Harry Potter Culture

Harry Potter Culture

Photo credit: Jenna Chabot

Harry Potter has been around since 1997. For most Michigan State University students, that’s practically their entire childhood. It all started with the books, then the movies and then endless merchandise. Now there’s even a theme park; The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort, where you can do anything from visit Zonko’s Joke Shop to ride Dragon’s Challenge.

“I first got into the books around 5th grade. I remember in 3rd grade, I thought it sounded incredibly dumb; I was not interested at all. So when my mom decided to read it to us during Hanukkah one year, I was vehemently opposed. But of course I listened as my mom read one of the greatest books ever, and the rest is history,” said second year international relations and political theory & constitutional democracy major and MSU Quidditch head coach Will Hack.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which opened its gates last June, is responsible for raising Universal Orlando’s revenues by about 20 percent last summer. The Wizarding World houses the most popular ride the resort has ever had, Harry Potter’s Forbidden Journey; the ride had its 1 millionth rider only a few months after the opening of the park.

The books that inspired this new attraction have been translated into 67 languages and have sold over 400 million copies. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince achieved platinum status, selling over 9 million copies, within the first 24 hours of release; a feat very few other books have ever accomplished. However, MSU students have their own favorites.

Some fans lean toward the suspense aspects of the books.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was my favorite because I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, not that I always did, but I felt like it was really hard to guess where it was going,” said mechanical engineering alumni, Matt Waggy.

Others go for the thrilling adventure.

“My favorite was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; it was before JK thought she needed to write 800 pages to make a sizable novel, so every moment was action-packed,” said Hack.

Now, 14 years after the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling is considering releasing the entire series as e-books, which may cause another jump in sales for the already record breaking books.

Having this enormously popular series available on medias such as Kindle and the iPad will encourage the transition to e-books that is already taking place and may mean the ultimate downturn of paper books.

The seven movies that have so far been released have also earned a hefty profit, grossing over $5.5 billion in sales worldwide, with over $950 million coming from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 alone, that’s more than all three Twilight movies combined.

The movies are no doubt a completely separate entity from the books. They change and adapt the story to be more concise and visual. However these changes do not necessarily take away from viewer’s enjoyment of the movies, it may even add to the excitement.

“I think it’s really cool the way that they bring the books to life. I just love to see the different ways they adapt the books,” said international relations junior Gina Herakovic.

The movies are even more intriguing for audiences that have never read the books, unlike for avid readers, every twist and turn is an entirely new and incredibly exciting adventure.

“The movies first came out when I was in fourth grade and just like we have all grown up, the movies have grown and progressed through the years.  They have gotten darker and have a deeper meaning with a more developed story line.  The final movie should be the best yet!” said engineering freshman Rebekah Koschmann, a passionate moviegoer.

The final movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, is due to be released (in 3D) July 15th of this year. Harry Potter fans have mixed feelings about the end of the empire that, when all is said and done, will include seven books and eight movies.

“I’m kind of sad, I wish it would go on longer but it was a good ending; all stories come to an end. Once they get drawn out too long they’re bad,” said microbiology sophomore Andrew Johnson.

“I’m a little sad; it’s been such a big part of my childhood. I started reading the books when I was in fourth grade and the last book came out after I graduated from high school so I’m kind of ok with the movies being done because then that part of my childhood is over and I’ll feel more like an adult,” said social relations and policy senior Kelsey Stuart.

The Harry Potter book fanatics had their ending moment in July, 2oo7 when the final book was released.

“I’m sad that no new Harry Potter materials will be coming out after the movie, although I have some hope that J.K. will produce more. Honestly though, I loved the books much more than the movies, so the release of the last book was really my cathartic moment,” said Hack.

How did people become so obsessed with Harry Potter in the first place? Every story is different, but the main reasons seem to be the life lessons and genuinely incredible story line.

“What makes Harry Potter so popular is that it is truly great literature, along with a great story. It’s achieved more success than Twilight because there is a lot of intrinsic value in the writing and morals of JK Rowling, so much so that the books are read in some literature classes. But the main reason Harry Potter took off is the story; all of us could use some magic in our lives,” said Hack.

