Monday, 21 October 2013 10:51

Grand Haven Nurtures Collaboration for Artists

Written by  Kerri VanderHoff
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Fire Barn Gallery
18 North 5th St., Grand Haven

The picturesque lakeside town of Grand Haven doesn't have an official art museum, but that may be what adds to the unique mix as an emerging area for fine art appreciation.

On one hand, it has encouraged the community to form broader conversations and partnerships with neighboring communities that do have art institutions, including the Grand Rapids Art Museum and the Muskegon Museum of Art. On the other hand, it has nurtured a local, collaborative spirit within its own community, infusing original works of art in everyday life via restaurants, retail shops and a gallery in a converted firehouse sponsored by the downtown development authority and local ArtWalk board.

And the collaborations don't stop at the Michigan border. One reason for the heightened fine art exposure in Grand Haven is due in part to a group of artists in the area, splitting their time between West Michigan and New York City. It's this convergence of connections across the community, region and country that make for an interesting combination.

Chris Protas moved to Grand Haven after 16 years in New York, co-founding the Fire Barn Gallery with fellow artist Tyler Loftis, who has roots in the area. Sensing the growing energy in the Midwest creative community, and its increasing relevance and refreshing perspective to the art world in general, Protas didn't think twice about this next step in his career.

"I don't mind my life taking a path like a painting does," said Protas, noting that he trusts the process of following intuition, and that Grand Haven presents multiple opportunities attractive to artists.

In addition to overseeing exhibitions at the gallery, he is also responsible for curating the walls of a number of restaurants in the area. And together with Michael Coleman, another member of the group, he has worked to connect local, national and international artists with events across West Michigan.

"The response to it all has been positive and helps build a familiarity with the general public in looking at and talking about contemporary works of art, and ultimately in finding meaning and value in it," Protas said.

For Tyler Loftis, who Protas credits as the nucleus of creative energy for the group, showing work in the region provides useful feedback that he says is different and more organic than in New York, where he spends much of his time living and working on his paintings.

"When you think about what art is, it's the oldest continuous language on the planet," Loftis said.

He said while studying art is fascinating, it shouldn't need outside interpretation to inherently understand it. Instead, he suggests just slowing down and spending some time looking at a painting.

"Great two-dimensional art, presented on a flat surface in front of you, can elicit a tactile, three-dimensional experience that you can pack a lot of sensation into," Loftis said. "So for here, showing that, and putting the formal things I've learned in the painting instead of out in front of the painting, if people react in that organic natural way, then I feel I've succeeded. It's pretty direct, a pretty simple, human thing."

Other Art Events

Tanglefoot Building Artists Studio Sale
Tanglefoot Building, 314 Straight Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
Nov. 22, 5-10 p.m. and Nov. 24, noon to 5 p.m.

The annual artists studio sale at the historic Tanglefoot Building returns this holiday season, celebrating its 22nd year with the open studio place-making event. This Westside collective of artists opens its door (Door "K") to the large warehouse, where guests may wander freely from studio to studio, enjoying sweet treats while perusing a diverse selection of art and other unique gift ideas.

Sleigh Bells & Holly: A Gallery of Fine Art and Gifts
Nov. 7-Dec. 21,10 a.m.-6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, (616) 897-8545

The annual LowellArts! Sleigh Bells & Holly: A Gallery of Fine Art and Gifts is a juried holiday market featuring some of the region's finest artisans. Gift items include pottery, paintings, photography, jewelry, textiles, glasswork, hats and handbags, scarves and gloves, woodwork, metalwork, handmade wreaths, basketry, ornaments and more.

Free Radical Gallery
Avenue for the Arts
Nov. 1-8, 6-10 p.m., (616) 855-0435

Free Radical Gallery is back for its 11th anniversary. On Nov. 1, explore the Avenue for the Arts, along South Division, as vacant storefront spaces are transformed into temporary galleries to feature an eclectic mix of local artists. On Nov. 8, visit the UICA at 2 West Fulton at the corner of South Division, for commentary, dialogue and critique of the participating artists' work during the Free Radical closing reception.

Pulso: Arte de las Americas/Art of the Americas
KCAD/UICA, Grand Rapids
Through Dec. 4, (616) 451-2787

Spanning between galleries at KCAD and the UICA, Pulso is rooted in an exploration of the ways in which regional boundaries affect the perception of art. While the artists involved all have ties to Latin America, this collaborative exhibition frees itself from the confines of such labels to challenge cultural preconceptions of contemporary art and strengthen the dialogue among artists, both locally and globally.


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