Can I just say... I am so lucky to call Grand Rapids, Michigan home. West Michigan is not only a beautiful and upbeat place to live, but the arts scene is absolutely blossoming. As I type, I just wrapped up volunteering at the Festival of the Arts, a longstanding GR tradition that was a first for me this year, but believe me--I've already marked my calendar for next year (I'll see you there on the first weekend in June)!
There's countless organizations, programs and initiatives that are working to ensure that the arts are accessible to everyone, which is something I'm incredibly passionate about. Here's a few that I've been able to work with or witness the work of firsthand that I wanted to highlight!
In their own words, "Artists Creating Together (ACT) empowers individuals with disabilities to learn, grow, and celebrate through the arts. ACT provides art and creative expression programming, which helps to enrich the lives of people with and without disabilities throughout all of West Michigan." I began volunteering with ACT in 2021, and am in awe of their influence here in Grand Rapids.
My personal favorite part of what they do? They call it the Creative Cube, and it's a bright yellow 40-foot race trailer with the mission to create unique arts opportunities for all artists of all abilities everywhere. Designed intentionally with four pillars of accessibility, adaptability, customizability, and visibility in mind, this initiative can be spotted at different festivals and events in West Michigan--and trust me, wherever you find it, you'll find lots of incredible artwork and smiling faces, too!
Like every big city, Grand Rapids has countless alleyways that crawl throughout the city. Women's Way GR is an alley activation initiative that highlights the incredibly impactful women of Grand Rapids. "The Women’s Way Initiative aspires to elevate the historical narratives of exceptional local leaders while adding new energy and creative interest to often-overlooked public places. The initiative also boldly endeavors to acknowledge the complicated history of women in alleyways and help claim positive ownership of these spaces," their site reads.
These stunning murals catch anyone and everyone's attention, the perfect way to start conversations, pay tribute to the women who came before us, and learn more about the history of this wonderful town.
Short for West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology, this incredible center works to "Provide a culture of opportunity for people to make social and economic progress in their lives and community. We fulfill our mission through visual arts and tech engagement, workforce development and social enterprises."
Through providing after-school and summer programming for kids in the Grand Rapids Public School district, WMCAT not only gives students the opportunity to express themselves and explore arts and technology opportunities outside of the classroom--they also prioritize ensuring that students are prepared to enter the workforce.
While I haven't been able to work with them yet, Lions & Rabbits Center for the Arts is at the top of a long list of organizations that I've had my eye on. Their mission statement is: "By meeting artists where they are, we drive and strengthen creative independence." How do they accomplish that? Lions & Rabbits works with countless local artists and supports them on activations to create change in the Grand Rapids community. By providing them with opportunities and exposure, they give entrepreneurs the tools they need to jump-start holistic projects within their neighborhoods.
Walk through downtown GR and you'll see their work--whether it's their storm drain initiative, an adopt-a-drain program where artists create stunning works of art around city drains to bring awareness towards this important part of our city's infrastructure, or you stumble on one of their After Dark arts markets that give local artists an opportunity to sell their goods. The support that they offer local artists is absolutely incredible, and their behind-the-scenes work is what creates such a thriving arts scene here in West Michigan.
I've said it time and time again, but I believe that the arts are for everyone--not just those who are able-bodied or come from a higher socioeconomic background. Arts in motion is a dance studio that specializes in adaptive instruction in the creative arts for those with disabilities. With the end goal of "Enriching the community and lives of individuals with disabilities through expressive arts", Arts in Motion is doing the work to ensure that those who need the arts most can access them. Through different styles of dance, different programming, props, etc. and appropriate accommodations, students are able to experience the emotional benefits, growth in confidence, sense of achievement, freedom of expression, heightened communication skills, and a chance to be involved that many of us take for granted when participating in the arts.
I also have to give a shoutout to arts in motion for letting me borrow their dance studio space to rehearse for Miss Michigan!
That's just the start--I know there's countless more organizations here in West Michigan that are working to make the arts accessible and to create change in my community. Do you know one that might possibly want to work with Miss West Michigan? I'd love to learn how I can help and support! Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org and lets' chat.