The release of the final Harry Potter movie is truly the end of an era. But, even with no new books or movie to look forward to, the popularity and expansion of the Harry Potter dynasty suggests that it is here to stay and will potentially bridge generation gaps in the same way that The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia have.

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Spartans Spreading Green

Spartans Spreading Green

One of many Spartan Saga banners hanging around campus. (Photo credit: Justine McGuire)

Every day Spartans spread the green. Spartan Green that is; locally, nationally, and internationally. MSU students come from all over the world. According to MSU’s Student Profile Report, there are students from 43 different countries and all 50 states in just the entering class of  2010 (freshman and transfer students), many of whom will be returning home after their respective graduation dates.

Chapter President of PRSSA and senior advertizing major, Julia Wendzinski said, “On the [Spartan Sagas] site, the accounts from Spartans are coming in from around the world in every field of study, which shows the diversity of MSU.”

Every Spartan has made a difference in some way and has a story to tell. Spartan Sagas is a new tool for students, staff, faculty and alumni to tell their unique narratives.

“Spartans do great work, but they’re often not willing to toot their own horn. We’re trying to help facilitate that,” said Kurt Stepnitz, university photographer with University Relations.

The inspiration for Spartan Sagas came through MSU’s new branding operation.

“The concept that ‘Spartans Will’ do things that make a difference in the world every day was the inspirational kernel that lead to telling the stories of notable and hard working Spartan graduates, students and staff. It’s an easy connection to make, being around so many amazing people and seeing what they do day in and day out, trying to solve local, regional and worldwide problems as Spartans,” said Stepnitz.

Executive Producer of academic programming for the Big Ten Network for MSU and Director of Photography/Videography with University Relations, Jim Peck added, “[Spartans Will] is kind of the tagline, the notion that we want to leave people with. It’s a powerful thing; it speaks to what people are doing or what they will do. I think people can’t help but fill in that blank.”

Work on the Spartan Sagas project began in the late spring of 2010 and the first sagas were posted to the website that July.


Stepnitz is one of several staff members at University Relations who helps document featured Spartan Sagas. Stepnitz, lead still photographer, has been all over the U.S. and even to the U.K. to catch up with exceptional Spartans.

“I travel, generally with our executive producer and one of our videographer/producers to put together multimedia pieces that tell the stories of our subjects,” said Stepnitz.

Sending several people all over the world to document Spartans costs one pretty penny, $189,086.34 to be exact. According to some, this is money well spent.

“I do think that it is important for MSU to be conducting the Spartan Sagas campaign. I remember seeing commercials and billboards in the past for other universities and wondering why I never saw anything like that for MSU. It’s important for MSU to communicate the value of a Michigan State education,” said Wendzinski.

“Possible Spartans to be profiled have been (and continue to be) nominated by the collective Spartan family. Featured Spartans are considered for the Sagas, by simply doing extraordinary things, locally, nationally or even internationally. Making a difference somewhere in the world,” said Stepnitz.

“Some [sagas] are big stories with people that you would know about and others you would have never heard off. What connects them all is Michigan State,” said Peck.

“By showcasing the impressive talents currently at MSU and that have graduated from our college I think MSU will become an even more respected in the realm of top-performing universities,” said Wendzinski.

Unfortunately, the Sagas team cannot produce all the stories that are submitted to them, “They’re all wonderful, it’s a question of which ones stand out and which ones are visual. It’s not that we throw any out, we can just get to so many at a time; we usually do about 3 a month,” said Peck.

As a result, some of the Spartan Sagas website is devoted to what has come to be known as community sagas.

“A large part of the Saga website is dedicated to encourage others to post their own stories, or those of another Spartan they know. The pieces that we produce professionally are designed to help encourage Spartan students, faculty, staff and alumni to contribute their own sagas to the project,” said Stepnitz.

All Featured Spartan Sagas are shown on the MSU Today Show which airs on both PBS and the Big Ten Network. There is even a possibility of eventually putting community sagas on the show.

