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Recent MFA Grad Leading Efforts to Build a Stronger, More Diverse Local Creative Community

Posted July 14, 2014 in Alumni

On the rare occasions when it’s not teeming with creative activity, Craft House, with its gleaming bare white walls and open floor plan, resembles a giant blank canvas. It may be one of the newer artist spaces in town, but thanks to the vision of Director and Kendall College of Art and Design (KCAD) alum Amanda Carmer (‘14, MFA Photography), Craft House is already a catalyst in West Michigan’s arts community.

Amanda Carmer outside of Craft HouseAmanda Carmer poses outside of Craft House, located at 40 Division Avenue S. in Grand Rapids (credit: John Wiegand)

Founded in 2012 by Carmer and fellow KCAD alum Hunter Bridwell (’10, Photography), Craft House is a collaborative exhibition space that offers local artists professional development resources such as internships, artwork documentation, and open critiques. It’s also part of the Avenue for the Arts, a network of residential, commercial, and nonprofit spaces along Grand Rapids’ South Division Street Corridor, all working collaboratively to affect positive and lasting change on the neighborhood. Since moving here in 2011 to pursue her MFA at KCAD, Carmer has been heavily involved in the Avenue’s efforts to build a sustainable and inclusive creative community.

"Craft House is a place where people can actually physically meet; it’s conveniently located and we have the resources here to do what we need in the community," says Carmer. "I feel like if you have a couple of walls and WiFi, you can make a lot of things happen in the arts world."

exterior of Craft House galleryView from the outside of Craft House

Of course, a little help with funding never hurts either. Carmer was recently awarded one of 32 New Leaders grants from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. The $1,500 grant is designed to support key projects that encourage talent retention and support entrepreneurship through art and culture among young professionals in local communities.

Carmer plans to use the money to support Craft House's new Co-Op Project, a three-month residency program where eight area artists will work together in a group-directed, collaborative exhibit. The project is designed to explore new creative possibilities by combining artists of different backgrounds and allowing them to converge their talents and perspectives uninhibitedly.

Exhibition at Craft House gallery during Art Downtown 2014For Art Downtown 2014, Craft House presented "Co=efficent," an exhibiton that highlighted the importance of collaboration in art

"I have some really wild daydreams about what this group of people can do, but it's totally up to them,” says Carmer. "I would love to see this space turn into a working artist studio that maintains regular open hours and welcomes anyone in to talk to the artists in the process of making their work."

The New Leaders Grant will help cover marketing costs for the Co-Op Project and support community events designed to engage the area's artistic talent in the space. Carmer hopes the project’s model can prove sustainable, and she envisions numerous opportunities for the collaborating artists to interact with the community at-large, especially area art students.

Artist working inside Craft House gallery during Art Downtown 2014An artist at work inside Craft House durign Art Downtown 2014

"I think it's really important for students to be constantly interacting with creative professionals in their fields of interest so they are prepared to go into that [professional art] world, both emotionally and mentally,” says Carmer.

Beyond the Co-Op Project, Craft House is an active part of the Avenue for the Arts’ regular programming. The space is always buzzing with energy during the First Fridays Gallery Hop, a monthly program that encourages people to experience all that the South Division neighborhood has to offer.

Inside Craft House gallery during Art Downtown 2014Craft House was filled with art, community, and energy during Art Downtown 2014

"We want people to know if they want to see artwork or experience a fun Friday night, then they can come down to South Division, check out some art in a gallery, grab a drink across the street, end up seeing a film at the UICA, and that's their packaged Friday night,” says Carmer.

Exhibition at Craft House gallery during Art Downtown 2013"Transliterate," an exhibtion of work by KCAD MFA students, was featured by Craft House in the fall of 2013 during Free Radical, an event promoting artists and small businesses in Grand Rapids' Heartside neighborhood

For Carmer and her fellow community arts advocates, revitalizing South Division isn’t about seizing economic opportunity; it’s about building a thriving city sector with a strong arts community that invites people from all walks of life to participate in the cultural process.

"I feel like all of the reasons why I do these things are connected," says Carmer. "I get a lot of intrinsic rewards; I like working with and being around people, and when I can do that in a creative environment, it’s even more of a personally rewarding experience."


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