Festival of the Arts Announces Theme and Program Additions for 2017

The annual community and family tradition, known simply as ‘Festival,’ returns for its 48th year with a new stage, a designated kids’ area, and revived favorites at the June event in downtown Grand Rapids.


Festival of the Arts returns, as always, the first full weekend in June and is widely known as the official kickoff of summer in West Michigan. The celebration this year lands on June 2, 3, and 4 and the theme for 2017 is “Make It a Family Tradition.” The theme is a nod to the many generations who grew up with Festival over the past 48 years as well as the new arrivals who will find a warm welcome to join in and together help add to and build upon those traditions.

“Festival embraces the tradition and sense of community ownership while at the same time recognizing the need for change and improvement, as long as the core values of the event are retained,” said Lisa Radeck, 2017 co-chair. “Each year, new activities and performers are added, new volunteers are sought, and we strive to empower new and alternative forms of artistic expression. As the community grows, we grow, together. The tradition continues by diversity and inclusion.”

Festival Co-Chairs Merrie Pieri-Clark and Lisa Radeck. Photo by Dianne Carroll Photography

Festival’s core values include the belief in making the arts central to the lives of everyone in the community. It is also the largest all-volunteer festival in the nation, and with that, it acknowledges the value of the personal and professional expertise of volunteers, whose efforts year-round encourage and develop arts experiences at Festival and help limit and control commercialization of the event. Generous community partners, sponsoring businesses, and individuals have joined in over the years to help provide support for these core values.

“Festival is truly a grass-roots celebration of the community by the community for the community,” added Radeck. “Every voice and every generation matters in creating and supporting Festival, and with over 300,000 visitors each year that is a powerful statement by the local, everyday people of West Michigan determining who we are and how we choose to express ourselves.”

The economic impact of Festival is a powerful statement as well. The investment returning directly back into the creative and non-profit community is notable: over the past five years, festival artists have received more than $500,000 through art exhibition purchases and awards as well as through the art sales tents. Non-profits have earned over $2 million through participation in food booths. The event also encourages new visitors to downtown Grand Rapids who in turn discover the many restaurants, museums, and other businesses and organizations in the area.

Each year, Festival invites a local artist or group of artists to carry the tradition forward in the design of a poster. The 2017 “Make it a Family Tradition” theme is reflected by the four artists who created this year’s poster. Their names are familiar to many in the region: author and illustrator Ryan Hipp; puppeteer, artist, and “Tomato Collection” author Kevin Kammeraad, Kammeraad’s son and artist Carlos, and retired Rockford High School art teacher Ken Vidro. They have made Festival of the Arts their own “family tradition” with the multi-generational poster collaboration. The artists are also longtime participants at Festival, for the last ten years their artwork has been featured in the Art Sales Tent, which is partly the reason the 2017 co-chairs Radeck and Merrie Pieri-Clark selected them to design this year’s colorful poster. What better way to express that tradition than by those who have continued to be part of the family for years.

Festival Vice President Joanne Bailey-Boorsma

Visitors to Festival 2017 are encouraged to visit the Art Sales Tent where they will find favorites new and old, as several area artists and artisans will be on hand selling unique items and are happy to share information about their work.

As noted above, generations keep coming back to this annual celebration of the arts for the longstanding traditions as well as the new ones in the making. This year, organizers are revamping the children’s activities and performances to create a “Kids’ World,” at the Rosa Parks Circle stage during all three days.

Family favorite kids’ activities such as Mad Hatter will be joined with new activities from a host of local organizations. Some of the activities are: decorating lunch bags with Kids Food Basket, design-a-diaper with Great Start Collaborative – First Steps, Camp Curious with the Grand Rapids Public Museum, animal visits with John Ball Zoo, hands-on health and proper nutrition projects with Ferris State University School of Pharmacy, and a dance and motion project with Grandville Avenue Arts. Sunday will be International Day with the Grand Rapids Sister Cities organization and Bethany Christian Services, providing a day of international arts and entertainment emphasizing “Kids from around the World.”

Friday stage performances at Rosa Parks Circle stage include the Gemini Brothers, Dilly Songs with Kevin Kammeraad, and Miranda of “The Miranda Show.” (Note this is not a park party event.) Saturday features Jim the Spoon Man, John Ball Zoo, Dilly Songs, and the Grandville Avenue Arts and Humanities.

The other popular Festival stages, Calder, City, and Outer Fringe will be open and hosting a wide variety of performances by artists from eight West Michigan counties represented at Festival. New this year is the Kendall Stage, located on Pearl Street between the Ferris State University’s Kendall College of Art and Design’s main building and the Kendall Galleries located in the Woodbridge N. Ferris Building.
There are numerous other activities beyond Kids’ World and the stage performances. Everyone gets a chance to join in on hands-on participation fun with Adult Paint-In and Swingin’ Art, and returning for the first time since the late ‘80s, Festival is bringing back block printing to the Printmaking Booth! Block printing will be on paper with blocks made by participants in past printmaking workshops or by using block letters to print your own name or favorite saying, and visitors can also participate in screen printing by bringing their own material or purchasing a plain white t-shirt in youth and adult sizes for sale at the booth.

The 2017 Festival Regional Arts Exhibition will be on view in the Old Fed Gallery at the Woodbridge N. Ferris Building, located at 17 Pearl St. NW.

“The Festival 2017 Regional Arts Committee is thrilled to be working with Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University,” said Regional Arts Co-Chair Fred Bivins. “Everyone there has been a pleasure to work with, and we feel like we’re coming home to the Fed Galleries in the former Federal Building, now the Woodbridge N. Ferris Building, as the show was there for many years when the building housed the Grand Rapids Art Museum and for several more when the City of Grand Rapids allowed us its use for the show.”

The Festival Regional Arts will have its opening reception on May 31 from 5 – 8 p.m. The exhibition will be up from June 1 to July 15.

Last but certainly not least, Festival continues the tradition of including the culinary arts in its mix, where year after year visitors experience flavors from around the world along the streets of downtown Grand Rapids. More than twenty-five food booths operated by non-profits will be offering a variety of items from the popular souvlaki sandwich to popcorn and much more. “We are excited to welcome a couple of new food offerings which includes tamales!” said Merrie Pieri-Clark, 2017 Co-chair.

Opening ceremonies will follow tradition, with the celebration kickoff at noon on Friday, June 2. New this year is a second ceremony on opening day for those coming later in the evening. The second ceremony will take place at 7:00 p.m. Friday.

For all the latest information about Festival of the Arts, including performance schedules, activities, and food booths, visit www.festivalgr.org or check out the organization’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/festivalGR.

About Festival of the Arts
In 1969, Alexander Calder’s La Grande Vitesse was installed in front of City Hall in downtown Grand Rapids. The 43-foot-tall, vibrant red stabile, which became known as “The Calder,” inspired a celebration – one that’s grown to encompass most of downtown Grand Rapids. Festival of the Arts is a FREE three-day community event that features several stages of performances, a juried Regional Arts Exhibition, and dozens of food booths run by non-profit organizations. Plus, creative activities for children and adults to enjoy making art as well as purchasing art from West Michigan artists. Every purchase at Festival from food to art to t-shirts and posters gives back to the West Michigan community. 

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