Check your local listings: http://www.msutoday.msu.edu

The Spartan Sagas project is part of MSU’s new branding campaign.

“The goal is to raise the profile and reputation of the university. We want to let people know about the good work that’s going on here,” said Peck.

University Relations, MSU’s public relations (PR) department is in charge of everything sagas; nevertheless, Peck does not see Spartan Sagas as a PR move.

“I don’t think it’s a PR move in the sense we’re trying to sell something; whether they’re alum, staff or students, these are people that call themselves Spartans and are making a difference in the world,” said Peck. “These are people speaking from their hearts; we don’t script it or set anything up.”

But according to Wendzinski, that laid-back style is part of the campaign’s power.

“I definitely don’t think that it’s less of a PR campaign because the sagas are unscripted, that’s actually something that I think makes Spartan Sagas much more of a PR campaign than an advertizing campaign. I think Spartan Sagas is working to sell the idea of what it means to be a Spartan through the words of Spartans themselves,” said Wendzinski.

Peck admitted that Spartan Sagas is trying to sell something: an education at MSU. “We want people to want to go here, or to want to send their kids here,” said Peck.

“A lot of people think that PR means ‘spinning’ a story in favor of an organization and strictly monitoring what’s being communicated. Really, PR is about communicating openly with a public and telling an organization’s story,” said Wendzinski.

Those who have seen or been part of the sagas campaign have found it inspiring to see everything the diversity of things that Spartans are doing around the world to spread Spartan Green.

“[Spartan Sagas] has definitely impressed me so far. I can see the potential in the campaign because as a Spartan, seeing the commercials and Sagas instills a sense of pride in me,” said Wendzinski.

“None of these people have much in common, except that they are all Spartans,” said Peck.

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Liz Riesterer Profile

Liz Riesterer Profile

(Photo credit: Justine McGuire)

When Liz Riesterer, walks around campus she attracts a lot of stares, some whispers and a few praising comments. Whether she’s on her way to class, the caf, or just going to hang out with friends, Riesterer is always decked out in full Harry Potter costume.

“I first became interested in Harry Potter in 3rd or 4th grade, right around the time the movies came out.” said theater, media arts and technology freshman, Riesterer. “Overtime it just grew to be more important with everything I was going through.”

The Brighton, Mich. native is very passionate about Harry Potter.

“I credit Harry Potter with saving my life,” said Riesterer.

Her New Year’s Resolution this year is to dress as a Harry Potter character every day until the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 in order to raise money for Tourette Syndrome Association Inc. (TSA).

Several years ago, Riesterer was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome.

“I was in 7th grade when I was diagnosed with Tourettes; I was in a really dark place and suffering from depression. When I would come home from school after having kids spit on me and physically attack me, I would curl up with Harry Potter and that would calm me down,” said Riesterer.

Tourette Syndrome is an inherited neurobiological disorder which is characterized by sudden, uncontrollable movements and vocalizations. Most of the 200,000 known victims of Tourette Syndrome first showed symptoms between the ages of six and eighteen. There is no known cause or cure for Tourettes, although many medications have been found to lessen the effects of the disorder.

After struggling for several years with her disorder, Riesterer finally found some real assurance in the book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

“Most of my problem was that I spoke without thinking,” said Riesterer. “A lot of people didn’t understand me and just thought I was weird.”

The fifth Harry Potter book taught Riesterer to stay true to herself with the understanding that one day, other people would see through to the real Liz too.

Following numerous years of Harry Potter fanaticism, Riesterer took her senior pictures in Gloucester Cathedral in England. This was the place where scenes from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince were filmed. For this, she was named Harry Potter Fan of the Year in 2009.

Another great support system for Riesterer and her family has been TSA.

“When I was first diagnosed with Tourettes, my mom would go online when she had questions and needed answers,” said Riesterer.

Founded in 1972, TSA is the only national organization dedicated to the field of Tourette Syndrome. The association is committed to identifying the cause and cure of Tourette Syndrome by providing grants through its Research Fund to qualified scientists.

