Tuesday, 02 June 2015 11:55

Origin of the Arts: How the Festival of the Arts was born in 1970

Written by  Ben Mepham
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Festival of the Arts has art competitions and sales, live music, poetry, dancing, theater, films, food vendors and more over a vicinity of 10 city blocks. All performances, exhibitions, and activities are free.

But how did it all begin? The festival’s genesis can be traced back to the late Alexander Calder, originator of the kinetic art form dubbed “the mobile” a delicately balanced sculpture with suspended components that move with air currents.

The counterpart to the mobile is the stabile typically monumental steel structures that sit solidly on the ground, seemingly unconcerned with the element of movement. Yet this is not the case. Walk around a stabile and it takes on a new appearance from each angle. Stabiles are intended to activate motion in the viewer. 

Festival of the Arts 2015

Downtown Grand Rapids
June 5–7

Calder produced a stabile for the city of Grand Rapids at a time when it needed activation. By the late 1960s downtown was seeing a decline. The community instituted a string of building and beautification projects including Calders work, installed theatrically in Calder Plaza. The sculpture was the first public art work funded by the Art in Public Places program of the National Endowment for the Arts. Giant red with swooping negative spaces like ventricles, La Grande Vitesse (meaning: “the great swiftness,” a play on the name Grand Rapids and the river it surrounds) has since become a symbol of the city’s commitment to the arts.

Inspired by La Grande Vitesse, or simply the Calder as it has become known, the first three-day Festival of the Arts was held in 1970 with a Festival Sun logo created by Calder himself as a gift to Grand Rapids. Now in its 46th year, pulling in around half a million festival-goers annually, the Festival of the Arts is an anticipated fixture – and one of the longest running festivals in the state.

Moreover, according to the Library of Congress, it is the largest all-volunteer festival in the country with nearly 20,000 community volunteers running the show.

Festival of the Arts happens June 5-7 in downtown Grand Rapids. More info at festivalgr.org.


Other Summer Art Events

64th Annual Kalamazoo Institute of Arts Fair

Bronson Park, Kalamazoo

June 5, 3–8 p.m. and June 6, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Free! kiarts.org

Featuring close to 200 jury-selected, national artists working in 12 different media categories, the KIA Fair draws crowds of around 40,000 people. Enjoy several overlapping activities including a Beer Garden and Greek Fest, both with food, music and dancing. There is also an Art Hop to more than 60 local restaurants and retailers hosting artists and works.


37th White Lake Area Fathers Day Arts & Crafts Festival

Goodrich Park, Whitehall

June 20, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and June 21, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.

Free! whitelake.org

This festival features jewelry, ceramics, paintings, prints, stained glass and more. For those looking to hear some tunes, there is live music all weekend. If you’ll also be in search of munchies, on hand is classic festival food, fresh-squeezed lemonade, root beer floats, sundaes and even crêpes. Tickets can be purchased for the large inflatables – for the children only, of course!


Lakeshore Art Festival

Historic Downtown Muskegon

July 3–4, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.

Free, Children's Lane tickets $2-$5 / lakeshoreartfestival.org

This festival features the work of around 250 national artists and crafters plus street performers, an artisan food market, music and various kid-friendly activities including a rock wall and bungee trampoline. Festival-goers can collaborate on large-scale paintings and create their own postcard-sized works, helped by on-site artists.


46th Annual Art in the Park

Centennial Park, Holland

Aug. 1, 9 a.m.–4 p.m.

Free! hollandfriendsofart.com

With 300 artists from eight states and visitor attendance reaching approximately 15,000 people, the juried Art in the Park event is second only to Tulip Time when it comes to bringing festival-goers to Holland. Bonus: numerous food vendors.


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