As western Michigan’s major urban art museum, the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) has instant name recognition throughout the state, but the cultural icon has begun to change its role in the surrounding community and state at large, thanks to Director and CEO Dana Friis-Hansen’s vision.
Friis-Hansen was appointed in July 2011, and soon after his arrival, he invited curators and directors from art museums across Michigan for a day of sharing—an unprecedented meeting.
“We showed off the great things happening in Grand Rapids, and everyone had fifteen minutes to talk about what they were doing at their own museums. I wanted to initiate conversations about the connections we have, what makes us different and what we can share,” he said.
And that greater sense of collaboration is one that Friis-Hansen has maintained throughout his tenure so far; the Grand Rapids Art Museum is collaborating with local and national organizations like never before.
“Locally, we’ve partnered with the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park by borrowing and installing works from their collection, and we’re talking about collaborating in other ways in the future,” he said.
The museum has also joined forces with Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University. Opening February 1 is an international exhibition called Graphic Design: Now in Production, a unique, collaborative exhibition that spans two venues and explores the way graphic designers use color, typography, images, symbols and systems to make the surfaces around us come alive with meaning. This ambitious exhibition looks at cutting edge ideas and breaking cultural revolutions in the world of graphic design.
“This is a very exciting collaboration that simply makes sense,” said Friis-Hansen. “West Michigan is a center for design and creativity. GRAM is committed to the presentation and interpretation of design history and contemporary expressions, and Kendall is a recognized leader in design education, with degree programs including Collaborative Design, Digital Media and Graphic Design, among others. The continued collaborative spirit between the two organizations creates a strong base of knowledge and opportunity in the community.”
Friis-Hansen continued, “And similar to the partnership GRAM now enjoys with the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Graphic Design: Now in Production is also a collaboration with prestigious national institutions, the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and the Walker Art Center, both with internationally respected design exhibition programs.”
Friis-Hansen noted that the museum has an ongoing commitment to Michigan artists and has formalized the Michigan Artist Series, which highlights living artists and designers working in diverse media within the state. Local artists are encouraged to apply online for consideration, and applications are reviewed quarterly.
In terms of the museum’s growing impact on the local economy, Friis-Hansen said the museum is a destination for tourists and cultural travelers as well as locals, and to help facilitate that, the museum has developed a relationship with Experience Grand Rapids, the convention and visitor’s bureau.
“The American Quilters Society is having their national convention here in August, and we’re planning a quilting exhibition drawn from the collection of The Henry Ford to coincide with their convention. It’s something that will be interesting to the general public throughout the summer, but it reinforces to outsiders that we’re paying attention to cultural tourism. That’s something we’re proud of.”
Friis-Hansen said the museum has recently initiated a statewide dialog about how Michigan cities can be more livable, sustainable and creative. The governor, as well as other business and civic organizations from around the state, participated.
“As a museum, we can be a platform for new ideas by being a community convener and a catalyst for dialog,” Friis-Hansen said. “The model of a museum as a mausoleum is over, and we’re changing that with a new wider, creative definition of all that an art museum can be.”
For more information, visit artmuseumgr.org.