Natalia Rak

Currents to Unknown , 2019, paint. 26 Ionia Ave SW.   Photo: Carbon Stories for UICA

Currents to Unknown, 2019, paint. 26 Ionia Ave SW. Photo: Carbon Stories for UICA

Currents to Unknown is Located at 26 Ionia Ave SW, in downtown Grand Rapids, MI. The south-facing wall of the Richmond Stamp Building was painted by Natalia Rak. Rak is an internationally known, Poland-based artist that uses brightly colored paint to craft multi-story murals. Rak's subjects are predominantly larger than life situations that evoke mystery and metaphor, often using concepts or images from famous fables or stories.

All across the United States, towns of all sizes have been adopting the benefits of murals and public artworks. Several cities have committees, groups, and commissions that aim to promote local talent or bring in outside artists to engage the community and turn empty city walls into large public canvases. The result of their efforts has been shown to have long-lasting effects on neighborhoods.

UICA's Exit Space Project not only expands UICA's impact throughout our region but also connects the community to visitors and visitors to the vibrant neighborhoods in and around Grand Rapids. "Public art is, on its surface, beautiful artwork; but the value of art in the public space is its ability to create conversations," said Katherine Williams, Community Programs Coordinator. "Public art works to make areas feel more welcoming to visitors and more walkable for everyone. Often, experiencing art in your own community creates more than a conversation, it builds connections and gives people a sense of pride in their city, their neighborhood, and themselves."

"We are thrilled to work with regional, and -now- international, contemporary artists to transform these public spaces," shared Miranda Krajniak, UICA's Executive Director. "It's also been a rewarding experience to see the communities give input and feedback - and to watch people participate in these art pieces in their own neighborhoods - that communal effort has strengthened our passion for this project."

This mural project came together through the combined efforts of UICA, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc, and Grand Rapids Sister Cities International. One of the reasons Natalia Rak was selected as the artist for this project is her connection to the Grand Rapids Sister City, Bielsko-Biała, Poland.

When asked about the inspiration for her mural in Grand Rapids, Rak said, "I was inspired, in part, by the shape of the specific building. The one half being high and the other half being lower - it was a more complex shape than many of my previous walls. I thought an image of water would fit the space well and allow me to create something beautiful while permitting me to be organic and have fun with the process. I also wanted to play with proportions and show elements with an unnatural contrast - in this case, a swan and a girl with relative sizes not normally found in real life. Plus, I still have a childlike curiosity, so some of this piece is, simply, fun and whimsical." 

"The process is very important to me," said Rak. "Even though I have a plan before I start, I find inspiration in the process. I like to let some parts of the work just appear through the exploration and the time spent working on the project. Painting should be fun, and I'm always trying new things and learning while I create each piece. I'm bringing some techniques I learned in Berlin, and some from Spain - and some from playing with very liquidy paints on canvas in my studio. Plus, I'm sure I'll try some new things here, too."

Ellen Rutt

Untitled , 2017, paint. N. Division.   Photo Courtesy: Justine Montigny Photography

Untitled, 2017, paint. N. Division. Photo Courtesy: Justine Montigny Photography

This design acts as a non-literal narrative, symbolic of a city itself - teeming with life, each color and shape plays an important role in the energetic and sometimes dissonant composition. Rutt does not seek to depict any particular scene but rather fully acknowledge that the subject matter of the painting includes the materials of expression. Drips, brush strokes, textures, and lines all become the characters of an abstract story - one of passion and play, and complexity and tension and all the things that make us human.

