Art (Therapy) Prize in Grand Rapids…



As I’m sitting down to write this article, I feel exhausted.


I often ask my clients to name their emotions…


“Fine is not a feeling state.”


So this morning, I’m naming mine. And I feel exhausted.


Naming Our Feelings…

I took the Sanford women to ArtPrize this weekend. We had less than desirable weather- the entire first week of Art Prize has been quite wet. But the residents were wonderful sports. And I brought Marilyn with me to share the load/fun (in her past life, Marilyn owned an art gallery in Jacksonville, Florida). We were off and running by 9:35 AM.


I don’t know if it was the weather, the crowds, or the event itself, but I spent the following Sunday snoozing. I made a lazy coffee run in the afternoon… and returned to bed.


Anyone who has lived downtown in the past 8 years knows the end of summer marks the beginning of ArtPrize. The beginning of “I can’t get into my local coffee house because it’s the last week of September. WHO ARE ALL THESE PEOPLE…” When iron sculptures and mosaics and multitudes descend aggressively into our fair city like the plague.


If you’re unfamiliar, ArtPrize is a 2-week international art competition that takes place annually in Grand Rapids. Anyone can enter an art piece into ArtPrize, there are about 1,500 entries this year. The artwork is displayed throughout the entire town… On the sides of buildings, park lawns, inside your favorite restaurant and local coffee shops. Pieces are installed in our Grand River, the Amway Hotel, and outside of the Van Andel Arena. The art stays up the entire length of the festival, and city-goers vote for their favorite pieces. The winners receive a lovely cash prize.


But You’re an ARTIST…

This time of year I get a lot of, “But you’re an artist! Don’t you just LOVE ArtPrize?! Are you EXCITED? Have you visited ALL THE ART?!”


I like Art Prize, I do. I love that our little city is the “cool kid” for a couple of weeks. Local businesses receive more traffic, folks who wouldn’t normally engage in art viewing are getting an opportunity to do so. I also love the activity Art Prize necessitates, people don’t walk around enough in my opinion. (Move your body. It’ll lower your stress.)


So, on Saturday, off Sanford went to view some art and move our bodies.


Art as Therapy

Art therapy was a bit more present than in years previous. It was energizing to view these pieces with the residents, and open a dialogue about what art can do to impact recovery. We saw a mixed-media triptych, She Was Made of Magic That Only I Could See, by a woman named Debra Dieppa. Dieppe identified art as part of her “healing process” from trauma and childhood abuse.




We stood before Dieppa’s images for quite a while. They are so full.


The Neuro Rehabilitation Center of  Hope Network put together an installation titled, Unmasking Brain Injury. They partnered with their clients, to depict the experience of being brain injured, by way of mask-making. This is a population particularly close to my heart. Before joining the team at Sanford I was with Hope Network’s Neuro Rehabilitation center in Lansing.




These pieces bring me so much light and joy, reflection and pause- not only because they sing the praises of art therapy, but because they simply drip with human feeling. As we already know at Sanford, art can heal. Art can also shake this cranky, jaded local’s spirit and remind her the privilege of living in a city that so enthusiastically embraces art making.


Art can do that. Art is powerful.


And that makes me feel grateful. And a little less tired…



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Author Jess Kimmel has always had a passion for art and when she discovered art therapy it just made sense. Jess is an Art Therapist who serves as Clinical Manager, Sanford House at Cherry Street for Women. Jess has a B.S in Psychology and an M.S. in Art Therapy. Art therapy allows her creativity to shine through her work and she thrives on seeing the confidence grow in the individuals she works with at Sanford Behavioral Health. Jess is from Hartland, Michigan and currently lives in Grand Rapids.