ALLENDALE, Mich. — By now, most people know art has a major influence on West Michigan. You can expect to see pieces on display at museums, in downtown Grand Rapids, at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park — really just about everywhere.
However, many of you might not know the biggest collection in West Michigan, and second-biggest in the state, doesn't sit inside any typical art space. Rather, you can find it at Grand Valley State University.
The university firmly believes art and education go hand in hand, an idea first introduced by former President Emeritus Arend 'Don' Lubbers more than 20 years ago.
"One of those critical environmental features that the then president really wanted to infuse in the environment [was] knowing that being surrounded by art does something to our students," said Nathan Kemler, GVSU's director of galleries and collections. "Learning stories of others and building those perspectives [and] influencing different fields of study from new angles was something that he was really interested in and saw merit in."
GVSU's collection stands out from other art galleries because their approach is unparalleled. The school wanted to break away from the exclusive stereotypes ingrained in the art world by presenting the pieces in public spaces with unrestricted access.
“Yeah, that's one of the the core values of Grand Valley," Kemler said. "It's always been in the kind of the fabric of the university here is making learning accessible. It's not about having to pay a lot of money necessarily compared to other higher-ed universities. Same thing with the art. There's no cost to come to see the artwork. You don't have to pay an admission. You don't have to travel. This is just about coming to any of the buildings, any of the grounds, any of the campuses. We have Detroit, Traverse City, Muskegon, Holland, Grand Rapids, Allendale — all public buildings are infused with art.”
GVSU's collection has art from just about every continent spanning hundreds of years. It's second in size only to the Detroit Institute of Arts, which has 65,000 pieces gathered over 100+ years.