Hannah Berry + ArtWorks

Mental Health Awareness , 2017, paint. Gallery Parking Ramp

Mental Health Awareness, 2017, paint. Gallery Parking Ramp

Having empathy towards Mental Health Awareness is crucial. Statistically 42.5 million Americans suffer from a mental illness. Within our piece, each face represents a common complication. PTSD is represented by an "explosion" of thoughts in someone's head as the fight with what is real and what isn't. The simplicity within the Bipolar head signifies emptiness- the absence of controlled thoughts. Whereas, the pyramid represents slavery to an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. Schizophrenia is expressed with three faces showing contrasting emotions through dark colors and background designs which separates false perception with reality. Initially, we were drawn to creating a dynamic backdrop for multiple mural designs. By using organic and geometric shapes, we have created a distinct representational design concept. The hard lines show non-intentional judgements that forever affect us throughout society. Concluding, the subtle pastel color palette integrated with the conflicting shapes suggest a unique complexity in each person’s brain. ArtWorks Teen Artists: Trinity Barnes, Parker Bennett, Mable Bowdle, Sarah Boersen, Maria Bravata, Ellie Briggs, Lauren Emelander, Faith Geemes, Savanna Hoebeke, Olivia Holt, Sylvia Maslin, Katherine Nikodemski, Zachary Reep, Savannah Scarowicz, Mitchell Tower, Dasia Vashon, Evan WWojtowicz, and Kara Yeomans. Teaching Artist: Hannah Berry, Morgan Adams, and James Broe.

Hannah Berry + Ryan Klotz

Untitled, 2017, Paint, canvas, and oil pastel. 2 Fulton St. W Exit Space

Untitled, 2017, Paint, canvas, and oil pastel. 2 Fulton St. W Exit Space

Hannah Berry

When I was young, my mother always had a box of acrylics in the back of our basement. My discovery and subsequent use of them was short-lived. I later gravitated towards printmaking in my creative works. However, in the past fewyears, series of different paintings and illustrations emerged. Through my work with new process and materials I work through questions that I’ll never know the answers to. Who are we in the universe? Why are we here? What makes us come alive? Are we even alive? My work is the product of my own search for knowledge as well as an exercise of maintaining peace in the midst of encounters with the sublime. For me there is therapy in repetition of color and shape, replicating meticulous yet mindless vibrant circles over an over instills a calm within my work and soul. I graduated from Kendall College of Art and Design with a BFA in Art Education and am opening a gallery community center in Grand Rapids.

Ryan Klotz

Ryan Klotz is a visual artist and a recent graduate with a BFA in painting from Kendall College of Art and Design. His work is best known for the simplicity of his subject, the canvas. Through the blankness of the canvas he is able to explore the tensions between representations and the physical object. These tensions have propelled his work into other materials, such as plaster, in which he recreates the canvas surface through carving plaster blocks. He has received awards such as the Excellence Award in painting and sculpture from Grand Rapids Community College as well as the Studio Excellence Award from Kendall College of Art and Design. Ryan is currently living and working out of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Monica Lloyd + Megan Stone + Kate Garman

Untitled, 2016, paint, yarn, mixed media. 2 Fulton St. Exit Space

Untitled, 2016, paint, yarn, mixed media. 2 Fulton St. Exit Space

Monica Lloyd:

Lloyd’s work explores larger ideas of pattern, primarily through drawings. Her work is about process, and a journey. Each piece begins with one point, each mark created based on the last; constantly stepping back, observing, and responding. Lloyd’s drawings play with shape, texture, mark making and color to build patterns that subtly, and intricately, interact with one another. The drawings aim to create a quiet space where the viewer can wander and rest.

Megan Stone:

Megan Stone's work explores the relationships between irregular and structural forms found in her surroundings. Through constant play in the studio with a wide range of tools such as scrapers, stencils, and brushes, the marks in each painting have a special role in the image. Every painting is made up of marks that are altered over and over until they convey the qualities of a form that the painting asks for. With the focus of creating something based on process, expressive gestures, the chaos of multiple layers and unexpected surprises are essential as the work transforms by playing with paint. Collaborating with other artists in the studio has been a productive way to engage in new processes and experiment with different materials. Megan is currently living and working in southeast Michigan.

Kate Garman:

Kate Garman's work is seen in two different branches of exploration, one of a studio based practice and one of a curatorial nature. Her studio work examines experimental sculpture pieces as well as drawings and videos that focus on the repetitive nature of the grid structure. The curatorial work largely encompasses the study of patterns and materials. One of her bigger projects has been the curation of a traveling textiles exhibition, Beyond Material. Of the five iterations some locations include, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Sierra Nevada College and Grand Valley State University. Kate is currently working towards her MFA in the Fiber and Material Studies program at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, PA.

Nick Nortier

Sailing on the Winds of Change , 2015, exterior paint. N. Division.

Sailing on the Winds of Change, 2015, exterior paint. N. Division.

