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GRCC professor Nick Antonakis lends expertise to SmartArt, helping GRPS students learn about energy while growing creative skills

June 10, 2021 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- The finalists in Consumers Energy’s SmartArt contest get to experience the excitement of participating in a nationally known art competition. But they also get something else: valuable feedback from art instructors at Grand Rapids Community College and other area institutions.

This year’s 10 SmartArt finalists were recently announced by Grand Rapids Public Schools, Consumers Energy and ArtPrize.

Nick Antonakis, head of GRCC’s Visual Arts Department, is one of three art educators volunteering to assist with the program, which considers energy-themed work. The finalists, selected from 40 entries, will be displayed this fall during the international ArtPrize competition. The winner, who will be announced Sept. 19, receives a $1,000 college scholarship.

“In the past eight years, SmartArt has provided hundreds of GRPS students the experience of being part of a nationally recognized art competition,” GRPS Superintendent Leadriane Roby said.

Antonakis, along with Patricia Constantine, illustration professor at Ferris State University’s Kendall College of Art and Design, and Virginia Jenkins, a professor in Grand Valley State University’s Department of Visual and Media Arts, serves as a judge in SmartArt, which stands for Students Making Art with a Renewable Theme.

The judges said each of the artworks selected for the top 10 entries reflected unique, individual solutions toward embracing sustainable, renewable energy and materials.

“All demonstrated excellent creativity and application of the elements and principles of art and design,” they wrote in a jurors statement. “All also revealed compelling conceptualization in their artwork and statements about potential solutions to move us to a sustainable future.”

Antonakis taught at Kendall before joining GRCC’s faculty in 1990, primarily leading drawing and painting classes.

“I enjoy teaching because it affords me the opportunity to work with aspiring artists from all types of backgrounds,” he said. “I find it very enriching to see these individuals achieve high levels and to find success in the art field.”

His work as department head allows him to connect with students and help guide them as they work through GRCC’s programs. 

“Together, we try to tailor their education to apply toward their goals and aspirations,” he said. “I made a very similar journey when I was a student, and I remember the mentors I had along the way.  I find it extremely rewarding when I hear from our students that my colleagues and I have contributed to their success.”

GRCC’s Visual Arts Department, accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, offers associate degrees in Fine Arts, Interior Design, and Photography and Video, and transfer programs for Pre-Art and Pre-Photography. The department runs the Collins Art Gallery and helps organize Display Magazine.

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