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Poetry and protest at Grand Rapids ArtPrize

By James P. Quick
On October 6, 2017

The caliber of art at Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize never fails to amaze MCCC students and faculty.

ArtPrize is a citywide function held in over 160 venues – including museums, hotels, comic shops, even the police station – all displaying various varieties of art. These run the gamut from paintings to sculpture and video, even short poems.

The event has been a fixture in the city since 2008 and was again attended by the students of Intro to Humanities. Two buses were filled, presided over by chaperones Kellie Lajiness, Michelle Toll, and Laura Menard.

“It was my first time visiting ArtPrize,” said Lajiness. “So it was very interesting. I had looked it up online a little bit and talked with some colleagues and they got me excited about going.”

“It was amazing,” said Toll. “So much unexpected art and things I never could have imagined.”

In previous years, the trip was always run by William McCloskey and Cheryl Johnston, who have since retired. 2016 was especially notable, as students experienced a surprise encounter with then-candidate Donald Trump.

Many, including Toll, felt that the highlight of this year’s ArtPrize was artist Chris Vitiello’s “The Language is Asleep” exhibit.

Sat upon an overturned armchair atop piles and piles of torn dictionary pages covered in poems, Vitiello encouraged visitors to rip out pages and write their own poems on them.

“I really, really loved that,” said dual-enrollment student Jeanne Sales. “It was just so interesting to see what other people had to write. I loved how it was written on other words and that we were allowed to add to it ourselves. I could have stayed in there the whole entire time just reading all of the work.”

Alternatively, they could ask Vitiello to construct a short poem for them based on a single word.

Another popular piece was an oil painting submerged in the Grand River. Depicting a classic Native American scene, it was a piece made in protest of the environmentally-damaging DAPL pipeline. The core message being “oil and water don’t mix” in reference to the line already leaking oil into drinking water in its vicinity.

“It was very cool to see because the water would just go over top of it,” said Menard. “The guy who did it, I think, spent some time at the Dakota Pipeline. It was his way of saying 'oil and water don't mix, we need to keep our water fresh.'“

Student Evan Bonello identified the piece as his favorite from the trip.

Faculty and students expressed satisfaction with the trip, which left at 8 A.M. from the C-Building parking lot.

“I would love to come back next year,” said Menard, echoing the sentiments of many others.

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