The Louvre of Grand Rapids

Art is so much more than picking up a pencil or coloring in shapes. It’s more than paint to canvas, lens to object, or film to reel. It’s the visual expression of personal truth.   And all of this and more was on display during the month of May on the fifth Floor of the Western Michigan University Conference Center.


WMU’s Conference Center boasts exposed brick and cement floors, creating an urban-hip, art gallery backdrop for the student work.  With over 2,000 pieces on display, the show has been described as “The Louvre of Grand Rapids.”

Recipients of a general fund grant from the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation, the GRPS Fine Arts Department stocked every art classroom with supplies to whet the imagination.  In one project, kindergarten students imagined monsters with marker and paper and then fifth grade buddies brought those monsters to life through clay.  And, in another, students from Ottawa Hills High School rejected society’s labels and created their own identities with self-portraits captioned with personal labels like “strong,” “beautiful,” and “smart.”   Whether its paint brushes and tempera paint, or slimy, cold slabs of clay prepared to be fired in a new school kiln or if it comes straight from the future in the shape of a 3D printer (yes, I said 3D printer) students are encouraged to think outside the box and exercise their unique creative expression!

What’s behind this artwork? Karen Brady, art teacher at Coit Creative Arts Academy, describes her job as giving students’ the foundation.  Ms. Brady begins her teaching with the foundational skills; creating things with shapes and experimenting with water colors. “After that, well that’s where the fun and the creative expression begins!”  Art becomes the medium, where students explore their emotions and then translate those emotions into something visible and tangible.

Unfortunately for some students, art is not something they embrace easily. Far too often, students lack the patience to try, to look beyond their mistakes, or to allow themselves the freedom to create in a way that is not governed by a set of rules. For Brady, that’s where the real learning begins.

“Some of my students will get upset when they make a mistake, or some will say, I can’t draw!” shared Brady. And it’s in those moments where Ms. Brady teaches them to look beyond the mistake, to what could be, to encourage the use of an eraser while also encouraging practice, like a musician would practice with their instrument.

It is the hope of every art teacher that each of their students will gain a better understanding and appreciation for art.

The 2018 CityWide Art Show was free and open to the public.  From the moment guests stepped off the elevator, they were transported to a beautiful world curated by incredibly talented students.

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