Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts 2017: What’s changing

Festival of the Arts, Grand Rapids, 2016
The annual Festival of the Arts in downtown Grand Rapids. (June 2016)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Visitors to downtown Grand Rapids will encounter some changes during the Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts this weekend.

Festival organizers have freshened things up, expanding the event’s footprint from the north side of downtown in and around Calder Plaza to the south and east.

“That was a conscious effort. Both we wanted to move it where the flow of people were going, but also, (because of) all the construction that was happening,” said festival co-chair Lisa Radeck.

Festival of the Arts, Grand Rapids, 2016
The annual Festival of the Arts in downtown Grand Rapids. (June 2016)

Dozens of food booths, musical and dance performances, activities and art vendors will return this year, including Brenda Cole and her airbrush body art booth. She’s back for her 12th year.

>>Photos: Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts 2017

“Everybody down here is just great: the people coming in, the kids. They just get a big smile on their face,” said Cole.

This year may be more convenient for parents of budding artists: Organizers have consolidated kids’ activities at Rosa Parks Circle.

“It’s a brand new focus. We’ve kind of taken a lot of the kids activities and we’ve centered them around, down in that area,” said Joanne Bailey-Boorsma, vice president of Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts.

She says the popular glue-in will return for pint-sized artists, as well as a bunch of new activities, including decorating bags for Kids Food Basket and performances by puppeteer Kevin Kameraad. Children can also interact with animals from John Ball Zoo.

>>Inside woodtv.com: Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts forecast | 2017 festival guide

Festival of the Arts, Grand Rapids, 2016
The annual Festival of the Arts in downtown Grand Rapids. (June 2016)

The activities don’t stop at Rosa Parks Circle.

“It’s all the way up to the Calder. That’s where we started, that’s the basis of our celebration. It was the first public artwork supported by the National Endowment of the Arts,” explained Bailey-Boorsma.

Festival of the Arts has been a tradition in Grand Rapids ever since they took the wraps off the Calder Stabile back in 1969.

But times change. Now there’s ArtPrize and a lot of other summertime competition for the festival.

“(The) festival’s really different than ArtPrize actually is. (The) festival really started as a way to support our local arts. ArtPrize is more of an international competition,” explained Radeck.

“We realize that there are new festivals popping up, new events popping up. There’s something happening in the city all summer long,” she acknowledged.

So the Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts freshened things up.

As part of an event partnership, Ferris State University’s Kendall College of Arts + Design will host a new performance stage.

Festival of the Arts, Grand Rapids, 2016
The annual Festival of the Arts in downtown Grand Rapids. (June 2016)

WOOD TV8 will also be broadcasting live from the festival Friday and Saturday, beginning with 24 Hour News 8 at noon.

“We’re so thrilled for the opportunity to have all these things going on,” said Bailey-Boorsma.

This is the 48th year for the three-day festival. Each year, it takes hundreds of volunteers to pull it off, and organizers are looking for more.

“It’s really a very exciting (event), and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a good community to be a part of, it’s a rare opportunity where we can celebrate our art and what West Michigan has to offer,” Bailey-Boorsma said.

To find out how you can help, visit the volunteer page on the Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts website.