Today’s TSA has grown to include 45 chapters and over 300 support groups nationwide.

“[TSA has] been a great part of my journey so I have always wanted to give back for all of the help they gave me,” said Riesterer.

Riesterer said that most of the fundraisers are through Team TSA, but they do mostly marathons which have never been her thing. She knew that she would have to do something on her own.

She contacted the TSA before she began fundraising to make sure they approved and they set her up with a donation page where the money goes straight to the organization.

Riesterer calls herself a Trib-raiser.

“It is a word my mom and I invented,” said Riesterer. “It is a fundraiser that pays tribute to something, because I am also paying tribute to Harry Potter.”

One thing many people find hard to understand is why Riesterer wears the Harry Potter costume.

“When people ask I give them my card and tell them what I’m doing,” said Riesterer. “When people give me a funny look I ask them what they know about Tourettes; the costume is mostly an eye catcher and conversation starter.”

Aside from donations directly to her TSA website, Riesterer takes any opportunity she can to do Trib-raising. Most recently, she was part of Hub of Love in Hubbard Hall. The event featured free candy, fortune telling and sex education material for anyone who attended. One table sold mocktails and that money went to Riesterer’s cause, 42 dollars total.

Riesterer’s goal is to raise 5,000 dollars for TSA by the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. So far she has accrued 1,310  dollars through her donation website.

To make a donation to Liz’s team, you can visit www.active.com/donate/teamtsa/riesterer.

To follow Liz’s journey, you can connect with her on Twitter and YouTube.

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ATD Fashion Show Preview

ATD Fashion Show Preview

This year the Apparel and Textile Design (ATD) major is vamping up its program with its first annual fashion show. This year’s show promises shock and awe with its meticulously selected designs and avant garde style.

Many may remember the spring fashion show that was previously put on by the Student Apparel Design Association (SADA). Some rumors have circulated that the show was taken away from SADA by the ATD department.

Student Assistant Director to the ATD Fashion Show, Olivia Grzasko, put these rumors to rest. “The show isn’t necessarily being ‘taken away,’ as most SADA members are part of the Apparel and Textile Design major. Rather, the department decided that it would be an added strength to the program to have its own fashion show, and seeing that both a SADA show and an ATD show could overwhelm students, it chose to direct all attention to the ATD show,” said Grzasko.

Assistant Professor Dr. Theresa Winge who is the adviser for SADA and a member of the jury for the ATD Fashion Show, further explained why SADA will not be hosting a fashion show of their own this year. “While it is true that SADA has had fashion shows in the past; this year, the fashion-forward board has taken a new direction that they feel will benefit all of the student members. In addition to participating in several local fashion shows and philanthropic events, they are also planning a most significant design activity this academic year–a Fashion Design trip to Iceland for Spring Break 2011,” said Winge.

Although it could be said that the new Annual ATD Fashion Show is replacing the SADA Fashion Show, there are many significant differences that will make this years’ ATD show completely unlike SADA shows.

Preparations for the ATD Fashion Show began in the fall semester with ATD 439: Portfolio Development and Exhibition. Since the start of last semester the ATD 439 crew has held open model casting, accepted garment entries, selected a venue and began planning for a reception, amongst other things, to prepare for the February 26 show.

The ATD Fashion Show is a juried show, meaning that garments are submitted and then the Design Committee, which includes two professors and students from ATD 439, decides which garments will be featured in the show.

“This is completely different than SADA, which allowed any designs into the show,” said Leigh Gervasi, Student Director of the ATD Fashion Show and former Vice President of SADA. “We were really looking for avant garde pieces, usually with some sort of hand sewn element. We were looking for things that will make the audience’s jaws drop,” said Gervasi.

Designer, Jen Henry

ATD senior, member of the Design Committee and Chair of the Model Committee, Jen Henry said, “Last year’s SADA show was unlimited, this year we can have up to 3 garments and they were judged; this was harder to get into. We had teachers on the panel pushing us to do our best and have the most visually interesting pieces going down the runway.”

