I spent two days in Grand Rapids with my best friend’s boyfriend, Jason. The evening I arrived, we met a friend of his at Founders, a local brewery. It’s definitely the largest bar I’ve ever been to, or maybe it just feels that way because it’s one large room lined with a balcony. The beer was decent, the snacks were better and there was something nice about the warm smell of crushed peanut shells all over the floor.
The next day, Jason took me to the Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park which initially sounded a bit touristy for me but I’m glad I let the openminded side of my brain keep control. The gardens were gorgeous, definitely reminded me of the Botanical Gardens in Montreal. The sculpture park made it surprisingly unusual. While there are a large group of completely unaccessible modern sculptures that left me feeling empty, there were a handful that were quite compelling. The women with rabbit heads, shown here, was a great example of some of the more thought provoking pieces.
Also, Artprize had just begun the day before I arrived so the collection of pieces being exhibited at the Gardens was our first taste of the massive annual art explosion that leaves its debris all over downtown. Sadly, we were not allowed to take photos here. I was quite enchanted with Dana Freeman’s work, “Landscape Reliquary,” which was a large stack of transparent bear jars in which she had glued flowers or butterflies or various other natural objects. I’ve added the only image I could find from the internet; it hardly does it justice. The piece was a whimsical and nostalgic homage to childhood. While there was sadness in the obvious passage of time and innocence, there was a glimpse of hope in what I consider a successful attempt to reconnect to the childlike aspects of ourselves.
We spent the rest of the day downtown touring the rest of the Artprize in the main exhibition area. It’s very much like the Arthop in Burlington, VT but obviously much larger and honestly while there is still quite a bit of amateur work, the general caliber of the art shown is far higher.
By early evening, the wind was beginning to get into my bones so we stopped to get some quick food before returning home. That day was by far the worst day nutritionally speaking I’ve had in awhile. We started the day with the breakfast of champions, soda, curly fries and cheese sauce from Arbys, on the way to the Gardens. Then for lunch, we had a large bag of popcorn and some more soda as we walked around downtown. For early dinner, I wasn’t that hungry when we stopped so as Jason had a healthy meal, I continued my day of hate to my body with vanilla bean cheesecake and a boozy coffee. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling particularly fortified but I kept it consistent and owned my decisions for the day.
At night, we went to Mulligan’s, a dirty dark pub in the heart of Eastown, which is the area closest to having any real personality that I had witnessed so far. This was probably the first time I felt remotely at home, though I wasn’t dressed in tight black provocative clothing or have layers of makeup on to signify my need to fit in, I still felt like giving every one of those scrawny punk rock kids and burly bros an abnormally long hug.
Jason showed me how to play darts in this lovely indoor alley at the back of the bar which I’ve shown here. I had asked him earlier about tracking down some good Grand Rapids graffiti and honestly, it just doesn’t exist in a comparable form to anywhere else, at least not in a remotely artistic or aesthetically pleasing mode of expression. So the chicken scratch on the walls near the dart board would have to do. I did also find a large electrical box a ways up the street that had been colorfully commissioned abstract chickens on them. But that was the end of my graffiti adventures for this city.
Overall, I’ve had a hard time getting to know Grand Rapids. Today while Jason was at work, I spent a couple hours exploring on my own but I still feel I was unable to even break the skin of this city. I hate to make quick judgments and I tried to stay openminded but I honestly don’t know if there really is anything much more than skin to this city.
I think this conclusion is based mostly on my current predisposition to find a niche similar to the one I just left. Not because I dislike variety, but Burlington, VT is where I grew into my own personality. The liberal hippiesque vibe of the place had it’s negatives but it really fostered the growth I needed to go on this trip. I’m understanding how substantial “place” is in one’s own personality. I’ll carry Vermont with me wherever I go. Grand Rapids, in comparison, is far more conservative and seemingly shallow and just doesn’t work for me. There is a bunch of art here; at least right now, but it wouldn’t be enough to keep me here.