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Festival History

Festival of the Arts is an annual three-day celebration of West Michigan arts and artists which takes place in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, on the first full weekend in June.

In 1969, Alexander Calder’s La Grande Vitesse was installed in front of City Hall in downtown Grand Rapids in an area now called Calder Plaza. “La Grande Vitesse” is French for “the great swiftness” or “the grand rapids."

The Calder stabile inspired arts organizers in Grand Rapids to develop a FREE community celebration of the arts on the plaza on which the Calder was built. Alexander Calder – himself a big fan of community arts festivals – created the original sun logo as a gift for the event. This logo is still in use today.

Over the next 40+ years, the event grew to encompass nearly all of downtown Grand Rapids, with many more performance stages, exhibits, and activities attracting almost half a million people every year, and becoming one of the largest volunteer driven arts event in the nation.

Board of Directors

Chair         
Bill Bereza

Vice Chair   
Stasia Savage

Treasurer          
Dan Carter

Secretary          
Lori Harrison-Smith

Directors         
Carlos Aguilar                
Fred Bivins    
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma    
Dianne Carroll-Burdick      
Baird Hawkins  
Karen Hunter 
Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk                     
Ed Kettle            
Matthew R Taylor

2018 Co-Chairs        
Jessica Nix Gould & Melissa Bush

Interim Executive Director
David Abbott 

Exofficio            
Mayor Rosalynn Bliss

  • Alexander Calder’s La Grande Vitesse was installed in front of City Hall in downtown Grand Rapids in an area now called Calder Plaza. “La Grande Vitesse” is French for “the great swiftness” or “the grand rapids.”

    "The Calder", as it's called among locals, was among the very first of the national "Art in Public Places" installations, setting Grand Rapids apart from most cities its size. This 43-foot tall, vibrant red metal sculpture was commissioned by the City of Grand Rapids and the Kent County Board of Supervisors, and made possible through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. It was one of the nation’s first “Art off the Pedestal” projects.
  • The first Festival was held on Vandenberg Plaza.

    The first Festival of the Arts was held in 1970 and Co-Chaired by Betty Jo Crosby and Dan Heines. Originally an activity of the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids, that first Festival featured two stages and a few food booths. The event attracted fewer than 1,000 people.
  • Festival celebrates its silver anniversary!

    Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year everything went from Calder red to silver. A silver painted scale model of the Calder stabile was built and attendees that year were able to sign it.
  • Festival becomes its own 501 (c)3.

    In this year, Festival broke away from the Arts Council of GR and became its own non-profit organization. Since then Festival has been nationally recognized as one of nations largest volunteer driven arts festival in the country.
  • Festival of the Arts is honored by the Library of Congress.

    Festival was selected by US Representative Vern Ehlers for inclusion in the US Library of Congress' Local Legacies collection for being the event in the area that best represents the diverse and artistic community that is West Michigan.
  • Festival established the "Diane Casey Spirit of Festival Award."

    Diane Casey was a long time volunteer who passed away in 2004. Diane embodied the spirit of Festival with a sense of community, a passion for the arts and the will to see Festival thrive. An award in her honor is given each year to a volunteer or partner organization that embodies these same qualities.
  • Festival was awarded the Governors Award.

    At an awards ceremony hosted by ARTServe Michigan, Festival was awarded the years most Outstanding Cultural Organization award.