Thursday, 23 May 2013 11:37

Celebrate Grand Rapids Art

Written by  Alexandra Fluegel
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Festival of the Arts
Downtown Grand Rapids
June 7-9; Free!

Thousands gathered on Vandenberg Plaza to commemorate the dedication of La Grand Vitesse by Alexander Calder, one of the first "Art in Public Places" installations in the nation, in 1969. In the years that have followed, the area became known as Calder Plaza, and an annual event has been luring crowds into downtown, reviving the excitement surrounding public art.

This month marks the 44th year of Festival of the Arts, or simply "Festival," making it one of the longest running festivals in Michigan. The three-day event celebrates the area's long history of supporting art and artists, and serves as an unofficial start to summer kicked off with food, music and culture.

It began as a fundraiser for the city's arts organizations in 1970 by the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids, an organization founded as a support resource in 1967.
Much like the groups it helped to support, Festival grew over the years and organizers decided to make it a non-profit organization in 2002.

In addition to assisting in the funding and promoting of area organizations, Festival also gives the community an opportunity to perform and engage the arts.

"We try and encourage everyone to not only support the arts but to join the arts," said Eileen Scwarz-Duty, longtime volunteer and festival publicity co-chair. "It's all about local first. Everyone who performs or exhibits has to be a resident of Kent County or the surrounding counties."
This year, the event boasts six stages with line-ups that are filled with performances from local groups, bands and organizations. The annual regional art show is held inside the UICA, which Schwarz-Duty said is an exciting aspect of this year's event. "It gives us the opportunity to extend the exhibition, and it also gives people a reason to check out the UICA."

The juried show, which is often fertile ground for artists to sell work or be seen by gallery representatives, will run from May 31 through Aug. 18 and will be free to the public during Festival weekend.

Other area artists will have work on display and be on-hand to talk about their creations. In addition to the opportunities to see work by local artists, everyone at Festival has plenty of chances to create their own.

A printmaking station allows Festival-goers the chance to create their own souvenirs using classic silk-screening techniques, and the Swing'n Art station is always a popular stop, giving people the chance to put art in motion.

Schwarz-Duty said one of the most important things about Festival is that it's truly an event for the community by the community.

"It's run completely by volunteers," she said. "We try and keep it as noncommercial as possible. Festival wouldn't be possible without volunteers and we have opportunities for all talents and time commitments."

Other Art Events

Spring: New Work by Ashley Lieber
Rowster Coffee, Grand Rapids
May 1 – July 15
(616) 780-7777

Moss, soil, wood and water are a few of the elements Ashley Lieber uses to create indoor explorations of the natural world. Lieber, an ecological artist and educator, earned her MFA from the University of Michigan, and now transforms artistic inspiration into environmental masterpieces. Hosted by Rowster Coffee, "Spring" features site-specific installations inspired by Michigan's shortest season. Lieber's most recent series, "Moss for Meditation" debuted in Chicago to high praise, and this exhibition – curated by Kaitlyn Zylstra – follows suit.

Kalamazoo Institute of Arts Fair 2
Bronson Park
June 7, 3-8 p.m; June 8, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., (269) 349-7775

The official start of summer takes place this month, as well as the unofficial kickoff of the festival and art fair season. During the first full weekend of June, the city of Kalamazoo will host its 62nd annual celebration of art and entertainment in downtown's Bronson Park. The community tradition draws thousands of visitors into the area to check out the work from more than 180 artists, watch performers on two stages, and imbibe some of Michigan's finest brews in the Bell's Beer Garden.

Creativity Uncorked: Improv Chop Shop
Grand Rapids Art Museum
June 13, 7-9:30 p.m., doors open at 6:15 p.m.
$25 members, $30 non-members
21 or older only, (616) 831-2919

Experience your own 'night at the museum' inspired by The Improvisational Quilts of Susana Allen Hunter, the colorful exhibition of the late artist's work. After the doors of the museum close to public for the night, participants are invited to gather, have a glass of wine and explore the themes of design, inventiveness, form vs function and originality that Allen wove into each quilt. Upon arrival, you will receive a bag full of 'ingredients' to use to create your own iPad sleeve, apron or tote bag. No experience is necessary.

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