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. 

“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 draws hundreds of thousands of people downtown each year to celebrate the arts and the official kick-off to summer in West Michigan.

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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 the arts and for the 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.  

Chair
Bill Bereza

Vice Chair  Person
Melissa Bush
Jessi Nix Gould

Treasurer  
Dan Carter

Secretary
Lori Harrison-Smith

Directors
Carlos Aguilar, Fred Bivins, Joanne Bailey-Boorsma, 
Adrienne Brown-Reasner, Dianne Carroll-Burdick, Coutney Failer, 
Baird Hawkins, Karen Hunter, Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk,

Matthew R Taylor, Josh Verhulst, 

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.

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.

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