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Tuesday, 23 September 2014 15:49

Muskegon Lake Project: Art & Environment

Written by  Kerri VanderHoff
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Muskegon Lake Project Exhibition
Muskegon Center for the Arts/Red Lotus Gallery
356 W. Western Ave., Muskegon
Oct. 9-31
Opening night reception
Oct. 9, 5:30-8:30 p.m.

Artists often take inspiration from their environment. Georgia O’Keeffe moved to New Mexico for the light and landscape. Andy Warhol thrived on the constant buzz of New York’s social scene. Many a muse was found at the ballet for Edgar Degas.

With the Muskegon Lake Project at the Muskegon Center for the Arts (MCA), there’s no question the environment directly and physically inspires the art created for this exhibition. Artists are provided boxes of debris, items collected during the annual spring Muskegon Shoreline Cleanup, to be incorporated into their works of art.

Ruth Bolles, an MCA board member, first organized the exhibition in 2013 after a visit to the East Coast post-Hurricane Sandy. A project she saw there, “Peace by Piece,” included artists from around the country who transformed debris from the storm into art. It was a collective effort to move past destruction and into beauty and hope for the next chapter.

A Muskegon native, Bolles thought there might be a similar opportunity in her hometown, where post-industrial environmental concerns with water quality produced a lasting legacy. Significant improvements have been made over the years and the area is breathtaking in natural beauty, but the healing continues, especially in the public psyche.

The Muskegon Lake Project brings awareness … of the Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership (MLWP) and the group’s efforts to restore the shoreline and surrounding tributaries— and introduces the public to the diverse talent of our local artists,” she said.

The exhibition was so successful it is now an annual event, with many of the artists also signing up to volunteer for the spring cleanup as well. All of the art will be for sale during the exhibition and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the MLWP to assist in its continuing efforts to rehabilitate the areas around Muskegon Lake.

The inspiration for those participating in the Muskegon Lake Project doesn’t just come from the physical objects collected from the shoreline, however. According to artist Catherine Swiatek, the inspiring environment of Muskegon includes so much more.

There is something spiritual about being near Lake Michigan and something really special about the people of Muskegon,” she said. “They are honest, true, hard-working, friendly, scrappy, diverse and they have the best volunteer population anywhere … I love that about it here.”

Swiatek serves on the boards of both the MCA and the MLWP, so the project connects two of her great passions. She encourages visitors to seek out the Red Lotus Gallery in the Century Block Building, part of a revitalized downtown district where the MCA and the Muskegon Lake Project exhibition are located, for an idea of what she means.

We are very proud of our history and our heritage, but also very proud of who we are when we make positive things happen together … the creativity is just the bonus part of it. I love being in Muskegon not only because of the beautiful surroundings but also because I am proud to be among such amazingly talented, creative and caring people.”



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