Henry has three garments in the show. “All of them are very avant garde; they are not street ready,” Henry said. One of her pieces is a white dress with an entirely open side which is kept together with wire, the second involves starched yarn and balloons and the third was made using hangers.

Also distinct from previous SADA shows the ATD Fashion Show does not have a defined theme. “Unlike SADA shows in the past, where themes were chosen and designers were assigned to a specific concept, this year’s show is subject to each designer’s personal interpretation,” said Grzasko.

The absence of a theme was an intentional decision of the ATD program, “These events are meant to be opportunities to exhibit the very best designs from a program. It would be counter-productive to have a theme, which might eliminate some of the best designs,” said Winge.

It has been decided that the ATD Fashion Show will be held on campus, unlike shows in past years, at the Passant Theatre in Wharton Center. “It’s really exciting because we think it will draw a huge crowd to be on campus,” said Gervasi.

The student committees in charge of the show are also working on having a reception at the Wharton Center following the show. “Wharton Center is just so beautiful, we want to stay there as long as we can,” said Gervasi. The reception will hopefully be held directly after the show outside the theatre. It will feature mannequins of designs that do not appear in the main show.

“These are garments that don’t transfer well on a runway. Either because they have a lot of detail or they won’t hold up on the runway. This gives us an opportunity to show case those as well,” said Gervasi.

Although ATD 439 ended with the fall semester, the students of the class are still hard at work planning their avante gard fashion show which will take place on Feb. 26 at 7:00 p.m. at the Wharton Center.

Tickets have been on sale since Feb. 1, for $12 each. “We anticipate [the show] to sell out. Last year’s SADA show had 1200 seats and sold out; this year we have only 600 seats,” said Henry.

The show is sure to be something worth seeing as Spartans embark on careers in fashion, using the Annual ATD Fashion Show as a launching pad.

Tickets are on sale at: http://whartoncenter.com/boxoffice/default.aspx

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Harry Potter Works Its Magic at the Box Office

Harry Potter Works Its Magic at the Box Office

Harry Potter fans wait outside theater for midnight showing. Photo Credit: Brett Ekblad

Since the first book in the Harry Potter series arrived on shelves in 1998, the HP empire has grown astronomically; even bordering on being a generational symbol.

The highly anticipated first half of the seventh and final installment of HP, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, arrived in theaters and IMAX on Nov. 19 to a global crowd of diehard fans.

An article in The New York Times shows that 25% of the viewers for HP7 were in the 18-34 year old demographic and sites that only 10 percent of the audience for the first movie was in that same age group. This is a testament to a generation that has grown up with HP, who started to watching the movies in their tweens and are now well into their late teens and early to mid-twenties, and still obsessed.

The midnight showings of HP7 both in theaters and IMAX sold out almost as soon as the tickets were put on sale. The movie grossed $330 million internationally its first weekend ($125.1 million in North America), easily pushing the movie to the number one box office spot. $16.6 million of the international gross was contributed by IMAX ticket sales.

This newest movie has been aggressively marketed for the past year, adding to the anticipation that HP fanatics were already feeling as soon as they finished watching the sixth movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince nearly a year and a half ago. These fans were not disappointed; HP7 has definite improvement in the acting of Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) and the story is an exciting ride that is completely different from any of the others.

As Harry, Ron and Hermione have grown as the series has progressed, so have Radcliffe, Grint and Watson. Not only in age and size, but also in their skills as actors. In this newest installment, all three have grown into mature actors, free of awkward acting moments that perforated the first few movies and persisted to some extent up until now.

HP7 takes a different route than its predecessors from the very beginning. The wizard civil war is heating up and without Dumbledore, the Order of the Phoenix is weakened and diminished to hiding out in the country as they contemplate their next move.

Meanwhile, Harry finds himself in a position that keeps him from returning to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in favor of a far flung search for Voldemort’s horcruxes. The horcruxes are essential to the fight against Voldemort, which are pieces of his soul stored in various objects that have some sort of significance to him. As long as he has horcruxes, he cannot effectively be killed.

