A hub for social enterprise, creative pursuits and arts and job training, West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology helps teens explore creative careers and adults build sustainable futures.
Looking to the future, the nonprofit education and training facility celebrates a major milestone this month as staff moves into a new home on Grand Rapids’ west side.
WMCAT raised $8.5 million for its new headquarters at 614 First St. NW, on the third floor of a new Rockford Construction development near First Street and Seward Avenue. Programming for teens and adults starts Sept. 10, and a variety of events “are in the works” to share the building with donors and the public, said Jenny Griffin, development and communications manager.
The new office nearly doubles the organization’s footprint, allowing for expanded programming and studio, classroom and collaborative spaces. Each studio features state-of-the-art equipment with dedicated studios for illustration, ceramics, game design, photography, audio production, fashion design and video production.
President and CEO Daniel Williams believes the new space will advance WMCAT’s role as a community connector and further its mission around equity issues and economic and social progress.
“A huge part of what we are about is engaging community in various ways,” he said. “Our teen students do community-driven projects. These updated and really intentionally designed studio spaces will really further those connections.”
The organization offers tuition-free teen arts and technology studios and classes for Grand Rapids Public Schools students; a daytime residency program for area schools; and summer programs and camps open to all area teens.
Adult programming includes tuition-free career training in the medical billing, medical coding and pharmacy technician fields to underemployed and unemployed adults. The new space features a full pharmacy lab and classrooms for all three programs.
It’s also home to WMCAT’s two social enterprises, which provide services to the public to help support WMCAT: Public Agency, a design thinking consultancy, and Ambrose, a screen-printing business.
WMCAT does not have a public venue or gallery space, but it does allow facility rentals and works with a variety of community partners who often visit the office. The new space also has room to show students’ work and host community events, Williams said.
As WMCAT began looking for new locations, it was important to find a space with room to grow as well as remain accessible to students and adults enrolled in programs, Williams said.
Now in its 13th year, WMCAT has run out of room at its existing office space at 98 Fulton St. E. The new site offers easy access to the bus line and ample parking, and it sits in the heart of a west side revival.
“We feel really lucky that we were able to find this location,” he said. “This west side location was really a perfect fit for exactly what we were looking at as far as accessibility, parking, bus lines, walkable spaces. …We also wanted to be in a community that had history.”
WMCAT is an anchor tenant in the new building and decided to buy the 22,000-square-foot space, ensuring the organization’s sustainability, stability and growth into the future. With input from students, staff and community partners, it also allowed architects to design and furnish the office to fit the needs of the organization. The teen arts and technology studios and adult job training programs each have a dedicated wing, plus there is a community gathering space where everyone can come together.
The students use industry-level equipment, and it’s important the space mirrors any work environment they might move into, Williams said. WMCAT also has plans to expand arts programming for senior adults and offer evening classes, he said.
“We’re really excited now to be able to take what we’ve learned and design a space very intentionally for our specific work, but that is also as flexible as possible so we can continue to grow and change,” he said.
Grand Rapids Community College Albert P. Smith Music Center
After years of dealing with inadequate acoustics, outdated lighting and decor and an awkward setup where late concert attendees entered onstage, Grand Rapids Community College opened its renovated music building and a new recital hall last fall.
The updated facility has been a boon for the music department’s recruitment efforts, along with bringing performances back to campus from St. Cecilia Music Center, said professor Kevin Dobreff, the music department’s program director.
“The entire innovation has really validated the music program for the faculty and our students as well as the community,” he said. “Our music program has always been very strong and our faculty is world class.”
Renamed Albert P. Smith Music Center, the building at 142 Ransom St. NE was totally gutted on the inside and reconfigured to include a new recital hall, classrooms and music laboratories, a recording technology suite, soundproof practice rooms, informal gathering and study spaces, private teaching studios, and instrument and music storage. Along with a new HVAC and fire suppression system, the building features state-of-the-art acoustic and sound-reduction measures for teaching, rehearsal and practice areas.
Built in 1922 as the gymnasium for Strong Junior High School, it was then used as Grand Rapids Junior College’s field house. The brick and masonry structure has been home to GRCC’s music department since 1980, when it was first renovated for music education purposes. However, the layout and acoustics were always inadequate, Dobreff said.
The updated acoustic modifications and sound transfer mitigation provide practice rooms, teachings spaces and a performance venue that all meet the demands of professional musicians, Dobreff said.
“Now we can proudly show off our facility and it makes recruiting much easier,” he said.
The Linn Maxwell Keller Recital Hall, named for the opera singer who moved to Grand Rapids and supported GRCC’s program, features deployable theater seats that retract into the wall when not in use, as well as tunable acoustics.
“The building and the recital hall really functions as a beautiful space,” Dobreff said. “They installed acoustic banners that are deployable at different lengths, and you can change the acoustics to meet the needs of whatever type of music is being performed.”
The recital hall seats up to 120 and serves as both a rehearsal and performance space for all of GRCC’s instrumental groups, including wind, orchestra, jazz, guitar and small chamber ensembles and piano trios. The venue hosts about 30 performances during the school year, plus concerts by alumni and guest artists.
“We have a new national guitar series where we bring in renowned classical guitarists,” he said. “Now we have a really fine place for them to perform.”
GRCC is the only community college in Michigan accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music. NASM accredits about 750 four-year institutions and only about 26 community colleges in the United States.
For more information, visit grcc.edu/music.