New ArtPrize Venue hosts 20+ artists

A century-old building in Grand Rapids is being used for ArtPrize 2.0, and the owner says there are even bigger plans for the 50,000 sq/ft building.

KENT COUNTY, Michigan — One of the new venues for ArtPrize 2.0 is a century-old building in Grand Rapids that sat vacant for 30 years. 975 Ottawa Avenue has a rich history and, if all goes well, an equally rich future. 

The 50,000-sqare-foot building, which once housed the Riverfront Fitness Center, was recently named SILVA – a fitting name for the space that sits just east of the Grand River.

“Silva is from the Portuguese word that means wood,” said Sarah Andro, manager of SILVA. “We were trying to come up with names that would honor the history of the building, and because this is part of the Berkey and Gay Furniture Factory, and this is the building where they dried the wood, we came up with SILVA.”

“My father’s business was Universal Forest Products,” said Mark Secchia, founder of Silva. “So it’s a little bit of an homage to his career as well.”

His father, the late Peter Secchia, was a businessman and politician who served as a U.S. Ambassador to Italy from 1989 to 1993. The Secchia family is also well-known in West Michigan for being instrumental in the creation of the 1913 Room and Tootsie Van Kelly’s, restaurants that found success in Grand Rapids in the early 80s.

“It was always part of our upbringing,” Secchia said. “When we would go on vacation, I remember my dad walking past a store and seeing a 15-foot-long pencil and going in and buying it and shipping it to Grand Rapids, Michigan, because he wanted to hang it from the rafters in the Amway Grand Hotel Tootsie Van Kelly’s. I remember finding flatware for the 1913 Room, which was also a big concept back then. So part of my upbringing was my dad and my mom looking around at what they can buy and what they can do to help the outfit of the restaurants, and I feel that I’m into that same thing. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Secchia purchased 975 Ottawa Avenue in early 2023, after years of searching for a large space to develop a mixed-use entertainment area.


Secchia said he wrote the business plan for the venue 15 years ago. From his time living in China to Silicon Valley, he was constantly searching for the perfect place to bring it to life. 

“About a year after we moved here, I was basically complaining to a friend, saying, ‘I want a downtown adjacent building that’s not too expensive with really high ceilings, and I want it big.’ And he said, ‘I’ve got the perfect spot,'” Secchia said. 

That day he went home and drew the plan for the building on the back of a napkin. 

“80% of what I drew that night is exactly what we’re building. The building tells the story to you as you’re in it, and it’s such an easy concept to see once you’re here,” Secchia said. 

He has big plans for the space, and they’re all very much in line with his parents’ business ventures more than 40 years prior.

“What we’re doing is we’re trying to create a concept where people can just roam around and experience us in different ways over a period of hours,” Secchia said. “We don’t want them to come in, have dinner and leave. We also don’t want them to come in and stay at a table and leave their jackets and everything to go play a quick game of darts and come back. So we’re designing it where your whole group can go from one area to another area to another area.”

Secchia said the building will intentionally have no electronics.  

“We don’t have pinball. We don’t have video games. We don’t have Big Buck Hunter or Golden Tee. We have darts, ring on a string, putting games, washer toss, bocce. It’s all stuff that kind of feels a little bit 80s-ish. What you used to do is go out and play with friends, and that’s what we kind of have. We’re calling it shared social experiences,” Secchia said. 

Andro said the bocce courts will have elevated seating where spectators can watch. There will also be a stage that goes over the bocce courts for events like dinner theater or smaller comedy shows. 

The goal, Secchia said, is to have at least the restaurant and bar open by summer 2024, then continue to build on from there. 

In the meantime, the space is hosting multiple artists and live performances as part of ArtPrize 2.0. Some of the art in SILVA is interactive, and some is not – but it’s all thought-provoking.

One piece, “From the Blood of the Old: Gift of the Psychopomp” by Timothy the Nameless is housed in a former racquetball court. 