Being the great friends that they are, Hermione and Ron join Harry in his journey. As usual, it’s not all fun and games with the dynamic trio. Tensions run high as the group travels in hiding up and down the English countryside seeking horcruxes to no avail. Eventually it becomes apparent that the three are not only responsible for finding Voldemort’s horcruxes, but also the Deathly Hallows.

Although HP7’s plot is slower moving than previous HP movies’, it is definitely the truest to the book of all the movies, most likely because J.K. Rowling was a producer on this movie, unlike all the previous HP films. The movie sets the ground work for part two, which is sure to be action packed. This seventh movie leads right up to the point where the viewer says, “It can’t be over yet.” Of course, this is a good strategy by Warner Bros to get people back to the theaters for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, opening July 15, 2011.

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MSU Food Bank Lessens Financial Burdens for Students

MSU Food Bank Lessens Financial Burdens for Students

Photo Credit: Justine McGuire

For financial assistance, some MSU students turn to the MSU Student Food Bank (MSUSFB). MSUSFB distributes about 38,000lbs of food to an average of 4,000 clients each year, according to MSUSFB’s website.

MSUSFB was established in 1993 by MSU students, for MSU students.

“The person who should get all the credit for starting the food bank is really a retired Staff member – her name was Bea Mot,” said Dennis Martell, the original student director of MSUSFB and current Health Education Coordinator at Olin Health Center. Mot approached Martell, then president of Council of Graduate Students, and asked for help starting up the food bank.

The sole purpose of the creating the food bank was for students. Biweekly distribution is made possible by student volunteers and a few student employees. MSUSFB hosts over 200 volunteers each year.

MSUSFB volunteers are very important to the organization. The volunteers get things set up before the distributions, including bagging bread and double bagging grocery bags. During the distribution, volunteers fill clients’ orders, keep the back shelves stocked, and manage the self-distribution area. In short, they keep everything going, all under the direction of the MSUSFB staff, of course.

The food distributed consists of canned and non-durable food items, such as peanut butter, rice, and soup, as well as some dairy products donated by the MSU Dairy Store. Clients can also use the self-serve section to get vegetables, fruit and bread in limited amounts.

In recent years, the tough economy has created an increased financial burden on many students and their families. At the same time, tuition costs have been rising, adding to the fiscal load. It’s no wonder that the number of clients at the MSUSFB has increased.

“The number of clients served has remained pretty constant over the last few years,” said MSUSFB director, Nate Smith-Tyge. “We’re right around 250 to 300 people per distribution. This is an increase over the years prior and we equate the increase in demand for our services with the overall economic climate in the state.”

Students Who Utilize the Food Bank

These students preferred not to have their full names printed for privacy reasons.


Heather is an undergraduate student in her third year, majoring in special education. She is living in University Housing with her two-year-old son Kadan.

Heather heard about MSUSFB through another on-campus resource, Student Parents on a Mission, a group that meets once a month to provide resources and aid for student parents.

“[MSUSFB] should have a separate line for children,” she said as Kadan ran around the room, curiously checking out the different kinds of people in attendance.

Heather is currently working at the nursery in the United Methodist Church on campus. She attends the MSUSFB distributions every once in awhile to help make ends meet as she single-handedly raises her son and attends school full-time.


Alla is a graduate student studying environmental engineering and water treatment methods. She is also an international student from Ukraine. She currently works for her department of study as they search for new methods of water treatment and sometimes has trouble getting by.

Alla heard about the MSUSFB through a friend and has since become a regular at the distributions. She said she uses the MSUSFB as a “way to support myself, have less expenses.”

Alla added, “I try to come every other week, [but] work sometimes gets in the way.”


Victoria is a single mother supporting two children, a 10-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, as she goes back to school to get her law degree. She is currently in her first year in the MSU College of Law.

First year law students are not allowed to work, Victoria said, and for the remaining years they are only allowed to work up to 20 hours per week. She added, “It’s not enough.” Victoria went from having a full-time job to having no income at all when she started school.

