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!

Festival of the Arts draws hundreds of thousands of people downtown each year to celebrate the arts.  The three day event serves as the kick-off to summer in West Michigan.

Learn more about the history of La Grande Vittesse.

Check us out on social media to keep up with what’s new!

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. 

David Abbott
Executive Director

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.  

Board Chair
Melissa Bush

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Class of 2021

Vice Chair  
Dan Carter

Dan Carter Advisors
Class of 2020

Vice Chair
Baird Hawkins

Interfuse Capital
Class of 2020

Lori Harrison-Smith

Motorola Solutions
Class of 2019

Bob Bird 

Mercy Health
Saint Mary’s
Class of 2022

Fred Bivins

Vinecroft Studios
Class of 2020

Adrienne Brown-Reasner

West Michigan Tourism Association
Class of 2021

Dianne Carroll-Burdick

Dianne Carroll Photography
Class of 2020

Glenn Del Vecchio

Grand Rapids Ballet
Class of 2022

Courtney Failer

Warner Norcross + Judd
Class of 2021

Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk

Grand Rapids Symphony
Class of 2020

Ken Knight

Valley Truck Parts
Class of 2022

Eddie Tadlock

Class of ​2022

We believe…

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.

Mary Tuuk
Grand Rapids Symphony
President and CEO

Mary Tuuk, President and CEO of the Grand Rapids Symphony, was appointed to lead West Michigan’s largest performing arts organization in January 2019. A native of Grand Rapids and a classically trained musician, Tuuk brings more than 28 years of experience in financial services, legal affairs and retail to the Grand Rapids Symphony.

In the corporate realm, Tuuk has more than two decades holding executive and legal roles at Meijer, Inc., and at Fifth Third Bancorp. Prior to joining Meijer in 2015, she served Fifth Third (previously Old Kent Financial Corporation) for 19 years in positions of increasing responsibility in Michigan and Ohio, including as Executive Vice President, Chief Risk Officer during the financial crisis of 2008 and as Executive Vice President, Corporate Services, at the time of her departure.  While at Fifth Third, Tuuk was named an American Banker Most Powerful Women in Banking “Woman to Watch” in the years 2008-2014.

Tuuk, who has served on the Grand Rapids Symphony board of directors since 2012, co-chaired the search committee that in June 2016 selected Marcelo Lehninger as Music Director. In 2018, she he also served as chair for the search committee to select the symphony’s next President and CEO. Following a months-long national search, the search committee realized its best candidate was, in fact, Tuuk.  The committee then went on to recruit, interview, and unanimously recommend Tuuk for the position.

A classically trained musician who plays organ, piano and violin and who currently performs as a member of the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, Tuuk has performed with the West Michigan Symphony, Chamber Choir of Grand Rapids, West Michigan Camerata Singers and the Cincinnati Vocal Arts Ensemble. Her solo soprano appearances have included the Mendelssohn Hymn of Praise, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Faure’s Requiem, Handel’s Messiah, and the Saint-Saens Christmas Oratorio.

Tuuk graduated from Calvin College with degrees in Business and Music and earned her JD and MBA degrees from Indiana University. While at Indiana University, she studied organ with Larry Smith.  In West Michigan, she has studied voice with Diane Triplett Biser and Stanley Kolk. 

The regions of Grand Rapids and Cincinnati have both benefitted from Tuuk’s contributions to her native and adopted communities.  She has received Cincy Business Magazine’s Athena Award and was a founder of Calvin College’s Young Women’s Business Institute.   While living in Cincinnati, Tuuk served on the ArtsWave Board of Directors.  Tuuk currently serves on the Board of Directors for Universal Forest Products, Inc., and for Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, and on the Board of Trustees for Davenport University. She recently joined the Board of Directors of United Bank in Grand Rapids.

Marcelo Lehninger
Grand Rapids Symphony
Music Director
George H. & Barbara A. Gordon Chair

Marcelo Lehninger, who led the Grand Rapids Symphony’s critically acclaimed return to Carnegie Hall in 2018, is in his fourth season as Music Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony as the orchestra celebrates its 90th anniversary season in 2019-20.

