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.
Festival of the Arts believes arts are for everyone.
Our vision is to offer a premier arts experience that is free, accessible, and welcoming to all, not simply by providing an opportunity to encounter art, music or dance, but by offering an authentic, immersive experience that touches everyone in the growing diverse community of West Michigan.
So that we can broaden Festival of the Arts to truly serve our community, we’ve launched a strategic plan to pursue greater diversity, equity and inclusion in every aspect of the event, from the art that can be seen, the music that can be heard, and the food that can be tasted, to the leadership and volunteers working behind the scenes who make Festival happen.
Recently, we’ve reached out to more than 50 leaders representing our increasingly multicultural community for guidance and council. Together, we’ve identified five focus areas, each with one-year and five-year goals.
In the days and years ahead, we’ll work to:
- Broaden our community engagement by recruiting and supporting artists, performers, leaders and volunteers from distinctly different backgrounds and varying abilities and experiences.
- Attract and retain high-value artists and performers by seeking out those who best represent the wider community we live in, by offering hospitality and support, and by paying for key performers or supplying monetary rewards.
- Reinvigorate our food scene through strategic partnerships with cultural culinary professionals and by building relationships with local restaurants.
- Innovate our sources of revenue through new and creative recognition for sponsors and unique opportunities for attendees which may include a membership program and various VIP events.
- Remain engaged with the community throughout the year through virtual gallery shows and performances, establish a year-round Festival store, and build relationships with community groups and social media influencers.
For more than 50 years, Festival of the Arts has been a cultural leader in West Michigan. Our goal is to be intentional and purposeful as we enlarge our horizons to serve an ever-wider community.
Skot Welch, M.M.
Founder & Principal Bridgebuilder
Skot is the Principal/Founder of Global Bridgebuilders (GBB) A firm focusing on Organizational Development, Cultural Transformation and Inclusion.
Skot Global Bridgebuilders is an international team providing services to enterprises across the globe. GBB bases its work in the core belief that inclusion is a business discipline and that it should be leveraged across all that the enterprise does. To gain this leverage, the firm applies a continuous improvement model, anchored in metrics.
Prior to the launch of Global Bridgebuilders, Skot served as Vice President of Business Development and Benchmarking Services for DiversityInc magazine in New Jersey, where he worked with many of the Fortune 500’s biggest global brands across a broad range of industries.
Marketing Consultant | 1 Bold Step
Steve is a systems thinker and lifelong entrepreneur. In his career, he has founded and sold two software companies, and acted as an executive business consultant primarily focusing on strategy, culture development and reorganizations.
In his role as 1 Bold Step’s Senior Marketing Consultant, Steve wears many hats from helping clients generate positive R.O.I. from their marketing efforts to designing and implementing marketing strategies. Steve is also the mastermind that brought TEDxGrandRapids to the area.
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.
Warner Norcross + Judd LLP
Freelance Writer and Community Arts Activist
Board Governance & Nominating
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.
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.”