History

Often we are asked how South Division has made such a dramatic transformation.

Here is an expanded history of the Avenue for the Arts.

With a mission to provide affordable housing essential support services and act as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization, Dwelling Place has long been focused on redeveloping the urban core of Grand Rapids. In 2003 Dwelling Place began investigating a plan that would change a neighborhood. By meeting increasing interest for affordable work space for local artists they realized the possibility to leverage support for redevelopment of Division Avenue.

A broad range of concerns such as improving pedestrian accessibility, beautification of the streetscape, and increasing economic stability of both residents and businesses were at the forefront of the redevelopment efforts. The center of the Heartside district had been severely underutilized and private developers had been unable to successfully leverage interest in renovating several key buildings in the business corridor. Dwelling Place brought in a private consultant by the name of Chris Velasco from Creative Places in Minneapolis to evaluate the possibility of renovating the buildings into affordable live/works spaces designed with artists in mind.

Since Chris’s initial visit a lot has changed along the South Division corridor which now holds the community chosen title, Avenue for the Arts. The Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids has been at the center of the activity promoting and supporting the emerging arts district as a place to live and work within a creative community. Encouraging the Growth of Community: Located in the center of the Avenue For the Arts, the Martineau Apartments and the Kelsey apartments are a unique location for artists to live and work and has served as a catalyst to encourage many other arts related businesses and events to locate in the immediate vicinity. Opened over a year long period from fall 2005 to fall 2006, the Martineau and Kelsey Apartments feature 36 “Live/ Work” spaces for low- to- moderate income artists. The units are affordable with rental prices starting around $577 dollars a month. The units feature open loft style spaces with amenities designed to appeal to artists, such as ample natural light, hardwood floors, access to sound proof rooms for musicians, high ceilings, and primed walls. Some of the apartments also feature amenities such as utility sinks, atrium skylights, exterior decks, and direct street access. Now home to 55 artists, these creative individuals include, photographers, performance artists, sculptors, painters, printmakers, musicians, craft persons and of these nine of the residents are small business owners.

The Avenue for the Arts project is a demonstration of true collaboration. An Arts Advisory Committee, along with online survey results, help mold the design of the Martienau and Kelsey Apartments. The Martineau Apartments was also the catalyst project for the Cool Cities Award designation that Dwelling Place received in 2004. The $100,000 award was distributed to several other arts organizations in the area, including $20,000 for a new sprung dance floor and lighting updates and the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts. Three façade grants for buildings on the west side of the 100 block were also funded with this award. The largest percentage of the funding went to the facilitation and creation of three public art projects in the 100 block that benefit not only the residents, but the entire neighborhood.

Those public arts projects have inspired Dwelling Place to encourage community led involvement in the development of public arts projects in the neighborhood. The community chose 13 tree guards created by Saugatuck sculpture artist Cynthia Mckean and three bench seating areas designed by local artist Cameron VanDyke. Additionally the Mural located at 106 South Division was created by local artists Brandon and Stephanie Behning. Overall $35,000 was spent in 2005/6 on public arts works in the Avenue for the Arts. The community ownership for these pieces is evident and therefore Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids is continuing the to invest in public participation in creating new public artworks. In late 2006 and early 2007 a
series of 5 focus groups evaluated what forms of public artwork local residents would like to see in the future. Focus group feedback has helped to shape continuing Avenue for the Arts Public Art projects including the introduction of 2 new murals on South Division and the addition of 3 tree guards in front of 42-56 S. Division.

This is just the newest phase of Dwelling Place’s interest in public artworks. In 2002 the renovated Ferguson Apartments received a donation of 2 sculptures for a sculpture garden to be enjoyed by residents and community members. Since then Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids has introduced 7 different permanent public arts pieces to the neighborhood including:
3 murals created by local artists and a large scale architectural trompe l’oeil mural created by nationally known artist Richard Haas. Alongside those permanent works Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids has also encouraged temporary projects including small scale painted murals created by students and local residents, temporary land instillations created by GVSU students, and instillation sculptures into vacant storefronts in partnership with the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art.

Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids has long supported local artists by providing gallery space both permanent and temporary. The Free Radical Gallery created in has been facilitated by Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids and has helped over 200 local and regional artists show their work in temporary gallery spaces. Free Radical Gallery has led to such projects as Satellite, which was a 4 month long rotating gallery exhibition created by several recent Kendall graduates. One of those graduates now owns and operates a local gallery space. The last Free Radical Gallery show took place in April 2006 with over 600 attendees and 50 local artists.

Now many of the community events involve a contemporary version of Free Radical with both businesses and building owners hosting artists in their spaces during events.

