“It inspired me to want to help—be part of change.”

This comment came from a sixth-grade student and ignited in me a sense of hope that I’ve had trouble finding amidst the uncertainty of recent events.

I was invited to visit this student’s classroom at the Grand Rapids Public Museum School (an ArtPrize Partner School) last week to facilitate a conversation about how works of contemporary art share a story or express a concern or an idea with an audience. It was the first step in a project-based learning unit that asked students to use art as a way to illustrate issues unique to the global regions they are studying.

“In an increasingly confusing and uncertain world, I see hope. I see empathy. It is found in our city’s youth, in Grand Rapids Public Schools and within the arts.”

There are many aspects of my work as a community arts educator that are inspiring, and most significant are conversations and creative responses like these—generated by students exploring contemporary works of art. Works of art that challenge most adults seem to be no match for the creative minds of youth who dig deep, reflect, connect, and allow themselves to see the world through someone else’s eyes. Each time I step foot into a classroom or observe a community arts program, I see seeds of hope and a pathway to a more empathetic and just world.

ArtPrize generates conversations around what art is and why it matters, and embraces critical discourse and debate from all perspectives. After ten years working in out-of-school community arts programming, this is what drew me to the work I do with ArtPrize. I wanted to grow ArtPrize educational initiatives that provide programs and resources to transform Grand Rapids into an open learning laboratory where students, teachers and visitors have meaningful learning experiences.

ArtPrize has increased support to schools over the course of eight years. With direct support from ArtPrize, over 18,000 students visited the event this past year and over 12,000 participated in a free arts education program during their visit—ranging from guided tours, poetry workshops, and STEAM activities to artist-led presentations and design challenges. Through new partnerships with Grand Rapids Public Schools such as ArtPrize Partner Schools and GRPS Early Childhood Day, we look to deepen student learning and support creative projects generated from their ArtPrize Education Days field trips. This year alone, we increased GRPS participation in ArtPrize education programs by 119%.

In an increasingly confusing and uncertain world, I see hope. I see empathy. It is found in our city’s youth, in Grand Rapids Public Schools and within the arts. Supporting arts and public schools has never been more needed and urgent than in the present.

By Becca Guyette on