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Unique project paving the way for future of collaboration

Part of the Rumsey St. Project, this auto body garage was painted by Los Angeles-based artist Mark Dean Veca

The Next Idea

Collaboration between people of different backgrounds, expertise and points of view is one of the key drivers of innovation.

There’s one entry in this year’s Artprize in Grand Rapids that takes collaboration to another level.

The ambitiousRumsey Street Project is a partnership between Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, the Grand Rapids neighborhood Roosevelt Park, and SiTE:LAB, the Grand Rapids-based volunteer art organization.

Together, they’ve turned an entire block into an Artprize submission.

Curator and co-founder of SiTE:LAB, Paul Amenta, tells us that the project includes 10 buildings on almost five acres of property, and each building was handed over to a different artist or collaborative group.

“There happens to be a small church … there’s also an auto-body shop, and then the rest of the buildings are residential houses,” Amenta says. He tells us that the individual projects vary widely, but they’re all “quite elaborate and quite large.”

"Geometric Flood" by Tomas Rivas
Credit SiTE:LAB
"Geometric Flood" by Tomas Rivas

Ivor Thomas is the director of Land Acquisition and Community Development for Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, and he originally talked with SiTE:LAB about the idea over coffee.

“It was an amazing conversation, and I think everyone around that table recognized right away at that point that this had to happen,” Thomas says.

Amenta says that talking to residents of the neighborhood before the project was “quite amazing.”

“We spent a lot of time reaching out and meeting people from the community,” he says. “It’s not something that we’ve done before.”

He explains that usually SiTE:LAB would take over a building in downtown Grand Rapids for maybe a month. The Rumsey Street Project is slated to continue through 2016, so he says it really is a unique opportunity for them.

“We wanted to be very cautious about sort of just landing there and, you know, saying, ‘deal with us.’ We wanted to make sure people were knowledgeable about our plans and Habitat’s plans for the redevelopment of that property,” Amenta says.

Kate Gilmore's project "Higher Ground," best seen at dusk or dark
Credit SiTE:LAB
Kate Gilmore's project "Higher Ground," best seen at dusk or dark

Thomas tells us he was pleasantly surprised at the opening event when he saw how many of the residents of the neighborhood were out viewing the presentations.

“I didn’t expect that to happen so quickly, but it was wonderful,” Thomas says.

He adds that the project has drawn people to the neighborhood who had never before set foot in the area.

“That was the hope from the beginning,” Thomas says. “Residents connecting with people from outside the neighborhood, vice versa. I’ve always believed arts and music is a way to bring people together that can’t be done in other ways.”

Amenta tells us he’s heard nothing but positive responses from the neighborhood residents.

“People are really excited. This was a vacant neighborhood, essentially. … It’s pretty amazing to see the transformation,” he says.

Mark Dean Veca's auto garage during a Rumsey Street preview party
Credit SiTE:LAB
Mark Dean Veca's auto garage during a Rumsey Street preview party.

Thomas is confident that this experience will change the way his organization does things moving forward, and says that in many ways the project has reaffirmed some of Habitat’s core operating principles.

“Number one, everything starts with a relationship. As big as this thing’s gotten – and it’s going to get bigger – it all started with a relationship,” Thomas says. “And then, not being afraid to think out of the box, talk out of the box, plan out of the box.”

“I know this has changed the way we think about projects,” Amenta tells us. “I think we’re going to learn a ton from this particular project, and as we move forward I’m really excited with the possibilities.”

The Rumsey Street Project will continue through 2016 until Habitat for Humanity of Kent County begins redeveloping the neighborhood the following year.

More information on the Rumsey Street Project, SiTE:LAB and Habitat for Humanity of Kent County can be found on their websites.

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