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“Watching 5th grade students use their experiences with contemporary artwork to form ideas, think critically about the world around them, and strengthen their own identities is really an amazing thing to witness and be a part of,” said Steffanie Rosalez, Program Director at The Cook Arts Center.

For a second year, ArtPrize collaborated with leading community arts administrators and teaching artists at The Cook Arts Center and the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) to build on concepts introduced during an ArtPrize Education Days program last Fall.

During ArtPrize Eight, The Cook Arts Center worked with Grand Rapids Public Schools’ (GRPS) Cesar E. Chavez and Southwest Community Campus to explore site-specific installations at the ArtPrize venues SiTE:LAB - Everything Is Transformed and 912 collABORATIVE - This Space is Not Abandoned. The program included artist-led conversations and a workshop based on cultural identity and artmaking. By expanding this experience to include a spring component, our goal as community arts educators was to provide experiences with contemporary art beyond the 19 days of the event and build on ideas of identity, shared humanity and the artistic process.

The Spring program served 178 fifth graders and incorporated National Core Art, Social Studies and ELA Standards. Teaching Artist, Eliza Fernand revisited seven classrooms between the two GRPS schools to reflect on the ArtPrize field trip last Fall. From there students headed to UICA for a docent led tour of the US IS THEM  exhibition. Focusing on the work of contemporary artist, Nick Cave. Students then designed and built their own soundsuits inspired by his work that represent elements of their personal identity.  

“The Spring partnership between ArtPrize, GRPS, Cook Arts, and UICA is a true collaboration that reinforces the mission and approach to arts-focused education at UICA. Through guided tours of US IS THEM, peer discussion, and transformative hands-on experiences with contemporary art, our organizations have empowered young people to take hold of their creative voice and share it with confidence,” said Katherine Williams, UICA’s Community Programs Coordinator. “While at UICA, students explored the works on view taking into consideration who they are and how they identify. Through dialogue with contemporary art and their peers, students can better understand that what makes us different does not separate us, it's what makes us unique.”

Cook Arts Center is co-hosting a community event, March 25th from 1:00-4:00pm at the Grand Rapids Ballet, where you can see students’ soundsuit creations on display as well as experience a performance piece led by Eliza Fernand.


ArtPrize provides programs and resources to transform Grand Rapids into a learning laboratory where students, teachers and visitors have meaningful learning experience, inspiring generations of artists and art-lovers.

ArtPrize Education Days - provided by 

By Becca Guyette on