Five Decades of
City Culture

1969 - 2019

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. 

Executive Director – David Abbott

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
Bill Bereza

David L. Carrier Law Offices
Class of 2020

Vice Chair  Person
Melissa Bush

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Class of 2021

Vice Chair  Person
Jessi Nix Gould

John S. Hyatt + Associates
Class of 2021

Dan Carter

Dan Carter Advisors
Class of 2019

Lori Harrison-Smith

Class of 2019


Carlos Aguilar

Community Activist 
Class of 2019​

Fred Bivins

Vinecroft Studios
Class of 2020

Joanne Bailey-Boorsma

WKTV Community News, Media and Television
Class of ​2019

Adrienne Brown-Reasner

West Michigan Tourism Association
Class of 2021

Dianne Carroll-Burdick

Dianne Carroll Photography
Class of 2020

Courtney Failer

Warner Norcross + Judd
Class of 2021

Baird Hawkins

Interfuse Capital
Class of 2020

Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk

Grand Rapids Symphony
Class of 2020

Matthew R Taylor

KBO Group
Class of 2019

Josh Verhulst

Tech Defenders
Class of 2021

2019 Co-Chairs

Glenn Del Vecchio, Executive Director Grand Rapids Ballet

Del Vecchio joined Grand Rapids Ballet in 2009. Prior to his appointment, Del Vecchio moved to Michigan to serve as director of marketing for Universal Forest Products’ restaurant division. He directed the marketing for a 29 unit group of company owned and franchised casual, quick service and specialty themed restaurants in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Michigan.

For eleven years Glenn worked for Clear Channel Communications. At its peak Clear Channel was the largest radio and live entertainment company in the U.S. and operated 14 radio stations across West Michigan covering every format and demographic age group.  Overseeing promotions, non-traditional revenue streams, live performance events, internet and interactive media sales to create and successfully monetize programs to increase revenue and market share.

Del Vecchio joined the ballet as a consultant while with his own firm, Captus Creative. A full service marketing, new media, and production company. Creating marketing, branding and large scale event productions for clients like Van Andel Arena and DeVos Performance Hall, B93 Birthday Bash, Rothbury Festival, Michigan State University, Hospice of Michigan, Davenport University, and Cornerstone University.

He serves on a number of executive boards in the community; Vice Chair, Michigan Dance Council, and Operations committee of the Convention Arena and previously served on the Adoptive family support network board.

In 2014 he accepted the Newsmaker of the year award for the world premiere of Grand Rapids Ballet’s The Nutcracker featuring the creative of team Patricia Barker, Val Caniporoli Chris Van Allsburg and Eugene Lee. The premiere capped the culmination of a multi-year, multi-million dollar campaign to build the production, stabilize the financial picture and raise the profile of the Grand Rapids ballet.

James Sofranko, Creative Director Grand Rapids Ballet

A dancer for the past 18 years at San Francisco Ballet,  James Sofranko has danced in numerous works and world premieres by choreographers such as Helgi Tomasson, Val Caniparoli, William Forsythe, Liam Scarlett, Justin Peck, Alexei Ratmansky, Edwaard Liang, Lar Lubovitch, Wayne McGregor, Mark Morris, Julia Adam, Yuri Possokhov, Christopher Wheeldon, Paul Taylor, Arthur Pita, Stanton Welch, Jorma Elo, Hans Van Manen, Jiri Kylian, John Neumeier, James Kudelka, Lila York, Kenneth Macmillan, George Balanchine, and Jerome Robbins. Some of his favorite roles include ‘Mercutio’ in Tomasson’s Romeo and Juliet, ‘Eros’ in Mark Morris’ Sylvia, ‘Bugle Boy’ in Taylor’s Company B, and the second sailor in Robbins’ Fancy Free.

He received an Isadora Duncan award (“Izzie”) for Best Performance in 2011 in Yuri Possokhov’s  Classical Symphony.

James was featured in the principal role of ‘Eddie’ in the Broadway touring company of  Movin’ Out, a musical choreographed by Twyla Tharp to the songs of Billy Joel.
In 2012, Sofranko co-founded DanceFAR (Dance For A Reason), an annual benefit performance and after-party that brings the Bay Area dance community together to support the work of the Cancer Prevention Institute of California (CPIC). In 2014, he received the Inspiration Award from CPIC. To date, DanceFAR has raised over $450,000 in support of their programs and initiatives to prevent cancer.

In 2014, Sofranko formed a new contemporary repertory company in San Francisco, SFDanceworks. The first two seasons have played to sold out houses and the company has presented works by Alejandro Cerrudo, Lar Lubovitch, José Limón, and world premieres by Penny Saunders, James Graham, Danielle Rowe, Dana Genshaft, and James Sofranko.

Sofranko has also created many original choreographic works, including two for the San Francisco Ballet School Trainee program, SFDanceworks, Long Beach Ballet, and Marin Dance Theater.  James also works as a repetiteur for Yuri Possokhov, resident choreographer for San Francisco Ballet, and has staged his ballets on Cincinnati BalletColorado Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet.
Along with his duties to Grand Rapids Ballet, Sofranko will continue to develop SFDanceworks, currently presenting a San Francisco season every summer.

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.

Well Design Studio – Design Statement

This year Festival of the Arts is working with Well Design Studio to create the branding and design for the 50th Anniversary. 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 draws 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 50 years. Our design work for this year looks to the similarities we find 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.”

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