You might have noticed some familiar faces floating around Grand Rapids this summer.
Back in March, The Rad Women Art Initiative took over electrical boxes across the city, launching in celebration of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month.
Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. contracted with Lions & Rabbits art gallery-boutique on the project. Twenty-seven local female-identifying artists worked over the course of three weeks to paint portraits of important women from history on electrical boxes throughout Downtown Grand Rapids.
DGRI not only worked with local artists, but also teamed up with numerous rad women-owned businesses, as well as Kate Schatz, who wrote the book Rad American Women A-Z that inspired the public art piece.
Revue sat down with project lead for the Rad Women Art Initiative, Kimberly Van Driel, to chat more about all the work, collaboration and passion that went into the project.
How were the artists chosen?
We put out a casting call about the project and laid out the guidelines of what we were looking for and then anyone could put in a proposal, which just required them to do a rough sketch and submit their three top rad women from the book. We had tons of applications submitted. We weren’t able to pick every single artist that submitted, but we made sure that we chose artists that had something significant tied to their top three choices and picked them that way.
What was the painting process like for the artists?
Beforehand, our team went and primed and painted all the background colors so the artists just had to focus on their portrait. After they were complete with the portrait, we went back and added final details. We gave them a three-week timeline of when they could go, so everyone was on their own schedule. It was great because it created so much buzz when people were sitting there painting these mechanical boxes. There were so many people that would come up to the artists asking for information.
Was there a specific reason for doing the project downtown and on electrical boxes?
It’s part of a place-making initiative. We’re always focused on walkability and public art, but we thought that this is a great way to make sure that it’s accessible for everyone. When you’re looking at the boxes, the mural itself is focused in toward the sidewalk for people that are walking and using the streets, as opposed to cars and them facing the street. That was super intentional. We worked with the city of Grand Rapids to identify a footprint and the mechanical boxes that we were able to use.
What’s the best way for viewers to experience this completed project?
We teamed up with the community media center at GR Walks to create a free mobile app so you could take the tour on your own. We were fortunate enough to be able to do that in English and Spanish. We teamed up with two different local female artists to do all of the voiceovers for the walking tour. It’s about a two-and-a-half hour long walk if you were to do it straight, but the best thing is when you’re doing the mobile app, you can take it at any pace that you want and make a full day of it downtown.
Why do you think this project was important to do?
I don’t think that women get the recognition for doing really important things, particularly locally. One of the things that I think is super important that the author had mentioned is that you can travel all over the world and most all buildings or parks or streets are named after men, let alone mostly white men. It’s very rare that you come across streets or parks, or anything like that, that are named after women. It’s very important to highlight some rad American women that you wouldn’t normally think of.
There are awesome people out there that have made strides for us females. Some of these women that are highlighted in the book, you wouldn’t normally know, but they did amazing things. Not only are we highlighting these famous women of history, but now we’re able to highlight local women that have some amazing talents here and create public art that’s out for everyone to see and participate in. That’s permanent.
What was Kate Shatz’ reaction to seeing her book come to life in Downtown GR?
She was such a pleasure to work with and she was so great. She said that there had been other people that were interested in doing some stuff with her book before, but nothing to this scale. She was just blown away by the participation level and the turnout when we were hosting events through her being here. (The events) were super busy and there was so much involvement and empowerment, which she said was extremely meaningful to her.
What has been your favorite part of this whole experience?
Watching the artists. I’m a big supporter of public art and highlighting local talent here and watching these women out there painting and bringing such life to a lifeless piece of real estate downtown. It’s usually graffitied and poorly painted and them really taking ownership and transforming it into something significant was definitely my favorite part.