Year in Review: Top features #5

Harris' hidden gems of ArtPrize

By David Specht | 4/19/15 6:19pm


GVL / Marissa Dillon Harris Building- People admire Robert Shangle as a living statue

Originally published 10/6/14

Boasting an attendance rate of over 300,000, ArtPrize is anything but a secret. Within ArtPrize, however, rest a few venues that could be considered the hidden gems of the festival. One of these often-overlooked locations is the recently renovated Harris Building, which sits just a few blocks south of the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts.

Students visiting ArtPrize often just visit the venues that are the most popular or least out of the way, and might be surprised to find that the lesser visited locations are home to powerful pieces - even a few that are in the final top 20 of the competition.

An icon of the Heartside District for over a century, the building primarily houses The Local Epicurean pasta shop, but also dedicates much of its square footage to offices and event spaces. This October, the four-level structure was transformed into a gallery for three-dozen artists to display their works.

One such artist is Bill Santelli, who traveled from Rochester, New York to display his three-piece large-scale painting, titled “Dream Flashes.” His entry was inspired by his travels to Hawaii and is an abstract work that is meant to transcend the islands and express universal feelings.

Santelli, who has never stepped foot inside Grand Rapids until this year, has not only found himself appreciating the widespread artwork within the city, but also the venues that are hosting the artists – including his host, the Harris Building.

“I think it’s great that they’ve basically brought all of the old brick back to life,” Santelli said. “Down here on the first floor the owner is going more for gallery space and he has done an amazing job. I’ve seen pictures of before and after, and this building was really in sorry shape when he took it over. He’s invested a lot of money and the results speak for themselves.”

Below the first level sits a vast basement that has an industrial feel. Above, the second floor of the building offers an entirely atypical space of its own.

“It was a meeting place for the Knights of Pythias, which was a private club similar to a masons group,” Santelli said. “It was a huge ballroom and there’s a dome ceiling that the owner has put the light bulbs back into, and huge chandelier fixture that’s massive.”

With a handful of top-20 entries installed in the Harris Building, visitors of ArtPrize might find that the short hike down Division Ave to the venue is time well spent. Of course, artist Santelli is also an art-lover, and hasn’t spent his entire visit within the confines of the building.

“I’m absolutely blown away,” Santelli said. “Not only by the amount of artists here, but by the city – it’s fabulous. I will definitely come back in 2015, maybe even to the Harris Building.”

So while the major draws, such as the UICA and the Grand Rapids Art Museum will always be ArtPrize musts, Lakers might find that venturing a bit outside of their safe zones - a few blocks down Division Ave, perhaps - can yield great results.

For more information about the Harris Building and the entries that are located there, visit

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