Take time to consider the message of ArtPrize entry ‘Hope Dog’

If you live in West Michigan, you’re probably aware that the wildly popular ArtPrize gets under way next week, from Sept. 18 to Oct. 6.

The international art competition, featuring installations all over downtown Grand Rapids, is free and open to the public. In fact, the public is invited to participate by voting for their favorite pieces, and the top prize is $200,000. For all the information you’ll need on visiting the annual event, including a search function to find entries by artist name, subject matter or location, be sure to check out the ArtPrize website.

An up-close look at Hope Dog reveals it's made of thousands of photographs of dogs.

An up-close look at Hope Dog reveals it’s made of thousands of photographs of shelter dogs.

I ran into one entry this morning as I was delivering copies of Dogs Unleashed magazine, a publication of Pet Supplies Plus. I stopped in to the Riverview Center, an office building at Sixth and Front downtown, to distribute magazines to Tommy FitzGerald‘s restaurant, Cafe Stella.

The restaurant is located inside Riverview Center, and just outside the cafe is an ArtPrize entry called Hope Dog. (Yes, it’s already installed, but you can’t vote yet). I snapped a few photos of the piece, a sort of papier mache-like dog sculpture made up of a collage of black and white dog photos. It has faux fur for the ears and tails, and big brown eyes.

The statement from artist Mercedes Keller accompanies Hope Dog.

The statement from artist Mercedes Keller accompanies Hope Dog.

I also snapped a quick photo of the artist’s statement, figuring I’d take time to read it when I got home (yes, I was in a rush, as usual). I did read it when I got home, and it nearly brought me to tears.

While it may not win the grand prize, I applaud artist Mercedes Keller for her work and especially for her statement. I hope those visiting take the time to read it and feel the same emotions I did. At the very least, I hope all those viewing Hope Dog take time to think about the thousands of shelter pets at the same crossroads.

Hope dog 2

Hope Dog is roughly the size of a medium-sized dog.

Here’s the statement that accompanies Hope Dog:

I bark my greeting as I hear the familiar steps on the concrete floor. The man stops at my kennel and my tail wags in anticipation as he walks me down the rows of my comrades. I bark my goodbyes, feeling a little sad for those I’ve left behind. As I walk I dream of a life with a new home where I can run and smell all the old familiar smells and feel the love of a human again. A tinge of fear lingers as we approach the two doors. To the right, to the right, I plead silently. I remember the cries of anguish from the left door that came creeping out from beneath its darkened chambers. My feet buckle as I stare up, my eyes pleading to the man who now holds my future in his hands. We reach the crossroads …

Only we can write the end to stories like these, with passion, with knowledge, with HOPE.

Mercedes Keller


Mary Ullmer is editor of Dogs Unleashed, a lifestyle magazine for dog lovers. Contact her at info@dogsunleashedmag.com. To subscribe to Dogs Unleashed, visit dogsunleashedmag.com, and be sure to “like” Dogs Unleashed Magazine on Facebook.

BISSELL Blocktail 2012 sure to be a howling good time

Dogs of all shapes and sizes can be found at the annual BISSELL Blocktail Party. (All photos courtesy of TerpstraPhoto.com)

The Bissell Blocktail Party bills itself as the “best dog-gone party in town.” It’s hard to argue with that statement.

The annual event, held at Mangiamo! in Grand Rapids, raised more than $150,000 last year via ticket sales, sponsors and a silent auction. And this year’s party promises to be even bigger and better.

Tickets for this year’s event, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on June 13, are $50 if purchased online in advance (highly encouraged) or $60 at the door.

Blocktail 2012 has welcomed 10 “party partners,” organizations in the Grand Rapids area whose mission is to reduce the number of homeless pets and put a stop to pet overpopulation. The non-profits each received a $1,000 donation for their efforts and each of them, along with any other area non-profit organization with the same mission, can apply for grants to receive a share of the proceeds of this year’s event.

Applications for the grants, courtesy of the BISSELL Pet Foundation, are due June 1 and a packet and application can be found on the Blocktail website or by clicking here. Given the success of last year’s event, held in less-than ideal weather conditions, those approved for grants stand to receive some much-needed funding for their causes.

Yes, dogs often get wiped out from the excitement and fun at Blocktail. This Basset hound is proof.

Carly Luttmann, program supervisor at the Kent County Animal Shelter, will be attending her first Blocktail. Luttmann is making strides to promote the adoption of animals through KCAS, one of this year’s party partners.

“I’m really excited,” Luttmann said. “We’ll have lots of people there and we’re looking forward to the opportunity. It think it’s a big step forward for our organization. The grant opportunities are great because they don’t exclude anyone as long as the organization goes to reducing pet overpopulation, promoting awareness and promoting adoptions.”

Other party partners this year are Carol’s Ferals, Crash’s Landing & Big Sid’s Sanctuary, C-SNIP, Focus on Ferals, Humane Society of West Michigan, Mackenzie’s Animal Sanctuary, Reuben’s Room, Safe Haven Humane Society and Vicky’s Pet Connection.

Not only does Blocktail 2012 feature new partners and new way to distribute proceeds (previously, proceeds benefited only the HSWM), it also will deliver new features to the event itself. The Gillmore Collection, which provides food for Blocktail, this year will offer vegetarian and vegan cuisine in addition to its usual fare.

Also new to Blocktail this year will be a photo booth from Dan Terpstra of Terpstra Photography, featuring props and fun backdrops so the many attendees who bring their dogs can bring home a keepsake. Those who have attended Blocktail in the past know that many guests choose to bring their furry family members, providing party-goers with a glimpse of a wide variety of dogs, from rare breeds to mixed breeds.

“People are encouraged to bring their dogs,” said Laurel Pruski, co-chair of this year’s event along with Cathy Bissell. “Dogs should be friendly with other dogs and with strangers. We’ll have plenty of treats and water on hand for the dogs, and the event is outdoors on the grass.”

There are plenty of treats available for the furry Blocktail attendees.

Pruski added that dogs should be on non-flexible leashes (if you’ve ever seen the crowd at Blocktail, you’d understand why) and that any dog adopted from a shelter will receive an orange bandana at the event to let everyone know they’re a rescue. Dogs available for adoption at the event will be featuring pink bandanas.

A fabulous new auction item this year, Pruski said, is a one-week stay in a condominium in Jaco, Costa Rica. Also among the auction items is the ever-popular dinner in your home prepared by Grand Rapids chef Tommy Fitzgerald, a wakeboard and wakeboard lessons, Schwinn bicycles, spa packages and, of course, incredible artwork.

An item sure to fetch big bucks is the chance for a guest’s dog to be next year’s “Blockstar.” The winning bidder will have their dog featured on all Blocktail promotional material, including the website and billboards in the Grand Rapids area.

For more information on Blocktail 2012, check out the event’s website or Facebook page.