One night in October 2003, I went downtown to see the final concert of a beloved local band that was founded by some of my friends from high school. They were called Halos for Martyrs, and their final show was at a small venue in the Heartside neighborhood of Grand Rapids that was named for its address, 10 Weston. The space is now the home of a Premier skate shop, which is located around the corner from the ArtPrize offices.
I was running late, and when I arrived I saw a crowd leaving the venue, I thought I'd missed it. Then I noticed the crowd was carrying all of the band's equipment out onto the street. Guitars, amps, and every piece of the drum kit were hoisted on shoulders and the procession began walking south on Division. I asked someone what was happening, he said, "The cops just shut it down. We're moving the show." The crowd walked a block to an unused storefront at 115 South Division and set up the instruments in the basement. Halos for Martyrs completed their set in the dank concrete cellar, I recall there being only a single lightbulb dangling above the drum set. It was the most intense concert I have ever seen. People crowded around the band and picked up extra drum sticks and bottles, playing the beat on the walls, floor, amps, and drums. The set ended in a pile of drums, cymbals, and broken glass. It was amazing, it felt like witnessing history.
The basement of the space we were in would open the following week as the Division Avenue Arts Collective, or DAAC. The DAAC is a non-profit, volunteer run art gallery, all-ages concert venue and meeting place. They pride themselves on being non-commercial, nonhierarchical, transparent, and they embrace a DIT (Do-It-Together) ethos. They're a key feature of the Avenue for the Arts, the name for the arts and business district on South Division between Fulton and Wealthy.
This week, the DAAC announced on their website that the building they occupy has been sold, and they were asked to leave their space with very short notice. At ArtPrize, we're sad to learn about his setback. I call it a setback, because I'm confident they can find a new home. The DAAC's ten year history shows they have no shortage of resourcefulness and community support.
In some of the the reaction to this news I've read on Facebook, some have assumed that ArtPrize would have a different reaction. WOOD TV8 published a piece quoting the developers of the new space saying that the business that will occupy the space hopes to be open in time for ArtPrize, and hopes to be an ArtPrize venue, presumably in future years. Clearly, this puts us in an odd position. We're always excited to hear about new businesses that are interested in working with artists, serving ArtPrize crowds, and signing up to host entries as a venue. But when a development like that comes at the expense of a place like the DAAC, it feels a little like one step forward and two steps back.
In the WOOD piece, the developer says the long term goal is to turn the stretch of Division between Oakes and Cherry into an "arts and culinary corridor." That's great, except that it's already an arts corridor, thanks in large part to the DAAC and the community they serve.
It's true that the DAAC has never participated in ArtPrize as a venue. My concern with this is much larger than that. ArtPrize is an event that activates the city for a limited time each year. We hope to bring the world to Grand Rapids, and show Grand Rapids to the world. In order for that to work, the art community here needs to be vital, experimental, and diverse year round. The DAAC provides a space for artists and musicians that is unique, essential, and (unfortunately) fragile.
I have high hopes for the new project, and I'm happy to welcome a new neighbor and potential ArtPrize venue. But in the spirit of a varied and dynamic art scene in this city, I have to say that a Division Avenue with the DAAC is better than a Division Avenue without the DAAC.By Kevin Buist on