Our Leaders as Artists

Publisher of Women’s LifeStyle Magazine, Victoria Upton, is one of the contributors to Leadership on Canvas.

by Bri Kilroy • photography by Two Eagles Marcus

Grand Rapids community leaders work with the medium of our city to create masterpieces in event development, programming and experiences. Executive Producer at Square Peg Events and abstract acrylic artist, Cynthia Hagedorn, recognized how these leaders use communication to ignite conversation and excitement about the arts, and was intrigued to discover how they would communicate with a different tool: a paintbrush.

Leadership on Canvas is a project that explores the relationship between leadership and the arts with acrylic paints. Those who play a large role in the community as presidents, CEOs, directors and more are selected to work with Hagedorn to create an abstract piece that is displayed at the City Water Building (1101 Monroe Ave.) during ArtPrize Eight. Eleven different canvases, each belonging to an individual leader, reveal the spread of communicative talent.

“I wanted to be a vehicle for the community to give leaders a different voice in ArtPrize,” Hagedorn said, explaining that the leaders have a lot to say of the event, and she wanted to offer them a different type of communication and involvement.

Hagedorn has been working with a collection of leaders who were selected by last year’s Leadership on Canvas artists. She meets with the artists one-on-one to discuss what they want to express in their work, and guides them to build off of simplicities like color or mood to create a final masterpiece that could be interpreted through boundless representations.

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“Everyone has been different,” Hagedorn said. “They are each inspired by their own lives.”

You can imagine the dynamic that exists within each community leader, and many artists find a strong dynamic within themselves as time continues and events occur during the artistic process. Victoria Upton, publisher of this beautiful magazine you’re enjoying now, began the project with a vision of what she wanted to transfer to canvas.

“Taking photos of people enjoying events and each other’s presence in this evolving city is one of my favorite things to do,” Upton said. Knowing she wanted to portray community in the painting, Upton intended to create her piece outside during a public event in downtown Grand Rapids.

“I planned on creating my painting ‘en plein air’ during GRandJazzFest,” Upton explained. “Cynthia [Hagedorn] and I were going to set up an easel on the perimeter of Rosa Parks Circle and spend the whole day painting; then the tornado happened and our plans had to shift.”

We who have dabbled in the creative process know it doesn’t always take something as big as a tornado to alter our artistic intentions; however, external and internal events often add something new that, without which, the artwork wouldn’t be complete.

“I thought I had my painting’s plans set in stone,” Upton said after the tornado. “But Mother Nature supplied an unexpected inspiration for my painting.”

Enriching the collection of individual entries making up one exhibit while celebrating the perspectives from which art is viewed is a haiku response to each piece written by writer and poet Steve Ralph of the Square Peg Events team. Ralph observed each canvas without knowing who painted it or the thought process that accompanied his creation.

“I feel this approach resonates more vibrantly with the spirit of art, an inherently subjective enterprise,” Ralph said. Free of secondary inspiration that would affect his initial thoughts, Ralph wrote direct responses toward the work, which are being displayed alongside each piece during ArtPrize Eight.

Leadership on Canvas 2016 invites you to understand our Grand Rapids leaders in a new form of communication and exposes the inner artistic abilities within each participant. Visit the Richard App Pop-Up Gallery during ArtPrize Eight and stay updated on more events at ArtPrize.org.

What: Leadership on Canvas 2016 (vote code 63776)
Where: Richard App Pop-Up Gallery, 1101 Monroe Ave.
When: September 21-October 9 • Public receptions planned for Sept. 21, 28 and Oct. 7

The leader-artists of Leadership on Canvas 2016 are:

· Rosalynn Bliss, Mayor of the City of Grand Rapids
· Joan Budden, President & CEO, Priority Health
· Sam Cummings, Managing Partner & Principal, CWD Real Estate Investment
· Betsy DeVos, Community Development, Philanthropist
· Eric Englebarts II, Executive Director, Meijer State Games of Michigan
· Dana Friis-Hansen, Director & CEO, Grand Rapids Art Museum
· Jorge Gonzalez, Executive Director, West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
· Joe Jones, President & CEO, Grand Rapids Urban League, GR Commissioner
· Birgit M. Klohs, President & CEO, The Right Place
· Victoria Upton, Publisher, Women’s LifeStyle Magazine
· Kate Pew Wolters, Steelcase, Philanthropist


Photos from the Leadership on Canvas 2016 reveal celebration event at The B.O.B:

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