Activesite Emerge, the recent announcement of Artprize and a social-media triggered Chalk Flood are just a few of the art-related events that had Grand Rapids electric with activity the past few weeks. Each are experiences designed to engage the public directly and raise awareness of what resources are available in their own community. Each in a way are stories about sustainability. One in particular, Activesite, I think embodies this directly.
Emerge was the fifth event by Activesite, a project that transforms a space, either a forgotten architectural gem, or one in-progress of being developed, into a unique sculpture exhibition celebrating Fine Arts student work, local products, talent and architecture.
I was completely enamored with the intent of Activesite. By fusing art with a space, artwork is created for the context of a particular space, which starts to distance the experience from viewing a collection of random works in a more traditional gallery setting. With this intent as a centerpiece, the event itself goes further by presenting local talent, products and cuisine in a lively club atmosphere with live-mixed soundscapes, sushi, Founders brews, Boxed Water and even a mad contraption that made custom t-shirts. This free event drew 1500 people and filled the night with four floors of art, exploration and conversation.
Those in attendance were enjoying the experience, but more importantly were plugged into the artists, spaces, businesses and thinking going on in our community. This exposure, along with the organization itself becoming a magnet of community and business support over the past two years, shows a path to sustainability. Emerge is the fifth event and the founders, Paul Amenta, Todd Ernst and Eric Kuhn, through their shared vision have attracted local talent and supporters that have allowed each event to build upon the previous ones and offer distinct experiences to the public.
Many of the pieces within the exhibition followed the same spirit, perhaps because as Paul Amenta, Creative Director, put it to me that, “Students are challenged to engage the space”. And the subjects of growth, rebirth and cycles are definitely embodied at the current site, the historic and largely empty Flat Iron Building, one of the oldest in Grand Rapids.
One installation, Circular System III (Oasis in a Desert) A Method for Alternative Urban Agriculture by Ashley Lieber of the University of Michigan, demonstrated a working sustainable system. Visually striking in the space under a massive grow light, the piece is an inflatable pool filled with lake water and fish, an electric pump that draws the nutrient-rich water up to a hanging series of two-liter bottles each holding substrate and growing edible greens. The piece is truly a living infographic, breaking down the constituent elements and showing the processes simply and effectively. The clarity of the piece engages viewers in a compelling conversation about urban food production and construction of manageable ecosystems.
Urban development isn’t about always wiping away the old and building all anew. The vision of Activesite reminds us to look into our community and challenges us to reconsider our impressions and habits of dismissing the old and looking outward for talent, inspiration and commerce. Activesite, through the event itself and the art within, shows sustainability in action.