Art Effort Gets Started

February 27, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — After a few years of discussion, the effort to fill some of the massive nooks, corners and crannies of DeVos Place with art pieces has gotten underway in earnest.

Arts Council of Grand Rapids Executive Director Illiana Ordaz-Jeffries, who has offered to lead the effort, told the Convention and Arena Authority that the convention center in Milwaukee could serve as an example for what to do here.

But Ordaz-Jeffries added that the Milwaukee building had two things going for it that the local center doesn't, as far as art works are concerned. First, the paintings and sculptures in Milwaukee were incorporated into the design of the building. Second, the $1.6 million used to purchase the 18 art pieces the building houses was in place from the start, as a donor agreed to underwrite that cost.

"The one piece that is missing is the funding. We don't have the money for it," said Ordaz-Jeffries, as she shared a photo book of the Milwaukee art with members of the Operations Committee.

But Frey Foundation President Milt Rowher, who serves on the committee, said the art endeavor falls within an area that the foundation funds and that it would be willing to provide some financial support. Rowher, though, also pointed out that the Frey Foundation doesn't fund any effort fully, so at least one other revenue source would be needed to underwrite the project.

CAA Chairman Steven Heacock announced last week that the art project was one of the half-dozen goals he has set for the board to work on this year. Heacock felt that the CAA could come up with some seed money for the effort that would encourage foundations and others also to contribute to it.

"There are a lot of walls in the building," he said.

Ordaz-Jeffries said Progressive AE Senior Vice President Phil Lundwall was creating a model of

DeVos Place
that would be used to decide what kind of pieces could go in various parts of the building. Lundwall was a key member of the team that designed the convention center; his floor plan is expected to be ready in March.

"The logistics of how the building is used is an issue. It makes a rotating exhibit difficult," said Ordaz-Jeffries.

"The spaces at

DeVos Place
are huge — they're not human size. You're looking at a lot of artists," she added.

Convention and Visitors Bureau President Steve Wilson, who traveled to Milwaukee with Ordaz-Jeffries to see the building's art, suggested that the project could be done in stages.

"This could be something where one piece could be taken on each year," said Wilson, who added that the pieces selected shouldn't distract from the building's design. "We don't want to take away from the architecture."

In addition to the building's interior, Ordaz-Jeffries said some 3-D art pieces might be placed in the courtyard behind the convention center. She also said it would be difficult to add art to the walkway between the building and the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, because it's heavily traveled and might not offer enough security for the pieces.

Operations Committee Chairman Lew Chamberlin felt enough money could be raised to make the project happen, but he noted that the community must be involved in the effort.

"This is very exciting," he said. "I'm glad it's moving along."    

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