No Canvas: Off The Wall brings something new to the gallery

For one night only, the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts is taking art “off the wall and into the space.”

This year, Off The Wall replaces Live Coverage, the annual fundraising event of the last 19 years. Artists would create art live and then the new piece would be auctioned off that night.

“While that event has been a ton of fun and very successful, we felt that it left out some artists because it didn’t allow for performances,” said Kristen Taylor, development officer for the UICA.

At Off The Wall guests can enjoy a cash bar with craft beer and wine and “small bites” from San Chez Bistro and Cakabakery, all while taking in eight varied performances.

This includes an opera performance by Grace VanHoven, a 10-minute play from Actors’ Theatre Grand Rapids and performance art by Zachary Trebellas. Brianne Ross brings her spoken-word poetry to the event, alongside improv comedy from Plant Parenthood and sketch comedy from Funny Girls. Dance in the Annex is collaborating with Fiona Dickinson, a British singer and multi-instrumentalist, and you’ll also hear Les Creatif, a jazz/rock/hip-hop fusion collective led by two-time WYCE Jammie-winning saxophonist Dante Cope.

Taylor said the UICA’s first goal here is to provide “a new and exciting experience for our guests.”

“We will be presenting groups who you normally just see one of in a typical night out, and you would see them in a more traditional performance space,” she said.

As one of the performers, Zachary Trebellas will present a unique “light-hearted presentation” about “how to look at art.”

“We’ll be going around the galleries and looking at art and I’m going to talk about how you do that, because I feel like that’s not always commonly known or taught, like what are we actually doing in front of these pieces,” Trebellas said. “It’s usually a two-hour thing. For the UICA, I’m doing a 45-minute express version of that.”

Trebellas said the mission of his business, VisEd, is to “bring more understanding of how to look at art” and help people “experience” the art.

After graduating as an art history major from Columbia College in Chicago, Trebellas moved to Grand Rapids for the comparatively small-town feel and arts community.

“I like that the art community is very collaborative,” Trebellas said. “It’s collaborative over competitive. People are ready to work together.”

The Off The Wall showcase will take place in all galleries and on all four floors.

The second goal of the night is to raise “much-needed funds.” The bulk of the UICA’s funding comes through fundraising, and the gaps are filled by financial support from Kendall College of Art and Design and Ferris State University.

In 1977, the UICA was founded as a grassroots artist-driven organization, which Taylor said the community embraced right away. What’s unique about the UICA is that it’s a “non-collecting” institution, which means it doesn’t have a permanent collection.

“We’re presenting art of today, that reflects our contemporary lives,” Taylor said.

This accounts for 10-12 exhibitions per year by local, regional, national and international artists. In addition, the UICA hosts various performances, adult education programming and a movie theater that shows 15 screenings a week (independent movies, international films and documentaries) and a quarterly film festival.

“We show everything from local artists’ work in solo exhibitions to large themed exhibitions that are coming from another institution,” Taylor said.

In 2011, the UICA relocated to its fifth home in more than 40 years at the custom-designed and built facility at the corner of Fulton and Division. For the 40th anniversary last year, Taylor said the UICA management decided that instead of looking back, they would look to the future on what they can improve as an institution and as an art community.

“(We) resolved to focus on artist equity and audience equity, particularly as it related to the black or African-American community," Taylor said. "So, last year saw a big focus on black and African-American artists and other artists of color, as well as intentional effort to involve and engage audiences of color.”

“We have resolved to focus the next two years of programming using the lens of equity in fairly broad terms, so paying attention to artist and audience equity as it relates to race and ethnicity, as well as socioeconomic status, sexuality, etc.”

In the meantime, Off The Wall will act as a jumping off point for that focus.

“We really hope to fill the building with guests and we’re excited to have a really fun and revelatory event,” Taylor said.

Off The Wall
2 W. Fulton St., Grand Rapids
May 15, 6-9 p.m.
$35 members, $50 non-members, (616) 454-7000