UICA inspires vision boards


GVL / Benjamin Hunt

Allison Rafferty, Staff Reporter

Since Feb. 2017, the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) has been putting on First Friday Studio Nights for the Heartside Neighborhood of Grand Rapids. First Friday Studio Nights occur the first Friday of every month, and while each varies in theme, they all entail a plethora of local artwork and inspiration. 

Attendees of First Friday Studio Nights are able to explore the shops and galleries located on South Division, tour and get inspiration from the four floors of The Galleries at the UICA, experience the artworks on display and have the opportunity to create artwork of their own in The Studio with the help of a host. 

“First Friday Studio Nights at the UICA are casual, informal and open to all ages and skill levels,” said UICA Marketing and Communications Coordinator Chris Koens. 

UICA staff members and volunteers take attendees on tours of The Galleries at UICA and give insight to the artwork on display. They also provide those in attendance with ideas of inspiration to help them create artwork of their own in The Studio. When guests visit The Studio, hosts give some guidance on skills and techniques, along with the necessary tools and materials, so that they can create original artwork of their own to take home. 

Friday, Jan. 3 marked the first First Friday Studio Night of the new year, and naturally, the theme of the night was about “celebrating 2020 and another year of new and exciting possibilities,” Koens said. 

Attendees who were inspired to do so were provided with the tools and collage materials required to create a vision board to lay out what they hoped 2020 will look like for them. Inspiration for the themed artwork could be found by taking one of the docent-led tours through The Galleries “to see how contemporary artists interpret the world around them, express thoughts, and share ideas.” 

“Studio nights are aimed at providing guests with a casual, safe space where they can learn about different art-making techniques and express their own creativity without the pressure of perfecting their skills,” said Koens.

Despite the theme, guests are encouraged to use their own imagination and create whatever unique item they desire, whether their item is based on the theme or viewed artwork is entirely up to them. 

First Friday Studio Nights are drop-ins, free to the public and always family-friendly. Guests can arrive anytime between 6-9 p.m. and are able to stay until The Studio closes. 

Guests are also encouraged to arrive early and stay late in order to make the most of all the event entails and also to meet other people with similar interests. 

The goal of First Friday Studio Nights is to “empower people to express themselves through the art-making process, as well as to find belonging and community at UICA,” Koens said. 

Koens believes that it is important to put on events like First Friday Studio Nights for the community because the UICA “believes access to art is imperative.” The people at the UICA understand the disconnect that some people feel from art and art institutions, and they try to do anything they can to make people feel like they belong and help the community get closer to “that ideal of full inclusion and access,” he said.

“This particular programming gives space for people to take time out of their busy lives, set down their cell phone and technology and engage in a conversation about art and participate in the process of creating art – all without expectations or pressures of perfection,” Koens said.