Over Five Decades
of City Culture
1969 - 2020
In 1969, Alexander Calder’s sculpture “La Grande Vitesse” was installed in front of City Hall in downtown Grand Rapids. The National Endowment for the Arts chose Grand Rapids as the first recipient of their public art works initiative nearly 50 years ago with Alexander Calder’s work.
History of Festival
“La Grande Vittesse” translated “The Grand Swiftness, Rapids” identified Grand Rapids and the state of Michigan as community that valued the arts for everyone to enjoy. The 43-foot-tall vibrant red stabile, which became known as “The Calder” inspired a celebration of the arts – one that has grown to encompass much of downtown Grand Rapids.
Festival of the Arts began on what’s known as “Calder Plaza” with just a few art displays, two stages and a few food booths. Over the years, Festival’s popularity grew, eventually encompassing most all of downtown with several stages of continuous performances, a Regional Art Exhibition featuring some of the best artists in West Michigan, dozens of food booths all run by nonprofit organizations, and creative activities for children and adults to enjoy!
Art, Music and Performance
Various stages pop up across downtown Grand Rapids with artists performing music, poetry, theatre, dance and art. And all for free.
Highlighting Culture with Food
The scents and flavors of food from Greek, Polish, Asian, Latin, and many other cultures add to the “art of cultural food”. What’s more unique is that these booths are staffed with volunteers and the proceeds from the food booths are shared with each non-profit.
Fun for Kids and Parents Alike
Free art activities like the popular Paint-In and Glue-In offer “Parent Free Zones” where kids can be creative and express themselves through art.
In 2018, Festival of the Arts decided to pursue a community leader to serve as the first employee of the legacy event. David Abbott joined as the Executive Director in April of 2018. His passion for the arts and history of all things Festival offers a great opportunity for the event to have consistent leadership building strong relationships with the arts and donor community. His career includes success in Fund Development with ArtPrize, LaughFest and Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids.
Board of Directors
Festival of the Arts prides itself on the dedicated leadership that serves our community. Each member of our Board of Directors invests time, energy and financial contribution towards a sustainable Festival of the Arts. Learn more about our leadership.
Freelance Writer and Community Arts Activist
Board Governance & Nominating
West Michigan Tourism Association
Class of 2021
Melissa “Missy” Bush
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Glenn Del Vecchio
Grand Rapids Ballet
Artist Red Hydrant Press
Valley Truck Parts
Class of 2022
City of Grand Rapids
Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge
in the value of the arts in our community; Festival provides many different arts experiences and cultural opportunities that promote excellence, cross-cultural understanding and strong community. We encourage volunteers, participants and visitors to make the arts central to the lives of everyone in our community. We strive for inclusiveness and diversity by welcoming all to take part in and enjoy the community spirit within Festival of the Arts. Special effort is made to assist people with disabilities throughout the Festival grounds. We recognize and appreciate the value of the personal and professional expertise of volunteers, whose efforts year-round encourage and develop arts experiences at Festival.
We present a variety of arts experiences, which support area arts organizations, and encourage new artists and performers. We treasure the tradition and sense of community ownership of Festival. We strive to empower new and alternative forms of artistic expression by including new activities and performers and seek new volunteers to ensure the future of Festival. We adhere to the Festival Bylaws and governance policies.
In everything we do, we believe in showcasing the arts for all. We break institutional barriers offering a free platform for everyone to witness, engage and participate in an annual showcase. We encourage creativity, invite with intention, curate professionally, present with excellence, and host with grateful hospitality.
We are Festival of the Arts.
The following four goals have remained unchanged since being adopted as the primary goals of Festival in 1970:
To support the arts and provide an opportunity for artists and arts organizations to showcase their talents to a wide public audience through a free-admission event.
To build a public appreciation for the "quality of life" provided to the greater Grand Rapids area by our local cultural organizations, artists and performers.
To affirm the commitment of the arts to Grand Rapids and West Michigan by holding Festival in downtown Grand Rapids.
To retain the original concept of a non-profit community event by utilizing the skills of volunteers.
2021 Festival Co-Chairs
Emilee Syrewicze, Executive Director, Opera Grand Rapids
Emilee Syrewicze is the executive director of Opera Grand Rapids. She is originally from West Michigan but has served organizations in various locales. She has been executive director of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the Northwest Michigan Supportive Housing (NMSH) in Traverse City. She earned a B.A. at Alma College in Michigan and a J.D. at Vermont Law School, South Royalton, Vermont, during which she clerked for the Center for Environmental Law and Policy in Seattle. She is a classically trained pianist.
Marcel “Fable” Price, Executive Director, Diatribe Grand Rapids
Marcel Price, known as Fable, is a bi-racial writer, teaching artist, community advocate, motivational speaker, and executive director of The Diatribe. He has been honored with a Community Advocate Award in 2016, a listing on 40 under 40, and recently was Grand Rapids’ poet laureate. He is the first person of color and person under 40 to take on this position. Through The Diatribe, he works with youth to lift them up through storytelling and art.
Well Design Studio – Design Statement
Festival of the Arts worked with Well Design Studio to create the branding and design for the 50th Anniversary, and will continue to work with them for the upcoming 51st year of Festival. Well is a community-minded design studio out of Grand Rapids, MI that focuses on supporting the efforts of non-profits and municipalities through beautiful communications pieces.
“The 2019 Festival of the Arts design drew on the work of Alexander Calder, the designer of the Festival logo and ‘La Grande Vitesse’, to bring new energy and life into the 50th Anniversary. Calder’s work is full of energy, from the bright primary colors to the movement of his mobiles in the air; it reminds us of what Festival means to our community. Festival of the Arts brings people of all different backgrounds, food histories, musical tastes and arts styles together. It continues to bring energy to Grand Rapids, even after over 50 years. Our design work for the 50th Anniversary of Festival of the Arts looked to the similarities we found in Calder’s work. His use of organic shapes and primary colors convey feelings of familiarity, energy, and life. This is who we are as a community; diverse, willing to share and learn. This celebration is a reflection of our community and that is what has always drawn us to Festival of the Arts.”