Monroe Community Church on Monroe Ave NW just north of downtown Grand Rapids is one of five finalists for the Art Prize "Outstanding Venue" award. Juror Larry Ossei-Mensah selected the finalists from among 170 venues participating in the annual arts competition, which draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city each year.
"As far as we can tell, we're only the second church ever to be recognized with this 'shortlist" designation," said Steve Fridsma, the church's Art Prize team leader.
The Christian Reformed congregation has hosted art work in each of Art Prize's nine-year existence.
Although the honor is primarily for curatorial presentation of the art work, Fridsma says it can be seen as an ensemble award involving both the artists and the venue.
Thirteen pieces of art in various categories and sizes are included in the Monroe Community display. The most prominent are a 12-foot high mural titled "Continuum of Decision" and a similarly-sized collaborative work involving Byron Center Middle School students. Called "Painting Under Paper Cuts," it was created with paint, foam, paper and found objects.
A SPIRITUALLY ARTISTIC ATMOSPHERE
One of the works, "Bloodline" by artist Holly Wilson, was named an Art Prize finalist in the 3-D category. "It depicts a single-file of delicately-carved stick figures which represent her actual Delaware Cherokee ancestors, marching along sections of a rough-sawn locust tree," noted Fridsma.
The curator said that the church – a converted warehouse – does not have a gallery, lobby or narthex in which to display its art pieces. "We have one large space that has a platform, seating area, tech booth and open kitchen/café.
Therefore, we worship surrounded by fine art."
Again this year Monroe Community is sponsoring "Meet the Artist" Sundays during the four weeks of Art Prize (through Oct. 8). The artist is interviewed previously to learn about their creative motivation. Then a sermon is crafted, music is selected and other acts of worship are shaped to fit the theme.
Not all the artistic creations are specifically religious, and that is not a requirement for the art the church considers.
"This year, two of the pieces refer to angels and four pieces reference different aspects of Biblical eschatology," said Fridsma, a local architect.
Some of the intriguingly-titled works: "The Next Supper," "Divine Perspective," "Rapture" and "She Was No Angel Despite the Wings."
"The way each piece of artwork references at least one other piece in our venue creates a web of meaning that enriches each piece," he offered. "Not all of those cross-references were planned. Some became noticeable only after the art work was installed in the space. A somewhat consistent theme emerged."
IN THE RUNNING
Fridsma believes the church's status on the venue shortlist – and its display of the 3-D finalist "Bloodline" - have increased visitors to see their exhibits. "We've expanded our hours to accommodate our additional guests," he said of the crowds which could total more than 7,500 by the competition's end.
Meanwhile, the competition voting continues, even as the first round is completed. The field is pared down to 40 for round two balloting which runs from Oct. 1 to Oct 5. Winners are announced October 6 in both the voting and juried categories. A total of $500,000 in prizes is up for grabs between the public results and the juror selections (for more information www.artprize.org).
The Outstanding Venue award is a juried-only category, but the winning venue receives a prize of $12,500. The other four finalists: Urban Institute for Contemporary Art, Fed Galleries (Kendall College of Art & Design), Cultura Collective on Rumsey St. and Western Michigan University-Grand Rapids.
Other Grand Rapids churches with Art Prize displays this year: Central Reformed, First (Park) Congregational, Fountain Street, Crossroads Bible, Cornerstone-Heritage Hill, and First United Methodist.