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Grand Rapids emerges as finalist in Bloomberg public art competition

March 10, 2015
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Grand Rapids emerges as finalist in Bloomberg public art competition
The public art project proposed by the City of Grand Rapids and its partners for the Bloomberg Philanthropies competition would involve a series of four vacant buildings on Rumsey Street SE. Photo via

The City of Grand Rapids is one of 12 finalists in a national public art competition by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Bloomberg Philanthropies announced last week the finalists of its Public Art Challenge, a new program aimed at supporting temporary public art projects that engage communities, enhance creativity and enrich the vibrancy of cities.

“This is very exciting news,” said Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell. “We are glad to advance in this competition.”

Cities with 30,000 or more residents were asked at the end of 2014 to submit proposals for innovative temporary public art projects that address a civic concern and demonstrate close collaboration between artists or arts organizations and city government.

Grand Rapids and the 11 other cities were chosen out of 230 submissions: Albany, Schenectady and Troy, N.Y.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Atlanta; Boston; Chicago; Des Moines, Iowa; Gary, Ind.; Hartford, Conn.; Maplewood, Minn.; and Spartanburg, S.C.

Final phase

The 12 finalists will now submit a full proposal for consideration.

The final cities will be selected based on criteria similar to what was used to choose the finalists, which includes potential viability as dynamic public art projects, capacity to establish or strengthen public-private partnerships, inclusion of strong audience-engagement strategies and commitment to evaluating outcomes and impact on the host city.

Additionally, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ arts team will schedule a site visit and interview with each finalist city to understand more in-depth what the cities are doing and how they’re getting the projects up and running.

In May, Bloomberg Philanthropies will select at least three winning cities to execute their projects over a maximum of 24 months. Each city can receive up to $1 million for their project.

Roosevelt Park neighborhood

Grand Rapids requested a total of $466,000 for its proposal, which calls for revitalizing four vacant homes in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood to serve as a venue for art performances.

If Grand Rapids is selected as one of the grant recipients, the project will convert the adjacent vacant structures on Rumsey Street SE into a temporary art center with large-scale site-specific art installations and performances.

Partnering with SiTE:LAB and Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, the city plans to conduct an international design competition to temporarily transform the site into a vibrant cultural destination, before transitioning it to affordable housing.

The Public Art Challenge grant will cover development, execution and project-related expenditures, but will not fund 100 percent of project costs. The grant is intended to provide catalytic funds as part of a strong, committed consortium of supporters.

“If successful, we will be able to revitalize an area of the city with socio-economic needs,” Heartwell said. “An artistic use of these properties would generate a synergy that has the potential to change this area of the Roosevelt Park neighborhood.”

Submission pool

Cities of all sizes applied for the Public Art Challenge, according to Bloomberg Philanthropies: nearly 50 percent of the 237 submissions were from cities with populations between 30,000 and 100,000; 38 percent have populations between 100,000 and 500,000; and 13 percent of the applicant cities have over 500,000 residents.

A variety of artistic disciplines were represented among the applications: 61 percent of the proposed public art projects involved visual art; 19 percent combined multiple disciplines; 17 percent featured digital media; and 3 percent we performing art projects.

Proposals covered a range of issues, including revitalization of decayed downtown areas, underutilized waterfronts and vacant neighborhoods.

They also addressed a variety of social themes, including civil rights, neighborhood safety, environmental sustainability and promoting city identity.

Bloomberg Philanthropies

Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s charitable activities, including his foundation and his personal giving. In 2014, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $462 million.

The organization’s mission is to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people.  

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