Windows GR exhibition gives a voice to local artists of color

Mary Dupuis, A&E Editor

GVL / Jonathan Lantiegne

“Windows GR” is a public activation project that began on June 5, 2020 in Grand Rapids in the wake of protests responding to police brutality, systemic racism and the death of George Floyd.

Created in a matter of two days, local art gallery Lions and Rabbits partnered with Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) and local artists of color to work with local businesses and cover the boarded-up windows in downtown Grand Rapids with artwork. 

The project aimed to shine a spotlight on Black voices and stories and give people in the community an outlet for artwork and expression. 

The team consisted of local artist leads Guillermo Sotelo, Kendall Redmon, Jasmine Bruce, Asia Horne and Adrian Butler. Others involved were photographer Leandro Lara and videographer Erik Lauchie.

The response from the Grand Rapids community was overwhelming.

With over 200 people signing up to join in the project and 150 painters downtown working on the boarded-up windows, the project continued over the next few weeks, giving priority to Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) in the community. 

As the boards came down from the windows, the artwork was not forgotten. 

While Lions and Rabbits currently hold most of the boards, the Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM) now has three large-scale plywood boards, unveiled in a “Windows GR” exhibition in Jan. 2021. 

GRPM purchased the artwork from artists Jalexia Stoutmyre, DeVante Barnes and Guillermo Sotelo, and it is currently displayed on the walls on the second floor of the museum. 

Marketing Manager of GRPM, Alee’a Cherry, said it was important to the museum to collect these pieces in order to properly tell the story of the Grand Rapids community. 

“As an educational institution it’s our job to collect history and tell it as accurately as possible,” Cherry said. “The protests and riots are history that is now ingrained in our community. It’s important to support these local artists and amplify their voices and give them a platform for their perspectives.”

GVL / Jonathan Lantiegne

Cherry said since the exhibition began, it has gained much traction in the community and sparked positive interactions between guests. 

“It’s a great conversation starter,” Cherry said. “People take pictures in front of them, and they’re very excited about seeing these types of pieces in a museum from local artists. Lots of people take pictures and tag us and say how thankful they are that the museum is allowing the voices of the community to be displayed there.”

She said that while all of the pieces have different messages and aesthetics, they all have the same cohesive nature. 

“Everyone is on the same page about what happened (during the protests), and the artists just want to be heard,” Cherry said. “They want their perspectives to be out there, and for other people to understand a perspective they might not have been previously exposed to.”

Cherry said it is her hope that people who see the exhibition leave having gained insight into a different perspective, and can carry that with them throughout their daily lives. 

“The artist is not saying that you have to believe what’s on their painting,” Cherry said. “But they do want to open up a conversation and have people understand why they made these paintings.” 

The artwork is part of the museum’s permanent collection, and will be up for the foreseeable future.

The exhibition is included with general admission.