Widening the Sphere: KCAD and Goodwill Collaboration During ArtPrize Eight
This article originally appeared in the winter 2017 issue of Portfolio magazine. Read the complete issue here.
Since its inception in 2009, ArtPrize has welcomed anyone and everyone into the conversation about what art is and why it matters. And while that conversation evolves, one thing is certain: art is an undeniably powerful platform for dissecting and engaging critically with important contemporary issues.
If ArtPrize has taught us anything, it’s that these conversations are most productive when they transcend the walls of the gallery and enter the public sphere. So when Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University’s (KCAD’s) The Fed Galleries @ KCAD began planning an exhibition for ArtPrize Eight exploring the concept of sustainability, the college reached out to Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids (Goodwill), an organization that for the past 50 years has been working to transform lives and communities in pursuit of a more sustainable future.
KCAD Curator of Exhibitions Michele Bosak (left) and Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Jill Wallace (right) inside The Fed Galleries @ KCAD during ArtPrize Eight.
“What began as thinking about ways we could collaborate with Goodwill on an exhibition quickly evolved into a multifaceted strategy to invite ArtPrize viewers to be a part of a conversation about the opportunities for sustainable living that exist all around us,” says KCAD Curator of Exhibitions Michele Bosak. “From our common understanding of the importance of sustainability, we found that merging our strengths in curating, presenting, and talking about art with Goodwill’s strengths in community engagement really opened up a lot of possibilities.”
In addition to supporting KCAD, Goodwill saw the collaboration as an opportunity to raise awareness about its mission.
“Collaborating with KCAD for ArtPrize Eight was an amazing experience. Their exhibition and programming aligned with our efforts to have a positive impact on our environment through reusing, reducing, and recycling, as well as using revenue from our stores to provide free job training and placement services that help sustain the local workforce,” says Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Jill Wallace.
The centerpiece of the collaboration was the RE• exhibition inside The Fed Galleries @ KCAD. The exhibition united a group of 11 acclaimed local, national, and international artists who consider the timely issues of environmental and social responsibility within their work.
“We took care to seek out artists who promote positive social change, action, and accountability through immersive viewing experiences,” says Bosak. “We wanted visitors to our space to continue engaging with the questions that arose as they viewed the work long after ArtPrize was over.”
Goodwill responded to the exhibition’s theme by providing artists access to donated materials free of charge.
“The idea of Goodwill donations taking on a new life as artworks that speak to the issues of sustainability was very appealing to us,” says Wallace.
Many of the artists, including New York City-based artist Lina Puerta, reclaimed discarded materials to create pieces that grapple with human patterns of production and consumption. Puerta’s piece “Traces” transformed found materials into a layered depiction of the intersection of the human-made and natural worlds.
"Traces" by Lina Puerta. Puerta was a featured artist in KCAD's Artprize Eight exhibition RE• who won the inagural Sustainable Art Award created by KCAD with support from Cascade Engineering.
Similarly, South Carolina-based artist Daniel Bare’s vast installation “Cumulus” recast discarded materials as a fossilized monument to both humankind’s ability to produce such a wide-ranging array of objects in massive quantities and the carelessness with which objects are used and then disregarded.
Grand Rapids-based artist and KCAD alumnus Mark Rumsey (’08, MFA) took a constructive approach with his piece “Yardage,” an examination of the relationship between consumption and labor in the context of globalization. Rumsey and his team of volunteers collected Goodwill clothing donations that were unfit for sale and disassembled them into uniform pieces of raw fabric. They then sewed the pieces into new bolts of fabric inside The Fed Galleries @ KCAD over the course of ArtPrize.
The new fabric ended up in the hands of KCAD Fashion Studies students, who used it to produce new garments using a zero-waste design process in which all of the raw fabric was used.
(above): Artist and alumnus Mark Rumsey ('08, MFA) works on his piece "Yardage" inside The Fed Galleries @ KCAD. (below): Fashion Studies student Alyssa Natoci shows off the garment she created using repurposed fabric from Rumsey's piece to High Museum of Art Curator of Decorative Arts and Design Sarah Schleuning (left) and Director of the Iris van Herpen label Bradley Dunn Klerks (right).
“Mark’s piece was a great example of how the conversations raised in the exhibition were leaving our gallery and taking on a life of their own,” says Bosak. “These aspiring fashion designers will now be going out into the world with a whole new perspective on how important it is for designers to accept responsibility for the things they produce on a number of different levels.”
Other artists in RE•, such as Colombian artist Juan Obando, grappled more conceptually with themes of social responsibility. Obando’s video piece “Museum Mixtape: Dirty South Edition” featured up-and-coming rappers giving improvised performances, disguised as guided tours, that critiqued museums and other art institutions, reflecting on the current disconnect between cultural institutions and contemporary audiences.
“Juan’s piece was extremely relevant, because it posed the question, ‘Do cultural institutions have a responsibility to engage as large and diverse an audience as they possibly can?’ Here at KCAD we believe that they do,” says Bosak. “That’s why our partnership with Goodwill was so important.”
RE• captured the attention of juror Steve Dietz, who named The Fed Galleries @ KCAD a finalist for the Outstanding Venue award for the fourth straight year. Dietz, founder of NorthernLights.mn in Minneapolis, was struck by the exhibition’s cohesive and compelling narrative.
“Exhibitions can be many things: random collections, a visual lecture, an intellectual path to wander. What impressed me about RE• is the way curator Michele Bosak selected a range of artists and projects that became a multifaceted exploration of a core idea — consumption — in multiple media from many different perspectives,” says Dietz. “It was instructive without being didactic and enjoyably surprising without being obscure. No mean feat.”
"PlantBot" by artists Wendy DesChene and Jeff Schmuki, featured in RE•.
For Dietz, Goodwill’s involvement only strengthened the exhibition’s ability to engage viewers on multiple, deeper levels.
“Much of the best art gives us a renewed appreciation for the everyday. I don’t think I’ll ever look at Goodwill the same way again after RE•,” he says.
Partnering with Goodwill allowed KCAD to create multiple entry points into the exhibition’s thematic framework. Outside The Fed Galleries @ KCAD, ArtPrize visitors had the opportunity to explore a pop-up retail space featuring handmade goods created by KCAD students using reclaimed materials from Goodwill stores. Students turned everything from old records to discarded flooring tiles into one-of-a-kind artwork, clothing, jewelry, furniture, and more.
KCAD students transformed Goodwill donations into repurposed goods and sold them during ArtPrize Eight.
“The pop-up shop was a key component of our partnership because it gave people another way to confront the way we produce and consume,” says Bosak. “The students really showcased the tremendous versatility and value of reclaimed materials, opening up interesting dialogues on how we can rethink the way we source, use, and disassemble materials in a more sustainable way.”
As for the potential for future collaborations outside the creative community, ArtPrize feels that these kinds of partnerships align perfectly with the competition’s mission of expanding the conversation around what art is and why it matters.
“Goodwill was in the sustainability business decades before sustainability was top of mind. Their work in converting otherwise discarded objects into resources that they’re investing back into the communities — and the simplicity and effectiveness of their model — is an inspiration for ArtPrize and for any organization,” notes ArtPrize Executive Director Christian Gaines. “Their partnership with KCAD, which has been recognized for its sustainability work as well as art and design, is a natural extension of the efforts of both organizations.”