Awarded the 2014 Helen M. Thompson Award for an Emerging Music Director by the League of American Orchestras, Lehninger has led the symphony orchestras of Detroit, Chicago, Houston, Seattle, Toronto and Vancouver. Elsewhere he has conducted the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, the Lucerne Symphony, and the Slovenian Philharmonic. As an assistant to Mariss Jansons, he has toured with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

In the past year, Lehninger returned to his native Brazil for concerts with the Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira in Rio de Janeiro, the Orquestra Sinfônica da Universidade de São Paulo, and the Orquestra Filarmônica de Minas Gerais. He traveled to Japan to guest conduct the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo and the Kyushu Symphony Orchestra in Fukuoka. Coming this season, he’ll make his debuts with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, the San Antonio Symphony and the Sarasota Orchestra, and he’ll return for engagements with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and with the Boston Symphony Orchestra where he spent two years as assistant conductor followed by three years as associate conductor.

Appointed Assistant Conductor of the BSO in 2010, the following year, on just three days’ notice, he led the orchestra in performances that included the world premiere of a new violin concerto by Harrison Birtwistle. Weeks later, the Boston Symphony Orchestra repeated the program in New York City’s Carnegie Hall with Lehninger on the podium.

In 2007, Lehninger made a successful debut with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and was invited to conduct the NSO again the following year. During the 2007-08 season, Lehninger served as music advisor of the Youth Orchestra of the Americas, conducting concerts across South America with the ensemble composed of 120 musicians from more than 20 countries with Placido Domingo as artistic advisor.

Selected by Kurt Masur, Lehninger was awarded the first Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Scholarship in 2008, sponsored by the American Friends of the Mendelssohn Foundation. On three separate occasions he served as Maestro Masur’s assistant, with the New York Philharmonic, with the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, and with the Orchestre National de France during its residency in Vienna.

In 2011, he participated in the League of American Orchestra’s Bruno Walter National Conductor Preview. The following year, he was named music director of the New West Symphony Orchestra, serving four years with the Los Angeles-based orchestra.

Before dedicating his career to conducting, Lehninger studied violin and piano. He holds a master’s degree from the Conductors Institute at Bard College Conservatory of Music in New York. A dual citizen of Brazil and Germany, Marcelo Lehninger is the son of German violinist Erich Lehninger and Brazilian pianist Sônia Goulart.

Lehninger, his wife, Laura Krech, and their daughters, Sofia and Camila, live near Grand Rapids.

John Varineau
Grand Rapids Symphony
Associate Conductor
Maggie Coleman Chair

Now in his fourth decade on the podium for the Grand Rapids Symphony, Associate Conductor John Varineau conducts concerts on nearly all of its series including the Fox Motors Pops, the Gerber SymphonicBoom, the DTE Energy Foundation Family, and the PNC Lollipop as well as the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops and a wide variety of educational and outreach concerts throughout the area.

The 2019-20 season marks his 35th anniversary season as a conductor with the Grand Rapids Symphony and his 32nd as conductor of the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony and Classical Orchestra. Additionally, he conducts the Grand Rapids Symphony in performances with the Grand Rapids Ballet including the 2014 world premiere of a new version of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, a production co-designed by Grand Rapids native Chris Van Allsburg, author and illustrator of The Polar Express.

Varineau’s guest conducting appearances have included the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Phoenix Symphony, the San Antonio Symphony, the Lansing Symphony Orchestra, the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, and the Traverse City Symphony Orchestra as well as the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and Oklahoma City Philharmonic. He formerly served as music director of the Holland Symphony Orchestra.

A clarinetist, John Varineau presents solo recitals and plays in the contemporary music group, Ensemble Montage, and the woodwind trio, ma non troppo.  For 38 years he taught at the college level at Cornerstone University, Grand Rapids Community College, Aquinas College, and Grand Valley State University. Most recently he was on the faculty at Calvin University where he conducted the college orchestra, taught academic courses and clarinet and also conducted the Calvin Community Symphony. He is now retired from college teaching.

Committed to nurturing the next generation of classical music lovers, Varineau is a frequent visitor to area schools and shares an infectious enthusiasm with students throughout West Michigan.

A native of Laramie, Wyoming, Varineau attended Michigan State University and the University of Wyoming for his clarinet training and earned his master’s degree at Yale School of Music.

He has made three recordings with the Grand Rapids Symphony and three with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. He married his wife, Gwen, in the same year that he joined the Grand Rapids Symphony. They have a daughter, Jade, and a son, Justin.

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.”