Her project during the stint at Grand Valley – the role is now on an
annual cycle to welcome an artist each year – will further her ongoing
project, "The Fate of the Machinery," which explores the
economic and social impacts of the manufacturing industry and its decline.
Students will work with Levy in a seminar she designed called
"Art and Activism with Kate Levy," said Paul Wittenbraker,
chair of the Department of Visual and Media Arts.
"Her project will engage the condition of our region in terms of
environment, economy, labor, and land," Wittenbraker said.
"It will be great to have such a great example of research-based,
collaborative, and interdisciplinary artist working alongside of
students and faculty."
Levy, who grew up in the Detroit suburbs, said a key element she
draws upon for this project is her family's multigenerational business
as industrial auctioneers who liquidated the assets of businesses amid
factory closures. West Michigan was the setting for a number of those
auctions, she said.
"I'm really interested in questioning the idea of, 'If we could
just go back to manufacturing, everything would be great,'" Levy said.
Her plans for her project at GVSU include exploring the former Gulf
and Western conglomerate, which has ties to Grand Rapids; the history
of some closed factories in Muskegon along with the environmental
impacts that community organizers are still working on; and the
juxtaposition of former furniture factories, where Levy said workers
often felt like their family was at the plant, becoming venues for
weddings, where a different type of family is formed.
Levy will also bring to GVSU students her experiences cultivating her
artistic practice. She said her background varies from freelancing to
having a job teaching high school students with one artistic project
on the side to living cheaply and working fewer hours.
She relies on advice she received in graduate school to write down
every idea in a notebook. The ideas are not lost that way, they're
just on hold until an opportunity emerges to pull one forward, she said.
"You're creating a business and some of your projects are going
to lose money and some of your projects are going to make money,"
Levy said. "I think the thing for me is to make decisions that I
know will lead somewhere else but not be so closed as to knowing what
exactly what that thing is – and being open to all the different ways
that I could work.
She added: "You can't be afraid to make a decision. At the end
of the day you have to make a decision."
Levy will succeed Sean Carney, who arrived in 2020 and navigated this
role through a pandemic, the conditions of which also sparked his creativity.
"Sean has been a productive and generous collaborator during the
past three years as the Padnos Distinguished Artist-in-Residence
during an incredibly strange time for us all," Wittenbraker said.
"Essays from his time at GVSU have been published widely in Art
in America, Glasstire, Harvard Urban Review and Artforum."