Student uses art to follow dreams
Finding the perfect beer doesn’t lead to a rowdy Friday night for Grand Valley State University student Alaina Clarke – she can’t even drink it because of the gluten.
The 26-year-old isn’t looking for a specific taste, but for an interesting bottle cap.
When she finds caps that are different or rare, she stamps them out, pounds them down and manipulates them into custom earrings for her jewelry company, Grace Face Designs. “Bottle caps are cool, everybody saves them and it’s fun to turn them into something wearable,” Clarke said. “And it’s more than just, ‘let me poke a hole in the bottle cap,’ there’s a huge, long process to it.”
Although her “upcycled” jewelry might not be “art school art,” it’s not just a craft either, she said. Clarke graduated with a BFA in metalsmithing and jewelry from GVSU in 2009, then moved to North Carolina where she worked as a photographer for two years.
But she couldn’t stay away from Michigan. “I missed Grand Rapids,” Clarke said. “Living in North Carolina was the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me, and then moving back has been even greater than I could have expected.”
She’s currently finishing a minor at GVSU in nonprofit administration with the intent of attending graduate school for a master’s degree in nonprofits. Her love for both art and nonprofit comes together with her 40-year goal of opening a fine arts high school in Grand Rapids. She said it would be an accredited school, which gives students the core class curriculum, but also lets them study dance, theatre, visual, vocal and instrumental arts.
“Some people aren’t book smart, some people aren’t that way – I wasn’t,” she said. “I had to work my butt off to get good grades and the only thing that really saved me was art because I was able to learn how to transfer my dedication to art over into my other subjects.”
Clarke knows it’s a huge goal, and she wants to start smaller with a nonprofit after school program that would help keep students interested in art. She said she wants the community to be engaged in the arts because they’re an important part of Grand Rapids, the city she hopes to call her forever home.
Already as an intern with Avenue for the Arts, a nonprofit organization in Grand Rapids, Clarke has worked at bringing the community together with several events, while also showcasing her work.
Her next event, “A Lot of Art,” is a fundraising event for Avenue for the Arts at San Chez Bistro off of Fulton Street in Grand Rapids Sept. 16 from 4-9 p.m. The $10 ticket price includes cooking and mixology classes, food, live music and an art market where Clarke, among other artists, will be selling her “beerings.”
Although she has an Etsy.com account and a Grace Face Designs Facebook page, she likes selling her jewelry face-to-face for the personal connection it provides.
“With handmade (jewelry), the person put their heart and soul into that piece and they make it because somebody is going to love it,” Clarke said. “They do it because they enjoy it and they want you to enjoy it.”
Her jewelry will also be on display during the Avenue for the Arts ArtShop Sept. 21-23 on South Division Street as part of ArtPrize 2012. The market-style event brings together local artists and the community.
Because of her move, this is Clarke’s first ArtPrize experience and there are many elements she’s hoping to see, such as people spending time in smaller venues, she said.
“There are a lot of artists that I feel their work doesn’t get seen because it’s not huge and it’s not big – because even the smallest of things would really amaze you, if you knew how to look at it,” Clarke said.
She’s humble about her own work, and loves getting critiques.
“Seeing it from so many different perspectives really opens up my mind into how I can create it differently or what I can do to make it more versatile,” she said.
She encourages people to help her with her art, and loves when people talk to her during shows because everyone has a different opinion.
“What I love about art is everybody has a view, everybody either likes it or they hate it, or they want to talk about it,” she said. “People sometimes are afraid of talking about art because they didn’t go to art school and they didn’t have the background of art, but the great thing about art is that you can critique it because the artists made it for you to see.”
Clarke is using the ArtPrize and Avenue for the Arts events as small steps toward her goal of bringing Grand Rapids together through art.
“I moved back here to invest in Grand Rapids and hopefully for Grand Rapids for invest in me – and so far it seems to be proving itself.”