Experience Grand Rapids ArtPrize page.

Header image is of a previous work by Sheefy McFly. Photo courtesy of ArtPrize