Timothy said a psychopomp is a type of deity that can traverse the boundaries between the spiritual and physical worlds with messages to deliver. 

He said the idea for his piece came to him in a vision he had while on a mushroom trip. 

“I was meeting with a feminine presence and I asked, ‘Show me what’s behind all of this.’ And she asked me if I wanted to do that for sure. And I said, ‘All right.’ And so she pulled back the curtain, and what she showed me was a being that was sitting in a pool, an endless pool of waves of blood spilling out, because he was grinding himself apart,” Timothy said. 

What he took from the vision then further inspired his piece. 

“At the center of our reality is something that is endlessly churning through itself, creating new things from what it used to be,” Timothy said. “In a sense, every moment that we come to is leaving the past moment behind to enjoy this new moment. So what we’re seeing is one figure going through several steps on this realization of what they are, as not just one figure, but truly a cosmic being that must keep churning through itself to experience every new moment.”


The Grand Rapids-based artist said he drew everything on a piece of notebook paper, then blew it up and installed it in sections.

“The drawing itself took about 100 hours,” Timothy said. “Cumulative total putting it up with all the people helping, it probably took around 200 man hours altogether, just to get this space set up. And I just love how it looks. I feel great about it.”

Part of the inspiration for this, he said, came after he saw the space in person.

“When I came to explore this building with Sarah Andro, the building itself was in this state of rebirth,” Timothy said. “The fact that I could have a space here to display my artwork really brought all of those things together, and I felt like I could finally push myself to express that idea into this world, to push it in so everyone else could feel the same way I felt.”

On the other side of the room, separated by a Sumo wrestling ring and a variety of other art installations, is an interactive piece titled “Journey with the Messengers” from Ionia-based artist Vivian Grady.

“I chronicled our travels for 10 years in watercolor,” Grady said. “My mentor told me I should paint in oils, and I began painting in oils. And then he gave me a canvas about this big and he said, ‘You paint whatever you see very well. Now, paint what you know.’ And that made all the difference in my career. I started to dig deeper, and in my own soul started to study harder when I was painting. I developed a different way of thinking and became the artist that I am today.”


The multisensory exhibit involves Grady’s paintings accompanied by framed poetry written by a friend.

“Cathy LaPointe Blundy did ekphrastic poetry,” Grady said. “She sat with each of the pieces individually for two to three weeks, and with some of my writings, and she then put that all together and developed the essence of the piece in the poetry. So when they read the poetry, they will get an understanding that I couldn’t give verbally. I can do it with paint.”

There’s also an audio element within the installation. Music that was composed by Grady’s son, Michael, can be listened to through headsets while observing the paintings and reading the poetry.

“Six pieces of music actually that speak to each of these pieces, and when you hear them, you have a visceral feeling about the piece,” Grady said. “Whether it be joy, whether it be sorrow, whether it be intensity, and so you have something more in that. So you have the piece itself. You have the words to it, you have the music to it, and you have your own self, because the last thing is the mirror.”

The installation is stationed along the eastern side of SILVA’s second floor, and it’s all set up along a colorful path that tells a story.

“You have a sense of chaos and you pivot, you change your direction, and you come into conforming and keeping the laws straight. And then you have to pivot again,” Grady said. “Each time you pivot and you find a new direction. Society does that. Individuals do that. Groups do that. Worlds do that. And I believe that people might find a way of having a tool to find where they are in the world.”

Secchia, who’s never been in Grand Rapids during ArtPrize, said he’s thrilled with the diversity of art and artists in SILVA. He said working with everyone has been much easier than he imagined.

“I kind of assumed artists would be kind of hard to handle and a little bit self-absorbed, but it’s absolutely the opposite,” Secchia said. “It’s been a collaborative atmosphere, and it’s just neat to see everybody borrowing things from each other. If you look around the room, you’ll see little groups of people. A lot of these are artists that didn’t know each other before today.”

For more on SILVA, click here.

For more on ArtPrize 2.0, click here.

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