ArtPrize 2014: Art Tour Kicks Off Class in Style for Special Needs Students

Julie Bitely

| 3 min read

ArtPrize prides itself on being radically open to both artists and art appreciators, ideals that were confirmed on opening day by a group of local students.
An art tour and scavenger hunt of the world’s largest art competition was the perfect way to spend the first day of art class for students enrolled in an Arts and Mentoring Program. The Grand Rapids chapter of Artists Creating Together (ACT), which has a mission to empower with people with disabilities through art and cultural experiences, hosts the class.
Two groups of special needs students from the Kent Vocational Options Transitional Program kicked off their semester by fully surrounding themselves in all ArtPrize has to offer. The program helps students make the successful transition from high school to adult life.
Becky Baker, ACT Program Coordinator, started the day by handing out special wristbands to students that will allow them to ride The Rapid for free for the remainder of ArtPrize. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is a sponsor of the wristband program, along with the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.
Baker said kicking off the class with a walk through prominent venues such as the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, Kendall College of Art and Design, and the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum made perfect sense.
“(ArtPrize) does open up your mind to what art can be,” she said. “It expands their definition of art and helps them be inspired by the possibilities.”
A three-dimensional entry titled The Pond, featured wood sculptures of raindrops, ripples, and splashes forming a pond during a rainstorm. Part of the piece allowed visitors to feel the sculpture as a way for the visually impaired to enjoy the art. Student Allie Noonan said she enjoyed the chance to touch the artwork because she tends to learn by using her hands.
“I can really understand what it’s saying,” Noonan said. “The water is hitting the pond. It’s really soothing.”
Artist Heather Harris explaining her work to students.
Artist Heather Harris explaining her work to students.
Austin, Texas artist Heather Harris took time to explain her entry We Are All Connected to students. The three-dimensional sculpture will incorporate photos of ArtPrize visitors, morphing and changing as the competition continues. She answered questions about the various techniques used to create her piece, including welding, photography, and painting and how she was able to transport everything in pieces in her van.
Students were impressed by former ACT student Debra Dieppa’s entry titled We Do Art So We Don’t Die. Many took time to decorate a “fundred” dollar bill as part of the exhibit Operation PayDirt, which is part of a larger campaign to bring awareness to and eradicate childhood lead poisoning.
When asked what they enjoyed about the process of making art, students’ responses varied.
Student Kegan Dewey making his "fundred" dollar bill.
Student Kegan Dewey making his “fundred” dollar bill.
“It’s just fun to do,” said Kegan Dewey.
“I would say it’s really relaxing and it’s calm. You don’t have to rush and you can take as much time as you need,” said Laurel. (We’re not publishing her last name due to privacy concerns.)
ArtPrize continues through October 12. Over 1,500 entries are showing at 174 venues across three square miles of downtown Grand Rapids. Round 1 voting closes at 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, October 4.

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