As part of UICA's Exit Space Project, Nick Nortier installed Sailing on the Winds of Change on the retaining wall of I-196 on N. Division in August of 2015. 

Nortier is the creative force behind Old Growth Creative. His focus is on murals, but he also illustrates and paints smaller scale panels and canvas, prints t-shirts, and cuts and installs vinyl decals. He has worked with clients such as Pabst Blue Ribbon, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., Experience GR, Mulligan's Pub, The Mitten Brewing Company, Avenue for the Arts, and the Grand Rapids symphony (MySymphony360). 

Supporters: Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc.

Laura Weber + ArtWorks

Out of the Blue , 2016, exterior paint. Straight St. and Fulton Ave.

Out of the Blue, 2016, exterior paint. Straight St. and Fulton Ave.

ArtWorks is a five-week, free program for students ages 14-18 years old. Students participating in the program receive on-site job training and mentorship, and engage in art, design, and installation projects. Led by highly qualified instructors and artists, students work in small groups on creative projects and design solutions to meet client or community partner needs. ArtWorks students installed Out of the Blue at the Grand Rapids W. Fulton Parking Lot as part of UICA's Exit Space Project in 2016. 

Supporters: Herman Miller Cares, Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, Amway, Grand Rapids Community Foundation Youth Committee

Ricardo Gonzalez + Cook Arts Center

Con Ganas, 2015, paint. Gallery Parking Ramp.

Con Ganas, 2015, paint. Gallery Parking Ramp.

This mural was created by the Cook Arts Center Team Leaders, a program of Grandville Avenue Arts + Humanities, in partnership with Kendall College of Art and Design, Grand Valley State University Kutsche Office of Local History, and SiteStudio. These images were chosen and created by teens living in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood on the SW side of Grand Rapids. With the help from the Kitsch Office staff and KCAD graduate student Ricardo Gonzalez, teens spent 7 weeks learning about the history of the SW side; studying images from street art and inner city murals and making sketches of things they saw in or around their neighborhood.

They chose to include images of Latin@ man and woman to represent the people of the neighborhood, along with images that represent the different styles of art and music that are so prevalent. The multi-racial hands holding a flower represent the different cultures living and working together peacefully in the neighborhood and other items like street signs, the iconic Virgin Mary, house, and pallets (Spanish for popsicle/ice cream), represent items from their every day experiences. The students hope to bring some of the vibrant colors and beautiful parts of their culture into downtown Grand Rapids and share with passersby. Cook Arts Center Teen Artists: Karla Aguilar-Delgado, Donny Hernandez, Antonio Jaimes, Dulce Loredo, Alejandro Ruiz, Noemi Gonzalez, Celeste Hicks, Ignacio Lopez, Avelycia Ortiz, and Miliani Sanchez. KCAD Art Mentor: Ricardo Gonzalez, in partnership with SiteStudio.

Eliza Fernand

Grand Rapids Quilt, 2015, exterior paint. N. Division St.

Grand Rapids Quilt, 2015, exterior paint. N. Division St.

As part of UICA's Exit Space Project, Eliza Fernand installed Grand Rapids Quilt on the retaining wall of I-196 along North Division in August 2015. Eliza has received a BFA in sculpture from the Pacific Northwest college of Art in Portland, Oregon. Her sculpture, installation, and performance works revolve around the combination of sensual and familiar materials, the intersection between bodies and objects in space, and the transformation of materials and ideas. She is inspired by craft supplies, relationships, forces of nature, small histories, bodily functions, mysteries, and scraps of things. Eliza has exhibited in and curated shows on both coasts and in between. She has also lived and worked at artists residencies in New Jersey, Normandy, California, North Carolina, New Mexico, Quebec, Idaho, Washington, and Minnesota. Quilt Projects is her ongoing investigation of quilt making traditions and techniques from he standpoint of a contemporary practice. 

Supporters: Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc.

George Eberheart

Untitled,  2015, exterior paint. North Division St.

Untitled, 2015, exterior paint. North Division St.

