By Ben Scott-Brandt
Hello, Grand Rapids Artists, let’s take a trip together!
My father-in-law recently jazzed my imagination when he spilled the beans to us about the vacations he used to take with his fellow cops –summer golfing trips complete with strippers and liquor on an inter-state chartered bus. This was definitely news to me. I couldn’t believe my ears. “I’m related to this guy! This is incredible!” A few days after this discovery, during a completely separate, colorful conversation about Tudor’s Biscuit World, a West Virginian restaurant phenomenon involving deep-fried biscuits, it suddenly hit me–where would I want to go if I was able to charter a bus? What kind of onboard entertainment would I hire? And who would my fellow passengers be?
The concept of a weekend chartered bus trip became a big, hazy cloud of an idea, always damp and fertile in the back of my mind. I started bringing it up to people whom I thought might enjoy a chartered bus trip to some remote and silly place like Tudor’s Biscuit World. I started searching online for crystal glasses players--you know, the guys with ponytails who rub their fingers on two-dozen glasses, making them sing the National Anthem. And I started feeling out who might actually be up for participating in a trip like this. After several imaginative conversations, the idea grew chaotically, perhaps even out of my grasp altogether. The enthusiasm was contagious, but everyone had a different notion about who would participate, what we’d do, and where we’d end up. I heard about dancing pigs, a potato museum, a PBS documentary, an NPR spot, free haircuts on the bus, blacklight bowling, et cetera ad infinitum.
Which leads me to this article.
I have a proposition, Artists.
Let’s take a bus trip.
We need to talk about our community first. We’re each a part of what’s becoming a burgeoning arts scene here in Grand Rapids. We know each other’s names, we give each other advice on inks and hems and tunings and lenses, and we spend a lot of time together in studios, galleries, and each other’s homes. We all share an interest in bringing more public awareness, funding, and cultural relevance/importance to the work we do. So why isolate our experience to West Michigan? Let’s get out there! Forty artists on a chartered bus trip is not something to gawk at. It’s a situation laden with potential.
What if we filled our bus with artists from a great variety of disciplines and backgrounds, like a Grand Rapidian cornucopia, and drove ourselves to another city? What if we arranged in advance to meet the artists from that city? What bonds could be formed? What needs could be met? What fun could be had? Members of the DAAC, CMC, NEST, Ideal Collective, G-RAD, Dynamite Family, the UICA, Heartside Neighborhood Artists, other local galleries, etc., could organize a “working studio on wheels” for a collaborative and creative trek to a “sister city” of sorts. It could be Providence, Philly, Brooklyn, Savannah, Toronto, or Austin. It could be Toledo! We could share as little as a barbecue or as much as a full weekend, but participants from GR could learn about the social and artisanal makeup of our destination city, meet their local artists, swap stories and information about our cities and projects, and invite the artists we meet to someday send a reciprocal bus our way. Perhaps a group project could be organized–a collaborative event consisting of shared creation, shared “making.” It could be the beginning of a great relationship.
Secondly, let’s talk about our art. What are we making in Grand Rapids, and what has been made? What do we--as local artists--have to share with the national arts community? What still needs to be done within our community to further strengthen it? What knowledge, advice, example, or encouragement could we use at this stage? The answers to these questions should fuel our decisions about such a trip. What we’re making is important, and, like a library’s time capsule, we must represent ourselves well. Having discussed this trip with Ben Schaafsma and other thinkers, I feel compelled to urge us as a community to not make this an exercise in exclusivity. Perhaps the organization of this trip, or one like it, could actually be a catalyst for increased dialogue and collaboration between the separate artist groups now working within Grand Rapids.
Thirdly, let’s talk about our finances. Chartering a bus is an expensive endeavor. The addition of live entertainment, catering, overnight accommodations, and the like are bound to make such a trip incredibly fun, but also incredibly costly. Careful thought should be given to the opportunities before us. We have the ability to provide Grand Rapids and its artists a wealth of media coverage. An audio or visual documentary of the event could be made as an artwork, as entertainment, as a public television piece, even as a general educational tool. We have the ability to forge a bond with a sister arts community now foreign to us, perhaps a community with struggles and challenges similar to ours. We also have the ability to receive a wealth of information and encouragement from this sister arts community.
I’m convinced that we (or those we know) have the ability to organize this trip in such a fashion as to make it affordable, comfortable, efficient, and memorable. Perhaps we could write a grant or find underwriters. Perhaps we could organize a fund drive or sponsorships. Approaching the issue creatively will help us in the long run. Let’s think big!
So, before going on, I’ll ask you, dear LAMB reader, dear G-RADDER, dear artist, dear Grand Rapidian: What’s our destination?
Ben is a hair-artist at Jeffrey Richard Salon. He is the founder of the ever-revolving, now defunct Bunkbed Nights and now performs in local band, Ben & Bruno. Interested in creating the ephemera surrounding the spectacle of the live “show.”
Posted on October 12, 2006 3:45 AM