Many of the community wide events such as Urban Lights Event or Art.Downtown. include both resident and businesses on the Avenue for the Arts. These events continue to draw people into the neighborhood, since 2005 there have been 15 community events that have attracted an estimated 4,500 new and return supporters to the South Division business corridor. Dwelling Place provide support for these events by encouraging business and resident participation, supporting promotions and providing staff support for coordination and over site of event planning. One such event is the Avenue for the Arts Market, located in the parking lot at 106 S. Division and street side. The Avenue for the arts market represents a community event that is inclusive of the diversity within the neighborhood while showcasing the art and artists that are helping to change the face of the community. In 2006 over 84 independent vendors and 12 different local businesses participated in the market. Held 4 times during the summer months the market includes street entertainment, independent vendors, and special events created by businesses and a chance for visitors to enjoy the neighborhood. The Market is coordinated by the Neighborhood revitalization staff along with a part time Americorps position and two interns. They work with the Avenue for the Arts committee who steers and directs promotional activities on the street.

The Avenue for the Arts residents enjoy the sense of community established in the neighborhood. When discussing what most appealed to one of Martineau’s residents Sally England said, “The concept of being surrounded by a community of creative minds is appealing to me as well as being involved in an up and coming ‘arts’ neighborhood.” The creation of community is important to many of the live/work residents who have worked together to create various live/work building wide events. Meeting the artists in their homes and studios provides a unique opportunity to see what the Grand Rapids artists are up to, enjoy live music, and to purchase works on display. Visitors have reacted with enthusiasm, “It was interesting as well as exciting, moving from one apartment to the other because they looked so very different from the last one you were in,” said visitor Tamela Tep, “(the spaces) show diversity throughout the building.” Dwelling Place has provided support for such resident events through their Neighborhood Revitalization Department which works to help support and coordinate a number of neighborhood activities.

Many of the community wide events such as Urban Lights Event or the Spring for the Arts event include both resident and businesses on the Avenue for the Arts. These events continue to draw people into the neighborhood, since 2005 there have been 15 community events that have attracted an estimated 4,500 new and return supporters to the South Division business corridor. One such event is the Avenue for the Arts Market, located in the parking lot at 106 S. Division and street side. The Avenue for the arts market represents a community event that is inclusive of the diversity within the neighborhood while showcasing the art and artists that are helping to change the face of the community. In 2006 over 84 independent vendors and 12 different local businesses participated in the market. Held 4 times during the summer months the market includes street entertainment, independent vendors, and special events created by businesses and a chance for visitors to enjoy the neighborhood. The Market is coordinated by the Neighborhood revitalization staff along with a part time Americorps position and two interns. They work with the Avenue for the Arts committee who steers and directs promotional activities on the street.

The residents of Kelsey and Martineau receive additional support from the Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids in the form of arts related business classes held in the summer of 2006. The current program offers subsidy for entrepreneurial classes to encourage the growth and expansion of arts related business activities of residents. This was funded though a grant from JP Morgan Chase that has provided residents with $5,000 in support. Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids continues this tradition of creating unique and innovative support systems by pursuing funding for an Avenue for the Arts website to promote the neighborhoods artists and businesses. Additional support is being pursued for Banners to be placed along the south Division Corridor as a promotional tool raising awareness of the unique business district.

One of the most successful promotional tools that has been funded and facilitated by the Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids has been the creation of the Avenue for the Arts Logo which both business owners and residents use to signify the Avenue for the Arts area. This logo was selected by 64 residents and supporters in the fall of 2005 and is currently used on everything from T-shirts to event postcards. Because of the community involvement in choosing the logo and the Avenue for the Arts Title, residents and businesses alike proudly display the insignia on shop windows and websites.

The Avenue for the Arts project has created a new method of community involvement including a model for utilizing the arts as a catalyst for community revitalization while preserving the integrity of the evolving community. The Avenue for the Arts project has utilized and involved public dialogue and input. Much of the planning process for the revitalization of the neighborhood was created using a Mainstreet model. The Heartside Mainstreet program, sponsored by the Local Initiative Support Corporation, was housed in Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids from 1999 until 2005. This program had become so integrated within Dwelling Place that the strong drive to include community feedback continues in their neighborhood revitalization staff. By responding to community needs, Dwelling Place is able to design programs that are shaped by the community that serves. The Martineau project has transformed four vacant, boarded up historic buildings in vibrant, mixed use development. The design for this project was based on results from an online survey to both local and regional artists. Their input and participation ensured that the project met the needs of the artists who were interested in relocating to Division Avenue. This project has added value to the neighborhood through public art, a growing community of artists, a coffee shop, galleries, and a 24/7 vitality.

Recognition of this special district and its dramatic changes has been recognized by received several local awards including a 2006 Preservation Excellence Award and the 2006 Gerald R. Helmholdt Grand Prize award from the Neighborhood Business Alliance. Additionally, the Martineau Apartments have qualified for LEED certification. Buildings that show Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) promote integrated, whole building design practices, as well as defining “green building’ by establishing a common standards of measurement. The buildings are in the process of being LEED certified.

Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids support of the Arts and Artists on the Avenue for the arts is evident in the facilitation of community events, promotion of the business district as an arts related destination, continuing staff support and commitment to building a strong creative community.