If it weren’t for ArtPrize, Jeffrey Songco wouldn’t live here. Born and raised in New Jersey, Songco then lived in California for seven years before coming to Grand Rapids, a city he fell in love with after competing in the annual art competition. Songco first participated in ArtPrize 2011, and then 2012, 2015 and 2016. He also has a background in dance and musical theater, built up while attending Carnegie Mellon and the San Francisco Art Institute. Recently, Songco performed for the first time in years in A Chorus Line at Circle Theatre and has been selected as one of the ArtPrize Seed Grants recipients for 2017.
His artwork is a mix of different types of media, from photography and sculpture to time-based media. Last year’s piece was fully interactive, inviting viewers to do the macarena and take selfies in the UICA. His piece in 2015 was accidentally “vandalized,” with thousands of Mardi Gras beads being removed from the installation by viewers (oops). Songco just laughed it off at the time, and many of the beads were returned later once the news got out. We talked with Songco about his approach to art and what he loves about Grand Rapids.
What have you done recently that you’re proud of?
I had a show at the Richard App Gallery. I created several small-scale works and they were three-dimensional. I was really proud that I could make smaller works as well. I normally work with installation art and time-based media, so making smaller art works that could hang on a wall or be on a shelf was really great. It was a suite of work that was very new to me, because I had just moved to Grand Rapids in November and had a lot going on in my life, and was figuring out who I was. And my work is all about identity, my personal identity. To make a body of work that communicates a story about myself and this new chapter of my life in Grand Rapids was really satisfying and really fulfilling.
What would you like a viewer to come away with from your art?
A lot of laughs. I really like making a viewer laugh. I hope they walk away with a story about me as an artist, as well as some kind of reflection on their own identity. I think viewers often come to art searching for a meaning about themselves, so I hope I have some interesting stories that they can relate to.
What are you working on right now?
I’m in the middle of planning and creating my work for ArtPrize — it’s a large-scale installation. It’s diving into the history of the Society of 23, which is a secret brotherhood that I created in 2008. Back in 2011 for my first ArtPrize, I exhibited the ritual robe of the brotherhood. This year, I’m coming back with the robe and I’m going to be making a large installation that talks about the history of that robe that the brothers wear during their ritual meeting.
Having moved here, do you feel like Grand Rapids is a good place for artists?
I think it’s a great place for artists. There are galleries and exhibition opportunities and the community is small enough that everyone knows each other and shares opportunities with artist. There are areas that are always looking for more input, like Avenue For The Arts. I’m always happy to meet artists and talk about ways to come together. Right now, I’m living a fantasy life. I’m having a really great time. I don’t think it can improve. I think it’s doing really well and I’m excited to see what artists bring to the opportunities that are already given to us.
What advice would you give a young artist?
I think the most important thing is to just create as much as possible. There’s a difference between having an idea in your head and getting that idea out and sharing it with others. I think Grand Rapids has been really receptive to the work that I make, so I’m really grateful for the boost of confidence that the city has given me. I used to make a lot of artwork that sort of pleased an audience. I was excited to make that work, but now I’m excited to make work that is a little bit more complicated.