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GRAND RAPIDS, MI

Lucas here. This is the crazy story of a young black woman who bootstrapped a $5k grant into a $200k installation. Ridealong Jes Thayer and I hung with Le'Andra LeSeur at ArtPrize - a 3 week event leading up to $500k in prizes - and we were in the midst of editing her episode when she won the $200k!

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A lot of strange things happen on the road and I try not to have too much of a plan when I hit town. We were just having breakfast, beers, and casual hangs with Le'Andra around Grand Rapids leading up to the awards. One goal of Culture Hustlers is to skip the celebrity artists, to really hunt down and celebrate the hungry culture makers who are just getting traction. I interviewed Erin Robertson right after she won Project Runway but having eggs and beer with Le’Andra right before she won ArtPrize has me thinking about who else among us is about to catapult.

It's one of the reasons I try to look every stranger in the eyes. You can really see someone's spirit if you allow their presence to meet yours.

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JERSEY CITY, NJ

Hey Jes Thayer here. I’m an audio and visual artist based in Boston. I flew out to Michigan to Art Prize to envelop myself with the more than 1200 artists and tens of thousands of people all converging on the welcoming city of Grand Rapids. Little did I know how profoundly moved I would be by the caliber of the artwork, the discussions, and inclusion by the people that I met during my time there.

One place in particular captured my heart very quickly, which was at Site:Lab, a former Christian Ed Academy turned Social Services Office serving an impoverished and predominantly black population was now a liberated space and venue for ArtPrize. On the second floor there was a dark room that seemed private and cared for even though it was dimly lit. At the end of the hall was a space, a canvas on the floor, marked out with black squares. I met Le’Andra LeSeur as she entered the space, carrying a 35 lb cinderblock, put it down in front of me on one of the squares, wiped her bare feet and went off to fetch another. Her piece, entitled “Brown, Carmine, and Blue” evolved over a 2 week period where she carried these blocks up flights of stairs, painted, built with them, kneeled, danced, and screamed, sometimes for as much as 8 hours a day."

In addition to revisiting the site and attending these different performances I got to hang out with Le'Andra many times. I expected her to be in unimaginable amounts of pain, but what struck me is that both in the space and out of it she had this unequivocal amount of joy and strength. I believe the most important thing you can do as an artist is be “all-in” on your mission, and I’ve never met anyone more “all-in” than Le’Andra LeSeur.

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