Written By: Andrew Light
Here in Grand Rapids, ArtPrize Nine is upon us and the city’s S.O.R.T. stations are in full swing. As we work to limit the unnecessary waste going to the landfill, it seems like a perfect time to highlight an artist at ArtPrize who is fully embracing the spirit of conservation!
You might know Jerry Berta for his work as a local studio artist or as the man responsible for the restoration of Rosie’s Diner, the iconic restaurant in Rockford, MI. But more recently, you might know him as an elementary school art teacher.
No matter how you know Jerry Berta, his work is an inspiration to many. A career as an artist has led him to a point where he’s not only able to express his creativity in a variety of mediums, but also teach younger generations how to bring out their own imagination.
Of course, this can be exceptionally tough to do with the budget most art teachers are given.
Fortunately, Berta is particularly good at finding plenty of extra material at a low cost. Berta has recently found his inspiration and materials from reusing leftover parts from businesses around the city. “As an artist, you’re always looking for scrap”, he explained, and based on his entry at ArtPrize, Berta has a gift for finding the right scrap. We Are All Different Fish But We All Swim Together! is a 8’ x 100’ wall of wooden fish and is primarily made of reused materials – and lots of hot glue of course. Hundreds of fish now line the fence on Pearl Street by the Holiday Inn Downtown – each with their unique design – all “swimming” as one.
Many businesses around West Michigan have scraps and extra materials lying around when the manufacturing and production processes are done, which is where Berta gets a lot of his paper, metal, wood, and other materials for his and his students’ artwork. These scraps would end up in the landfill or would be just sitting in a warehouse if they had not been picked up and used by Berta. So, instead of creating more waste, our community gains great art from his efforts.
Ideas like these are going to help Kent County reach our waste-reduction goals.
After making a living as a studio artist for over 30 years, Berta is now an art teacher in the Kentwood Public Schools district, at Bowen, Explorer, and Meadowlawn Elementary schools. He’s a natural fit for the job.
While some of his previous entries have been developed with the inspiration and help of his students, his ArtPrize entry this year was made in direct collaboration with hundreds of students, parents, and staff members from all over the district. His students had an opportunity to reuse what would otherwise be a discarded wooden fish cutout, along with a handful of other materials, to design their own fish to include in the artwork.
As for the meaning behind the art? Diversity. Kentwood Public Schools happens to be the most diverse school district in Michigan. “As I outlined to my students at the beginning of the lesson plan to start, this project is about diversity, how we are all different people but in society we work together to create a better world.”
This is a message that Berta hopes to communicate to as many people as possible.
On Saturday, September 30 at 4:00pm, kids will be able to stop by the artwork and make their own wooden fish to display or take with them. Make sure to check out We Are All Different Fish But We All Swim Together! and see all of the unique, diverse fish!
Note: Berta’s entry is located in front of the Holiday Inn on Pearl Street and is in the Installation category. It’s currently in the Top 25 for installation pieces. The vote code for We Are All Different Fish But We All Swim Together! is 64926.