July 13, 2015 | Gina de Haan

Division Avenue in Grand Rapids has become home to many venues where one can view and purchase art. And a handful, including Calvin’s (106) Gallery and Studio, provide locals with a space to create art themselves.

On Wednesday evenings, starting at 6 p.m., the artists, creators and makers of Grand Rapids are welcomed into the basement studio space of (106) for a relaxed time of community art-making known as Open Studio Night.
Paula Manni, the (106) gallery assistant and Calvin graduate, notes that as an off-campus location, (106) is in a position to serve both members of the Calvin College community, as well as a diverse group of neighborhood and community members.
Open Studio Night, she added, is one way to create bridges.
“It is our hope,” she said, “that Open Studio Night provides the opportunity to engage with other Grand Rapids creatives, learn new skills and participate in the wider art-making community in Grand Rapids.”  

Rooted in the community

The event’s roots go back almost a decade to when Kevin Buist, Calvin’s first (106) gallery assistant and current exhibitions director of Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize contest, established an event known as Possibility Space.
With essentially the same format as the current Open Studio Night, the (106) basement studio space was opened to all and studio supplies were made available to participants who wanted to create together in community.
The next gallery assistant, Sara Baker, maintained the program and renamed it Open Studio Night.

Manni, the gallery assistant since this past January, has continued Open Studio Night and plans to keep it running as long as she is with (106) and as long as people continue to attend.
“As a host, I want to provide a friendly space where others can feel comfortable to make and create alongside each other,” says Manni. “It’s a vulnerable thing to share work, time and ideas and I hope Open Studio is a zone where that can happen amongst friends.”

An open invitation

The year-round Open Studio Night typically draws in members of the Calvin community, but also locals who are invested in the artistic community along South Division Avenue.
Some participants come with ongoing projects, while others come with only ideas, and will utilize the free materials. Regular Open Studio Night attendees often bring their personal projects, including origami, embroidery work and digital comic strips. A storage room full of craft supplies provides empty-handed participants with anything from painting supplies to yarn and needles for knitting and crocheting.
“Basically anything is welcome,” says Manni. “The focus is as much about the people and the community we can form as it is about the items we are crafting.”
On top of the regular weekly sessions, Open Studio also includes monthly themed workshops where participants have the opportunity to learn a new art or craft from a local artist. Past workshops have included lessons in notebook making, paper marbling, beginner knitting and crocheting, zine making, stamp making, puppet making, card making and letter writing.
Manni says she hopes that Open Studio provides a welcome space for creativity. The event is free and open to any age and anyone interested in exploring the arts and creating amongst others. Tea, snacks, conversation and the company of others are enjoyed.

A dedication to serve

Manni believes that creating in community as practiced at Open Studio Night aligns with the calling of the Christian artist.
“We are created by a wonderfully artistic Creator God who made us in His image,” she says. “Therefore, we are created to create and to be in relational community with others, because these are the traits of our maker.”

On a neighborhood community level, Open Studio Night provides an opportunity for renewal in a Heartside neighborhood that Manni notes historically has had a reputation of crime, homelessness and a transient population.
“It’s a small action, but meeting each week in this space expresses a commitment to renewing and transforming this corner of God’s world in Grand Rapids.”

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