GV Art Celebration champions Outsider Art with “Honest and Unrefined”


GVL / Jonathan Lantiegne

Ayron Rutan, Staff Writer

Formerly known as the Fall Arts Celebration, the Grand Valley State University Arts Celebration has been an important part of the West Michigan community for the past 18 years, and is back with a brand new exhibition. 

Debuting on August 27 and titled, “Honest and Unrefined: Art Outside the Academy,” this new exhibition stems from the previous “Raw Art: Division Avenue Artists” exhibition hosted by the GVSU Art Gallery in 2005. 

The 2005 exhibition was centered around a local group of artists who lived and worked in the Heartside neighborhood of downtown Grand Rapids. 

Since then, GVSU has made a commitment to acquiring art from outside of the mainstream to incorporate into its collection. 

“Honest and Unrefined” dives deep into different styles of art, including self-taught, folk, outsider, visionary and naïve artists. It draws from pieces in GVSU’s collection, as well as different collectors from all around West Michigan. 

Bright colors, repetitive patterns, and unconventional crafting of found materials are major characteristics of “Honest and Unrefined.” Artists who contributed to the exhibition were driven by the desire to create and communicate deep, personal and provocative messages. 

Some of this exhibition’s acclaim is also due in part to the co-curatorship of famed West Michigan artist Reb Roberts. 

Roberts is an artist, educator and collaborator who has been active in West Michigan since the mid 1990s. He and his wife own and operate The Sanctuary Folk Gallery in the Heartside neighborhood of downtown Grand Rapids, an important epicenter for artists for the last 18 years. 

This new exhibition has been in the works for the past five years. Nathan Kemler, the Director of GVSU Galleries and Collections, said he is very excited for it to be shown to the public, as he is eager to bring a different style of art into the fine art community. 

GVL / Jonathan Lantiegne

“‘Honest and Unrefined: Art Outside of the Academy’ represents a group of artists that are typically marginalized in fine art collecting institutions across our country,” Kemler said. “We work to support inclusion and equitable communities and therefore invite underrepresented individuals into our space so that they can use our platform to share their stories.”

The GVSU Art Celebration’s new exhibition is one that poses many questions, those that cause the audience to dive deep into the very essence of art and what it can do. 

“To me, what is so special about this exhibition is that it asks a central question: ‘Who tells our collective stories?’” Kemler said. “Who decides what is art and what is not? What are the underlying power structures that inform our lives that we may not be aware of? This exhibition deals with art and power. It also intersects with art and healing, and art and materials.” 

Kemler said “Honest and Unrefined” features a total of over 85 different works of art, each one with its own unique voice. 

“Given this large cross-section, we looked to our guest curator, Reb Roberts, for expertise in this area,” Kemler said. “This is my favorite thing about this exhibition, that we were able to have Reb’s voice, experience, and knowledge lead this exhibition effort. He has lived and breathed this art and walked beside these artists through their creative processes. It’s exciting to have this level of insight embedded in this exhibition.”

Amorak Huey, Associate Professor of Writing and Chair of the GVSU Arts Celebration’s steering committee, is also excited for “Honest and Unrefined.” Huey said he hopes the exhibition showcases the benefits that art has for our world. 

After a year off because of the pandemic, we’re glad to return to bringing these kinds of events to the GVSU and West Michigan communities,” Huey said. “President Haas always used to call the series GVSU’s gift to the community, and we want to continue that tradition. Our aim is to show how the arts are relevant and essential to a healthy society.”

Coming up this fall and into 2022, the GVSU Arts Celebration will be holding a myriad of events including a performance by the Tesla String Quartet, a Poetry night, and much more. 

“Honest and Unrefined” will be holding its opening reception on September 30th from 5:00-8:00 p.m. and will be showing until November 5th. For more information, you can visit their website at https://www.gvsu.edu/gvarts/