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'ARTgarden' exhibit celebrates female artists

These hand-painted pillars serve as an homage to women and the crafts they create. Each piece has a QR code to educate visitors about the stories behind the art.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — If you're walking around ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, you may see an array of pillars with embroidery and other crafts painted on them outside the Gerald R. Ford Museum.

In the "ARTgarden" exhibit, these hand-painted pillars are serving as an homage to women and the crafts they create. The paintings feature artforms like embroidery, quilting and cross stitch. 

Artists Sabine LeDieu and Kimber Thompson collaborated on this exhibit and have been working together for more than 20 years. Thompson is a muralist who works across Michigan, while LeDieu is a sculptor whose work is displayed in Canada, Michigan and South Carolina.

By showcasing art traditionally made by women, LeDieu and Thompson hope to educate visitors about the role women have played in advancing cultures and art.

"People see the artwork but they don't necessarily know that women are the ones creating it," said Thompson. "So that's what we really wanted to bring home, is that the women are the ones that are saving cultures and customs, and forwarding that out to their children and teaching their children how to do that, too."

The murals on display are portable and will be available for rent after ArtPrize concludes.

"We wanted to create portable murals that any community can have in their parks or their gardens or festivals...So we came up with the idea of painting on recycled billboard material," said Thompson.

This mission to bring artwork to "art desert" communities, or areas without public art, is part of an initiative called The Seed Project.

"The Seed Project is to bring public art to places where there aren't any public art available," said LeDieu. "We want to celebrate and help local artists in those places to have a place to show their art and make art and have public art, so we can appreciate art together."

LeDieu and Thompson wanted to create an immersive, interactive experience around the pillars. Each one comes with something that can be heard or touched, like a gong inside the pillar that can be rung by pulling a rope.

In addition, a QR code at each piece of art allows visitors to learn more about the stories surrounding the work.

"Take a minute out of your day and experience this other culture and appreciate it," said Thompson.

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