ArtPrize Best Venue winner five out of the past six years, SiTE:LAB is clearly an event favorite, so earlier this summer when the non-profit art organization announced it will not be participating in ArtPrize Nine it came as a surprise.
GR|Mag sat down with Eric Kuhn, who handles communications for SiTE:LAB, to learn more about this decision and to look ahead to what is next for SiTE:LAB.
GR|Mag: Some people might be surprised to learn SiTE:LAB isn’t participating in ArtPrize Nine. For those who haven’t heard the news yet, can you explain what led to that decision?
Eric Kuhn: The biggest motivation for not participating is that we are using a new building at 415 Franklin. It was the original home of Christian High School, which was built in the 1930s. After that, it was the Kent Community Social Services building for a number of years, but it’s been empty for close to 10 years.
To get the building really up and running, we needed time to do some work as well as time to do some fundraising. So we just physically didn’t have time to get together a proper show for the event.
It was really just a regroup year. After the past two years we’ve been so busy so it was kind of a fortuitous year to take a little breath.
GR|Mag: Being such a well known venue, is it hard to sit out a year?
EK: It’s been interesting. The past two years have been so much work, with the four-acres of work we did with the Rumsey Project. It’s good that this year gives us a chance to stop, think and reorganize. But honestly, it feels kind of weird not to be in full-on ArtPrize mode.
We’re still prepping for our opening night party on Friday though. Since we’re not participating in ArtPrize, which is kind of what we do, we figured we’d give people a sneak peek of the building.
GR|Mag: Tell us about the sneak peek. What do you have planned?
EK: Normally, we have around 15 to 20 artists, but because we don’t have work being displayed, this one is just a party.
We’ll have two bars, one in the main auditorium with DJ SuperDre playing in there. Out in the courtyard, which is really this amazing space in the middle of the building, we’re having Grand Rapids Soul Club, for a more relaxed vibe.
GR|Mag: Are there any other events planned for the next three weeks?
EK: Next week, Caribbean Coalition is doing an event and we have a film showing called “Riot, Race and Reconciliation.”
We’re also facilitating a play by the Ebony Road Players over three weeks, starting the last weekend of ArtPrize. It’s called “Detroit ’67” and it’s about the riots of 1967 in Detroit. It should be amazing. I’m very interested in seeing this, not only because of the location and the story but because it’s also very different for us.
GR|Mag: Looking ahead, how is the new location coming along? How far away are you from completing the building renovations?
EK: We’re just getting started, with our eye on next year. We’ll probably do some other things next year with the space, maybe something in the spring or summer. We’re still kind of figuring it out.
Paul (Amenta), our co-founder, is actively talking with artists about coming in and what they’re going to do in the space next year. A lot of what we do is site specific. We’re not just having someone bring in a painting and hang it on the wall.
We’re doing large installs and architectural interventions, which should be interesting because one of the things we have to be careful of in this building is to maintain it. It’s going to be reused by the church after so there are some very specific things we can’t do to the building.
GR|Mag: What motivated you to acquire this new venue in comparison to other potential sites?
EK: We’ve been really lucky in that with the past couple of buildings, people have reached out to us. When we first started doing this, we’d see an empty building or have a connection in someway, but for the past four or five locations, people have come to us with the idea.
SiTE:Lab Sneak Peek is Friday, Sept. 22 at 7 p.m., “Riot, Race & Reconciliation” is showing on Friday, Sept. 29, and Detroit ’67 runs Oct. 6 – 14.
*This interview has been edited and condensed