Board Being Art Smart

March 5, 2007
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Filling DeVos Place
with the right art pieces won't be an easy task because the building is massive, with many nooks, crannies and lengthy corridors. Plus, the building itself is artistic, so finding pieces that won't detract from the design could take some time.

But two things about the project are certain. First, the building's signature art piece will be placed near the main outdoor entrance on

Monroe Avenue
. Second, the effort is likely to cost at least $2 million.

Arts Council of Grand Rapids Executive Director Illiana Ordaz-Jeffries recently brought that message to the Operations Committee of the Convention and Arena Authority, and also provided the group with a potential layout of what type of art could go into the various areas of the building.

Ordaz-Jeffries chaired a committee that came up with the recommendations, a panel that included Progressive AE Senior Vice President Philip Lundwall. Progressive AE was part of the convention center's design team.

"Everyone has put in their two cents' worth on where art should go," said Ordaz-Jeffries.

The highlights of that input includes a "signature piece," like a Calder, at the entrance and possibly some video art for the west wall of the exhibit space. A series of sculptures, like the Tom Otterness pieces that were displayed downtown last summer, could be placed along the riverwalk on the building's west side.

The area west of the Steelcase Ballroom would remain as is, as would the interior of DeVos Performance Hall. But a piece may go into the area that leads from the Grand Gallery to the ballroom.

Ordaz-Jeffries said the Skyway Level, the second floor, poses the biggest challenge. But at the same time, CAA board member Joseph Tomaselli said that lengthy east side corridor consistently draws the most comments from visitors as being the area most in need of something.

"That is going to be tricky, but there are ways to treat that," said Ordaz-Jeffries.

The indoor skywalk runs from the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel to

DeVos Place
, and a few spots might get decorative furniture to provide rest stops for those that find it difficult to walk the entire length without stopping.

The art committee suggested dynamic art pieces, possibly with sound, for that stretch, but cautioned the dim lighting in the corridor limits the type of art that can go there. A traveling art show, which would change periodically, might be too labor intensive to place there.

"We're not giving up on this corridor, but a solution may be more architectural," said Ordaz-Jeffries.

Ordaz-Jeffries said a generous supporter, who wishes to remain anonymous, is picking up the tab to bring two unnamed, but noted, art experts here to meet with the art committee and give the group their insights into what pieces should go where. Ordaz-Jeffries said she would report back to the Operations Committee following that meeting, which could take place as early as this month.

"We have identified the areas that could hold public art. Your next step is to talk with the experts in public art, get a feel from them, and then a budget," said Lew Chamberlin, chair of the Operations Committee.

Ordaz-Jefferies said most buildings spend from 1 percent to 2 percent of their construction cost on art.

DeVos Place
cost $210 million to build, so by that standard, the art tab should run at least $2 million.

Operations Committee member and Frey Foundation President Milt Rowher reiterated that the foundation's board may be interested in making a gift to the art project. He first made that offer a year ago when the art committee was being organized.

But SMG General Manager Rich MacKeigan said the skywalk might be a good location for the performance hall's four art tenants — which have inquired about the space — to use for promoting their events, or perhaps for permanent advertising that would give the building more revenue.    

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