Meaningful and beautiful artwork installed on fifth floor of courthouse



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Pamela Alderman’s multi-media art piece “Let Go” has special meaning for 17th Circuit Court Family Division Presiding Judge Patricia Gardner.

Judge Gardner realized her dream of creating a Girls Court (see Grand Rapids Legal News 4/12/17) to address the gender-specific needs of young women she saw entering the juvenile justice system. Last year during ArtPrize, she took a group of graduates of the program out to dinner and then to see Alderman’s very moving work.

In “Let Go,” which showed at the Amway Grand Plaza venue in 2017, Alderman invited viewers to write on a piece of vellum paper something from the past which they wanted to let go of. They were then asked to crumple the note up and leave it to become a part of the artwork.

When all was said and done, 70,000 people had participated in the healing process of letting go.

Young women from Judge Gardner’s Girls Court group of graduates were among them. Some of the girls cried, and, Judge Gardner comments, “It was far more meaningful than I could have imagined.”

They also enjoyed a private talk with Alderman, whom Judge Gardner had first met when she saw one of her previous ArtPrize entries, “The Scarlet Cord.”

That profoundly emotional and massive installation, outside the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, used a variety of materials (including embroidery, hands-on braiding of blood-red ropes, and stand-alone paintings) to talk about the realities of sex trafficking.

“I found during ArtPrize that hundreds of women opened up about their experience. There were tears, but some also talked about it to me,” says Alderman, whose website ( quotes her as saying, “Interactive art heals.”

Seeing it led Judge Gardner to show the brief film created as part of the work at the courthouse, and to develop a relationship with Alderman. When the judge heard about “Let Go,” she realized it might be just the thing to help her Girls Court graduates along in their healing processes.

Now Alderman has donated “Let Go” to the Kent County Courts.

Judge Gardner says that there were originally plans to put it near the courtrooms used by the judges, but the

ultimate decision was to place it on the fifth floor near the training room, Victim Witness program, and Legal Assistance Center so that the public could enjoy its message and beauty.

And the work is beautiful. Its four panels of wave-like structures incorporate letting-go messages Alderman solicited before it was created. That calming picture is recessed behind Plexiglas with three figures of women cut out; the interaction between the two layers causes the figures, which Alderman regards as in three stages of letting go, to transform in front of the viewer.

Three framed informational sheets tell more. One lists some of the messages that third-graders seeing the piece wanted to let go, including one that reads, “I am letting go of anger because I don’t want anger to stop me.” Another includes the stories of two people struggling through the message they let go, and the third describes Alderman’s own process with healing.

“Beauty speaks into our pain,” she says. “My own personal letting-go journey became this work, and my work is a collaboration with the people who see it. That whole theme of letting go really resonated with the public.”  

Judge Gardner adds, “This is a place where people experience personal anxiety, whether it’s about a divorce or parenting time, or the juvenile justice system — all of those issues that are compounding in nature. This is a nice place to be reminded that you can let go.”

Judge Gardner notes that she and Judge T.J. Ackert, also a 17th Circuit Court Family Division judge, would like to see additional art at the courthouse.

Judge Ackert, who has known Pamela Alderman for many years since she was his client while he was in private practice, said in a statement,  “Pamela’s work expresses a theme of healing and restoration, and this painting symbolizes the challenging work to re-

store their lives people engage in every day in this Court. Artistically, the placement of the painting outside our community room looking west over the city appropriately reflects the waves of the Grand River and the undulating architectural roof-line of DeVos Place – accentuating the peaceful movement from difficult times to a thriving existence!”

Alderman, who is from Kentwood, is currently working on her tenth ArtPrize entry, another interactive piece.