Local artists, gallery work to curb violence in Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A group of local artists is working to curb gun violence in Grand Rapids. 

In 2019, the Safe Task Force for the city of Grand Rapids hosted its 4th annual safe pitch night. Local art gallery Muse GR secured funding for a music-based mentorship program. They spent the next several months auditioning young people to be a part of a music group. 

“I grew up in California. My neighborhood was riddled by gun violence,” said Stephen Smith, who owns Muse GR. “Two of my brothers were killed. So this is how I continue to let their legacy live on. Music helped me get through tough times.”

Smith and his partner, Tilden Parc, who is the engineering instructor for the program, picked eight young men. Seven of them went forward with the process. They named the group the Collec7ive. 

“Music has opened a lot of doors for me in a lot of ways I didn’t even see coming. But being a part of this has helped a lot,” said Duntarius Tate, who is a part of the group. “I can let out a lot of stuff that if I didn’t want to talk about, I can let it out in a song.”

To launch their first album, they unveiled an exhibit at the art gallery. The group commissioned artwork from artist Leon Sarfoh for each song. As visitors go through the gallery, they can scan QR codes to listen to the songs that inspired each of the 12 paintings. 

The artists spoke about the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality and their daily struggles throughout the album. Their mentors say creating the music not only keeps young people off the streets, it can be therapeutic for many. 

“A lot of young people feel very similar to each other so if they can express themselves and have something productive to do, it gives them purpose,” said Parc, who executive produced the album. “A lot of the kids that are a part of the program, they’ve opened up and really come out of their shell. They’ve grown as artists but they’ve also grown as people.” 

Parc says he hopes the project inspires another generation to make good choices and find their purpose. 

The Collec7ive will host a free music show at Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids on Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. The interactive exhibit will run through the end of October. 

Muse owner Stephen Smith says they look forward to working with more young people in the near future.

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