Local teacher creates unique pieces for ArtPrize

Marissa Tawney Thaler is a veteran ArtPrize-er; she knows where to find the best of the best, and she should, seeing as this is her third year as an exhibitor. This year, the Lansing native shows her interactive sculpture, “Value Scale,” at the City Water Building.

“At ArtPrize, a lot of people stick to the same five locations,” Thaler said, citing the DeVos Center and the GRAM as popular venues. “That’s great, but I think there’s a lot to be said about some of the smaller venues.”

Most of those bigger venues are filled with not only crowd-pleaser pieces, but also some of the more accessible art. Some of which value popularity over content.

“Some artists like the low hanging fruit; the obvious answer,” Thaler said. “It’s not pushing people to think creatively or deeply which is very much what I think art is meant to do.”

So Thaler made a piece to oppose that sentiment.

“I’m going for part interactive sculpture and part social experiment,” Thaler said. “Value Scale” consists of a shelving with each shelf labeled with a different aspect of one’s life, like material possessions, aspirations, life goals. The categories descend downwards all the way down to the last shelf labeled “Vices.” Each shelf contains seven blocks labeled with different things pertaining to each category.

“I’m hoping the viewer goes through and orders the blocks from most important to least important,” Thaler said, revealing each individual’s values. Thaler intends to anonymously document and post the results of “Value Scale” on her website.

“I’ve participated in my own piece,” Thaler said. On the back of each block, Thaler has attributed her own value to each object.

“If you flip them over, you can line them up and figure out what I value the most,” Thaler said. “To ask the public to be vulnerable with me, I wanted to turn around and be transparent back.”

While Thaler is premiering “Value Scale” in Grand Rapids, she hasn’t turned her back on her hometown of Lansing.

“I worked with Keys to Creativity and I’ve done some volunteering and some teaching with REACH,” Thaler said. “Both of those are really great institutions.”

Thaler is also a full-time elementary art teacher with Waverly School District. And like most teachers she’s concerned about defunding and what it will do to her community’s school district. But seeing the community come together for ArtPrize brings Thaler some hope for the future.

“To see children and adults making a point of going out and finding art and being so excited about it as a community is a huge positive,” Thaler said.

Even though Thaler has a few conflicts with ArtPrize, that’s exactly why she keeps coming back.

“What I think is still really attractive about ArtPrize is the controversy that goes with it,” Thaler said. “There are a lot of differing opinions about what ArtPrize can be. It’s an interesting conversation.”

One of those conversations, maybe the biggest one of all, is who will be voted as the ArtPrize winner. Back at school, Thaler’s students often her the same question, if she’s won ArtPrize yet, to which she shares a lesson every ArtPrize attendee could take to heart.

“I say, it’s not really a winning thing.

If you enter a marathon you don’t do it because you hope to win,” Thaler said. “You do it to get the experience.”

ArtPrize runs through Oct. 8.