Meet the 2017 Festival of the Arts Co-Chairs

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.

It is the largest all-volunteer arts festival in the nation, an amazing feat considering the size and scope of activities and performances that encompass the three-day, free event.

Each year, two extraordinary (maybe superhuman!) volunteers take on the role of Co-Chairs of Festival of the Arts, a three-year process that includes a year to prepare, a year to execute and a year to help mentor the next two in line to the helm. Co-chairing Festival this year are Lisa Radeck and Merrie Pieri-Clark. We managed to get a moment in their very busy schedule to ask them a few questions about the experience.

Q: Can you just tell us a little about yourself? Work, family, history with Festival?

Lisa: I am the Visitor Services Coordinator at GRAM, I have been married for 24 years and have a teenage daughter. Both my husband and I grew up on the Westside and still live there. I started going to Festival in high school to hang out with my friends; at the time it was the biggest event of the year.

Merrie: I live with my husband, Gary, in Belmont. After retiring from John Ball Zoo, I was excited to have time to develop my creative side and discovered I could sell my art. My first art show experience was Festival of the Arts in the art sales tent. I was hooked and have spent the last ten years either vending or volunteering at Festival.

Q: Taking on the job of Festival co-chairs is a big undertaking. What compelled you to accept the position?

Lisa: I am not getting any younger! No, I had been involved with developing the Fulton Street Artisans Market over ten years ago and then started volunteering at GRAM during ArtPrize for 5 years before I accepted a position at the art museum. I have a passion for the arts and love being involved in any capacity. This was an opportunity to put my stamp on a lasting Grand Rapids tradition.

Merrie: I enjoy volunteering and decided to take it to the next level.

Q: What does being a Festival Co-chair entail?

Lisa: The work that is involved is a huge laundry list. Everything from making sure planning committees (over 30) have chairs and are on task to helping edit the program. This year is a challenge because of some current and future construction downtown, so we worked with production to change the layout of the festival footprint. The best part was going to the Festival food booth tasting event and getting to try some of the new food options!

Q: The theme this year is “Make it a Family Tradition.” How was this theme chosen?

Lisa: It fit after talking to so many of the volunteers who make festival happen; even through our group of artists who created the poster we heard all these wonderful stories of how Festival was an annual tradition for them. It was one of the highlights of their childhoods and how they loved volunteering and several families now have their children and grandchildren involved with Festival every year.

Q: What is new and different this year, and why did you decide to add or update?

Lisa: Due to some current construction, some of the changes were logistical, such as we no longer have the Clock Tower stage. However, because of the new location for Regional Arts competition and exhibition at the Ferris/Kendall Woodbridge galleries (last year it was at the UICA) we have put a new stage on Pearl between Ionia and Division. We are also bringing in some new kids art activities as well as using the Circle stage for some great kid act performances. GRAM is free all weekend as always during Festival and families can enjoy the Youth Art exhibition on the lower level as well as enjoy the galleries and classical music in the auditorium.

Merrie: The addition of Kid’s World in Rosa Parks Circle is a perfect place for children and their parents to have fun with all things geared towards kids.

Q: What are some of the favorites that will remain?

Lisa: We decided to highlight some staples of Festival through the years, including Glue-In and Paint-in, which we have relocated to Rosa Parks Circle and one of the first things people will notice on the Calder Plaza besides La Grande Vitesse is the Swingin’ Art , which we moved out front from its previous location behind the city building.

Merrie: The staples of food, music, art and the free activities that have made Festival a destination for so many families over the years will remain.

Q: What can a newcomer to the area expect from their visit, what do you think their impression will be?

Lisa: We hope that they will immediately feel welcome to the city and feel like they have been invited to family picnic— a very large family picnic with a lot of great food and fun activities for everyone.

Q: What are your favorite memories or your own family traditions with Festival?

Lisa: One of my favorites was years ago when my husband and I were still dating and we came down to Festival and as we were getting food, we ran into so many friends and people we knew, it was just like we had dropped in on a party. We also had a lot of friends who played in bands, so we were there to support their performances.

Merrie: I remember going to Festival in the early 70s with family and friends and was amazed at how unique an experience it was.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

Lisa: We are bringing back the parade! The GR Griffins drum line will be leading the way, with Festival volunteers along with past and present co-chairs, from Rosa Parks Circle to the Calder Stage starting on Friday, June 2 at 11:50 a.m. to begin Opening Ceremonies. I hope people will come out and join us for noon opening ceremonies and stay to eat lunch.
Merrie: I want to thank my Co-Chair Lisa who has been a rock through this whole Festival process! I couldn’t have done it without her.

Merrie: I want to thank my Co-Chair Lisa who has been a rock through this whole Festival process! I couldn’t have done it without her.

photo by Dianne Carroll Burdick



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