Great Lakes: Image and Word exhibit celebrates collaboration

GVL / Emily Frye
Grand Valley State University Art Gallery displaying a new exhibit about the Great Lakes. It is set to open Jan. 19th.

GVL / Emily Frye Grand Valley State University Art Gallery displaying a new exhibit about the Great Lakes. It is set to open Jan. 19th.

Claire Fisher

With peaceful beauty and overwhelming power, the Great Lakes serve as a vital resource and an important part of life for the environments they impact. The new “Great Lakes: Image and Word” exhibit in the art gallery of the Performing Arts Center will show the implications of living within the influence of the Great Lakes through the collaboration of 16 poets and artists.

“I think the Great Lakes theme really it ties into the uniqueness of this region,” said David Newell, curator of exhibitions at Grand Valley State University. “The climate here, the topography, the mix of people, the harshness of the environment, those changes in the weather–how it impacts life. There’s a hard edge to it, but there’s beauty at the same time.”

The exhibit was first conceptualized a few years ago by Patricia Clark, chair of the writing department, in conjunction with Virginia Jenkins, chair of the art and design department. The idea was to create an exhibit in which artists were paired with a poet to create collaborative works of art. The exhibit, which opens on Jan. 19, will show the eight final products of the communication between the pairings.

“The artists and the poets have collaborated at different levels,” Newell said. “Sometimes the poems are actually worked into the art pieces, sometimes it’s separate and goes with it as a complementary piece. They are all still dealing with specifically the Great Lakes landscape.”

The collaborative idea was inspired by a class Clark was teaching in the honors college with Professor Jill Eggers called How to Love the World. In the class, Clark said, students were asked to write poems and create paintings. Clark said this lead her to thinking about the importance of viewing the world in an interdisciplinary way.

“Interdisciplinary really appeals to me and I think it appeals to a lot of people,” Clark said. “A lot of the world is interdisciplinary. All these separate departments at the university, it’s kind of false. The real world is not always so separate. It gets all mushed together in the real world.”

Newell said that in addition to being interdisciplinary between the written word and the visual arts, the exhibit brings in the GVSU’s value of environmental studies and sustainability.

“The university has a connection to environmental research through the site in Muskegon; it’s part of what the university is about,” Newell said. “This (exhibit) is a nice way to carry it out of the science realm and the research realm and give it a different life and a different way to connect with that message.”

Clark, working together with Professor Hoon Lee, created a piece for the show. After her experience writing a poem for the piece and working with the pairings of artists and poets to create the exhibit she said that for her the theme honors the Great Lakes as a natural resource.

“Just to honor this great natural resource, you can’t honor it too much, because it’s so amazing,” Clark said. “It gives us water, beauty, look at what it gives us. We don’t really deserve it, we end up polluting the lake. I think that sense of pausing and honoring the lake is very meaningful.”

Due to the show’s interdisciplinary nature, Clark said that she hopes the exhibit is able to engage students from a variety of disciplines. She said she plans to take her creative writing students to visit the exhibit and to ask them to write poems based on the artwork on display.

“The other goal is not to just have an art exhibit that just sits over there, but we want to have students get over and see it,” Clark said. “Not an art exhibit just staying in the gallery and nobody gets involved, we want to really use the art that’s on campus to stimulate new work and new ideas, show that the boundaries between things are not so strict.”

To encourage this engagement and stimulation of new work and ideas, students in the music and dance department will be composing pieces based on the exhibition. The New Music Ensemble will perform these one-minute student compositions at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 25.

Newell said that he hopes the composition event and the combination of the poetry and visual art will bring in a variety of audiences and expose viewers to new arts.

“For the viewers to really appreciate this exhibit I hope that they will really engage with the written word, it’s really critical to understanding the pieces and it’s one of those that you really have to adjust your mindset,” Newell said. “For this show, you really need to stop and read the poetry. I’m hoping some people come just for the poetry and then experience the art by extension and vice versa.”

An opening reception will be held for the exhibit at 5 p.m. on Jan. 21 in the art gallery. For more information, visit