Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts
2 West Fulton
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Phone: 616.454.7000
Fax: 616.459.9395

Focus: Media Arts, Visual Arts

Annual Number Participating: 100

Ages: High School

Annual Budget: $188,500.00

Partners: ArtPrize, Dwelling Place / The Avenue for the Arts, Herman Miller, Kendall College of Art and Design, Kent Intermediate School District, SiteLab, Tanglefoot Studios

Funders: Amway One by One Campaign for Children, Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids, Frey Foundation, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Institute of Museum and Library Services, Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, Rosemary and David Good Family Foundation, Slemons Family Foundation, Steelcase Foundation

Thanks to an innovative program offered by the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) in Grand Rapids, Michigan, students with an interest in the arts can get a head start on pursuing a creative career. The ArtWorks program targets participants between the ages of 14 and 21 from a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds and provides them with practical and sequential preparation for a viable career in the arts. The program’s first phase is an after-school Seminar Series held in the spring. During these sessions, participants meet working artists and tour local studios and creative businesses to learn about career options, employment trends, and issues facing creative professionals.

During the summer, students take part in an intensive internship, working together on teams to carry out real-world assignments for local clients. One team designed a lively mural to help revitalize a struggling business district. Another group developed artistic banners to hang from city ash trees (sporting the slogan “Save your ash”) to call attention to the threat posed by the emerald ash borer, an exotic pest. In addition to developing artistic abilities, participants hone job-related skills, such as collaboration with diverse groups and briefing and presentation techniques.

In the program’s third phase, students who wish to continue in the field undertake independent study projects, working a minimum of 90 hours with individual artists, galleries, arts organizations, or businesses.

Many of the program’s participants pursue the arts in college, become employed with arts organizations, or apply their creative talents in business settings. The program helps Grand Rapids “by cultivating and retaining young creative professionals and entrepreneurs for our emerging design-focused economy,” Mayor George Heartwell points out.

ArtWorks is a lifeline for students, adds Rebecca Schaub, UICA’s manager of youth and community services. Although arts education has been dramatically reduced in the city’s public schools, ArtWorks enables young people to find—and pursue—an artistic niche in life, she says.