Victoria first heard of MSUSFB through a friend who had previously used the services. She was apprehensive at first to use the resource, as she previously was one of the people that donated to charitable organizations like MSUSFB. However, she said, “I had to get over the pride thing, and put my kids first.” She added, “It’s weird to be on the receiving end but I figure this is my time to be in this situation and eventually I will be donating again.

“My primary concern is doing well in school so that I can have a better way to provide for my children in the future,” she said.

MSU Food Bank Impact

The impact of MSUSFB may seem small, but is significant to struggling students. It all adds up in the end and it adds up to a lot over the years; over 608,000lb of food since 1993. This service is a relief to many MSU students who often do not have anywhere else to turn. The MSUSFB plans to continue to serve the MSU community in the years to come and hope to touch the lives of as many students as possible; both volunteers and clients.

For more information on the MSU Student Food Bank, please visit the MSUSFB site.

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ArtPrize 2010

ArtPrize 2010

Elephant Walk

ArtPrize 2010 was a huge success, pulling over 1,700 artists into Grand Rapids from 14 different countries to display art in over 190 venues and over 465,000 community members cast their votes to pick this year’s Top Ten ArtPrize winners.

Started in 2009 by Richard Devos of Grand Rapids, ArtPrize is meant to bring the world’s art community and the Grand Rapids community together as an open forum for conversation and appreciation of art.

• ArtPrize is the only art contest that allows entries from anyone in the world; no art degree required

• ArtPrize provides the largest prize of any art competition in the world

• ArtPrize is the only art competition that is open to a public vote

How it works

There are three elements that make up ArtPrize; venues, artists, and voters.

Venues are businesses throughout downtown Grand Rapids, within a certain geographical limit, that show artists’ work during the two weeks of ArtPrize. Artists are allowed one entry and they must secure one of the almost 200 venues to host their piece in order to be a competitor. Voters are everyday people who attend ArtPrize, see something they like and vote for it through internet, text, or a downtown voting center.

This type of voting system has never before been used for an art contest. Normally there would be a jury of elite art professionals, all with PhD’s and Master’s of Fine Arts (MFA) degrees. MSU Associate Professor of Electronic Art & Intermedia Adam Brown said, “I think it’s a fresh venue. I don’t know if it’s better or worse, but it’s different. It provides the public with a voice.”

In the first week of competition attendees are allowed to vote as many times as they wish. ArtPrize artist, Lesley Van Leeuwen-Vega, says that this practice makes the first week a bit more trivial, and results in a lot of “cake and ice cream” votes from parents attempting to please their children. The first week tends to favor pieces that are a “big spectacle” rather than genuinely good pieces of art. The top ten is announced at the end of the first week of voting.

In the second week of viewing, voters are allowed only one vote, if someone votes more than once, only the most recent vote will be counted. Van Leeuwen-Vega says that despite some criticism from the art community, “people really think about where their one vote will go,” and she added that, “things aren’t less special because you don’t have a Masters of Fine Arts.”

After the second week of voting, the Top 10 are put in descending order and awarded their perspective prizes. The art then remains at the venues for a few more days for the general enjoyment of the public. Some of the entries remain in downtown Grand Rapids even after ArtPrize is over, such as last years’ mosaic on the side of the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum.

Conversations in the Art Community

Recently, Kendall College professor, Deb Rockman, came forward, as she did in 2009, with her concerns about whether the average person knows how to accurately judge art. Rockman is quoted to have said, “It’s great that they have such an interest, but they often don’t have the base of knowledge to make an informed judgment.”

Helping Mom One Penny at a Time

Other professionals disagree with Rockman’s assessment. Former Kendall professor, Harry Kutten, said, “Average citizens can determine if they are moved by [art].” Van Leeuwen-Vega adds that “people know how they feel about things.”

MSU alumni and ArtPrize artist, Bree Gomez said, “I think that everyone is entitled to an opinion. When dealing with public art, people are very important. This isn’t a gallery.”

Gomez also said, “Art doesn’t have to be conceptually so deep that people don’t understand it.”

