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Art Festival Story

The Art of Prosperity

Support for festivals attracting, growing artists for Michigan

Consumers Energy is powering the arts.

For the second consecutive year, we’re sponsoring the Bright Walls mural festival in Jackson, which in 2018 drew artists from throughout the world to adorn downtown buildings.

We’ve also contributed to the success of ArtPrize, the wildly popular competition that draws tens of thousands to Grand Rapids each fall. Since 2013, we’ve sponsored the SmartArt Contest, a high school art competition that’s part of ArtPrize and highlights renewable energy through art.

Marriage proposal helps tie knot between Jackson, mural festival

Bright Walls — which returns for its second year from Sept. 5-10 — was conceived by Clay McAndrews and his wife, Leslie Youngdahl, both Consumers Energy employees. The couple enjoys visiting new destinations, touring the murals in those cities and snapping pictures in front of them.

flintClay proposed to Leslie in front of a mural in Boston. That inspired him to formulate plans for a mural festival in Jackson.

They took the idea to local businesses, including Consumers Energy, looking for buy-in and contributions. We were one of the first companies to sign on, knowing the impact the project could have on prosperity in downtown Jackson.

In the festival’s first year, more than 8,000 people enjoyed watching artists from around the globe create larger-than-life masterpieces and attending educational and interactive events. In the months following the inaugural Bright Walls Festival, thousands more have continued to enjoy the murals located throughout downtown Jackson, which are lit by energy-efficient LED lights.

This year the festival features 21 artists from around the world including: Australia, Brazil, South Africa, the Netherlands, New York, Texas and Michigan. Each day of the festival includes events for all ages in addition to the mural painting, such as: live Concerts, kids’ and family activities and food trucks.

McAndrews is thrilled with the festival’s success.

“It’s free, public art that is accessible for everyone to enjoy,” he said. “The mission is to create a destination in Jackson for making memories.”


For more information, visit www.BrightWallsJackson.com.

Contest provides opportunity, confidence for young artists

In six years of helping to run SmartArt, Maggie Malone, the director of fine arts of Grand Rapids Public Schools, has marveled at the ways high school students blend their artistic sensibilities with a focus on renewable and sustainable energy.

The young artists have shown incredible imagination using paint, charcoal, pastels and other media.

One year, a student used electrical wires to turn a two-dimensional project into a three-dimensional display. Another time a student used a solar panel as a canvas. Malone’s personal favorite: the spud car. Using torn paper and paint — and the written portion of the entry to explain — the student invented a car that ran on potatoes.

“It runs the gambit — everything you can imagine,” Malone says.

We sponsor SmartArt (Students Making Art with A Renewable Theme), as part of our support for ArtPrize, the wildly popular competition that draws 500,000 visitors to Grand Rapids each fall. ArtPrize is slated to return in 2020. This year, the city will host the Project 1 art festival from Sept. 7-Oct. 27. Learn more at www.ArtPrize.org.

flintOpen to high school students who attend Grand Rapids Public Schools, SmartArt draws 50 to 70 entries every year, Malone said. The Grand Rapids Public Schools Fine Arts Department whittles down the entrants to the top 20. From that selection, jurors from Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Valley State University and the Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University select the top 10. View the 2018 winners here.

The SmartArt winner receives a $1,000 college scholarship. But perhaps the greatest value of the competition comes in exposure. The students meet and mingle with other artists as well as representatives from local art colleges. Their work is displayed at various locations in Grand Rapids alongside the work of professional artists as part of ArtPrize.

“There’s upwards of 500,000 people who go through there,” Malone says. “For a high school student, to have your work shown and viewed on that platform, that’s something that professional artists aspire to. That’s life-changing for the students.”

Several students who competed in SmartArt have gone on to art school.

"For students to have their art at that platform, it changes how they view themselves,” Malone said. “They see themselves as serious artists.”