As part of UICA's Exit Space Project, George Eberhardt installed Untitled on the retaining wall north of the I-196 underpass located on North Division. After a year at College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Eberhardt found himself looking for more and transferred to Kendall College of Art and Design. In 2009, he co-founded the GR8, an eight member art collective. For the past seven years has helped to cultivate fine arts with youth in the community at West Michigan Center for Arts & Technologies (WMCAT) and the Granville Avenue Arts & Humanities Cook Arts Center. He is also a freelance artist who does everything from Live Art at the Pyramid Scheme, record covers, logo designs, t-shirt designs, paintings, murals, and more.  

Supporters: Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc.

Loralee Grace + Cook Arts Center

Cultural Ancestry Celebration , 2016, Paint. Gallery Parking Ramp

Cultural Ancestry Celebration, 2016, Paint. Gallery Parking Ramp

Cultural Ancestry Celebration was created by Loralee Grace, a local artist, and the students from the Cook Arts Center. Students worked with Loralee to learn about the cultural traditions of textiles and pattern making while mixing color palettes inspired by X-Rite Pantone's Color of the Year for 2016.

The Cook Arts Center provides high-quality programs in the arts for children and adults in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood. Activities and classes include music, dance, theater, visual arts, and ceramic programs. Through these programs, participants celebrate their own culture and the cultures of others. They enrich their lives, develop skills, build relationships, enhance their self-esteem, and build community. 

Supporters: The Gallery Apartments

Erwin Erkfitz + ArtWorks

Untitled , 2012, exterior paint. S. Division St.

Untitled, 2012, exterior paint. S. Division St.

Erwin Erkfitz installed Untitled with UICA's ArtWorks students as part of the Exit Space Project in July 2012. Erkfitz is a studio artist, muralist, screen printer, and graphic designer. He has a focus on large scale mural installations as well as commercial apparel and flat-stock screen printing services. 

UICA's ArtWorks program is a five-week, free program for students ages 14-18 years old. Students participating in the program receive on-site job training and mentorship, and engage in art, design, and installation projects. Led by highly qualified instructors and artists, students work in small groups on the creative process and design sultans for client or community partner needs. 

Louise Chen

UICA Exit Space Project Louise Chen

Louise Chen

Louise "Ouizi" Chen installed Untitled, a sprawling floral mural, on the Grand Rapids Ballet as part of the UICA's Exit Space Project. In the fall of 2016, this mural was included as one of the UICA's entries in Grand Rapids' Artprize 8.

A mural artist based out of Detroit, Michigan, Ouizi has transformed walls and spaces in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Iowa, Michigan, and Shanghai, among others around the world. She continues to explore a connection to the natural world in large scale murals and print based media.

Matt Elliott + Artworks + ACT

UICA Exit Space Project Artworks and Act

ArtWorks & ACT

ArtWorks students from the UICA worked with Artists Creating Together on installing Untitled in the 8 Commerce Pedestrian Ramp for the UICA's Exit Space Project in July and August of 2015. ACT empowers individuals with disabilities to learn, grow, and celebrate through the arts. ArtWorks is a five-week, free program for students ages 14 to 18 years old. Students participating in the program receive on-site job training and mentorship, and engage in art, design, and installation projects. ACT provides artistic and creative expression programs that enrich the lives of people with and without disabilities in West Michigan.

Kelly Allen

UICA Exit Space Project Kelly Allen

Kelly Allen

Kelly Allen installed Love for Our Trees is Love for Ourselves on Lincoln Park Lodge as part of the UICA's Exit Space Project in the fall of 2015. Through the unification of images, colors, and textures pulled from macro to microscopic realms, Allen's work initiates conversation and formulates new meanings.

Kelly holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Humbolt State University in Arcata, California, and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Allen's work has been exhibited internationally, including galleries and museums in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and London.

Jay Reekruffs

UICA Exit Space Project Jay Reekruffs

Baggy by Design

The questions you want answered about Baggy By Design will likely go unanswered. Not so much because BBD refuses to answer them, more because it resists definition. To define it would be to confine it and you can’t confine a language. You can only enter it to understand it, listen to it to see how it observes the spectacle around us.

Steven Rainey

UICA Exit Space Project Steven Rainey

The Unfortunate Demise of MV Cellophane
Screen print & paint

This installation is an investigation of language composed through color and shape. The power of language to persuade or deceive through coded characters acts as a tool of re-presentation. Recontextualized buzz word of this piece act as symbols of bureaucracy, bent on compensating for predestined fates.

Check out more at