Kutten and Van Leeuwen-Vega also noted that there are plenty of art competitions that involve paneled judging; ArtPrize is just not one of them. (There is a jury of art professionals who recognize entries from different categories; however, these winners do not receive a cash prize).

ArtPrize offers a unique opportunity to anyone and everyone. As far as ArtPrize is concerned, “Everyone is an artist,” said Kutten.

As some criticize and others praise the system and intentions of ArtPrize, it becomes unclear what the future of the event will hold. “I don’t know if it will [grow] in the art world, the ‘art world’ is complicated,” said Brown. “It is definitely growing the arts in Michigan, but as far as putting Michigan on the map in the art world, I’m not sure.”

The Big Picture

Unlike most art contests, ArtPrize is not all about the winnings. The prize gets artists to Grand Rapids, the art gets people to Grand Rapids and the people start talking about art and spending money in downtown Grand Rapids. Allowing the public to vote forces viewers to think more critically about art; what they are drawn to and what moves them.

Kutten says that the purpose of the event is “to encourage the value of art.”

“[ArtPrize] seems to be good for the economy of Michigan,” said Brown. During last year’s event, restaurants ran out of food and were forced to close early because the downtown area was so busy.

Gomez said, “[ArtPrize is] very beneficial to GR. It helps people get to know what’s in Grand Rapids and gives support to local businesses.”


Recognition of any kind is very important to artists. The field of art is highly competitive and often elitist. One of the reasons that ArtPrize is so appealing to aspiring artists is that anyone can enter and everyone has a chance to win.

Bree Gomez

Bree Gomez took studio art courses at MSU in her freshman year of college before transferring to the Art Institute of Chicago. Gomez said she “didn’t want to go” but the school offered programs in the arts that were not offered at MSU.

She recently received her Bachelor’s of Fine Arts with an emphasis on sculpture and design from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Gomez entered ArtPrize in both 2009 and 2010 and shared her reasoning for entering: “I wanted to get exposure as an up and coming artist.” She also added, “[ArtPrize] is a good opportunity to see how work works with the public, it let’s artists see if [they’re] going in the right direction.”

Her entry Accord was shown in front of the Grand Rapids Art Museum and received Top 25 recognition.

“I feel happy to get that far up on the voting, at the same time it would have been nice to have a chance in the top ten,” said Gomez.

Accord is an interactive piece which responds to movement with light and sound. It is a “stagnant sculpture that communicates,” said Gomez. “There is dialog within the piece, but only if you interact with it.”

Gomez says that Accord is meant to promote “subliminal healing through light and sound.” She refers to the piece as “positive art.”

Harry Kutten

Harry Kutten received his MFA from Western Michigan University and was an art professor at Kendall College.

Kutten decided to enter ArtPrize this year because he said he felt it was time to do more than just teach. “I want to encourage people to enjoy art and to see the beauty that I see,” said Kutten. “I wanted to share what I felt with others.”

The pastel drawing Ballet Dancer, by Harry Kutten showed in the Blue Cross Blue Shield building during ArtPrize.

Kutten explained that he has always enjoyed ballet. “It’s a form of communication to an audience without language,” said Kutten. “They express a feeling of beauty in dance form.”

For Ballet Dancer, Kutten was allowed to sit in on a rehearsal. He was struck by the sight of an exhausted dancer who sat down, but with the feeling of inevitably getting back up to continue dancing. This feeling is what he wanted to depict in his piece.

Lesley Van Leeuwen-Vega

Lesley Van Leeuwen-Vega entered ArtPrize after encouragement from other artists and the realization that she had something important to say.

Her piece, The Coalition for Responsible American Policy, uses advertising tactics to put a positive spin on ideas that are generally seen as negative in our society. She makes homophobia, racism and sexism sound like good ideas.

The intent was to get people to “try to understand what’s going on.” With so many ads being thrown at people every day, Van Leeuwen-Vega wondered if people notice what ads really say. Her piece forces the viewer to think critically about what is being said.

Find out more about other artists and see a list of the Top Ten ArtPrize winners for 2010

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