What’s bright red, weighs 42 tons and has been a popular Grand Rapids photo spot for five decades?

It’s called La Grande Vitesse – a French phrase that translates to “the great swiftness” or “the grand rapids.” But locals tend to refer to it as “The Calder” in deference to the man who created it: Alexander Calder, widely considered one of the most important American sculptors of the 20th century.

In 1967, the city commissioned Calder to create a piece as part of its urban renewal initiative. It was the first public art work to be funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. As is the Grand Rapids way, private funds were raised to cover the balance.

The Calder energized the community and made anything seem possible.
- Nancy Mulnix Tweddale, arts advocate
Calder in the Spring

In addition to being the home of the iconic La Grande Vitesse, Calder Plaza hosts many public events throughout the year.

Photo by Nick Irwin for Experience GR. Artwork: La Grande Vitesse by Alexander Calder

Artistic Inspiration

The finished piece was installed in 1969, in a public plaza surrounded by new city and county buildings. The space quickly became known as Calder Plaza – and the sculpture itself became a symbol of the city’s artistic spirit.

  • La Grande Vitesse sparked interest in other art activities and spurred the development of new art, theater and symphony facilities.
  • It’s the centerpiece of the city’s annual Festival of the Arts celebration, held every year since 1970.
  • Its likeness shows up throughout the city, from official stationery to street signs to garbage trucks, and even the city's official logo. The red color of the logo, adopted in 1982 and designed by local artist Joe Kinnebrew, represents the signature stabile. 
  • It’s a popular backdrop for artists exhibiting at ArtPrize, the world’s largest public art event.
  • Calder Plaza regularly hosts cultural events such as the city’s Hispanic Festival and Pride Festival, as well as summertime food truck food courts.

50th Anniversary Celebration

La Grande Vitesse turned 50 in 2019 – and Grand Rapids celebrated the golden anniversary by reimagining Calder Plaza. In 2017, the city launched a collaborative community process aimed at making the space around La Grande Vitesse even more inviting and comfortable for people to use every day. Calder Plaza currently hosts many area festivals and events.

Festival of the Arts

La Grande Vitesse inspired the community in many ways, including the launch of the Festival of the Arts.

Photo by Nick Irwin for Experience GR

Festival of the Arts

La Grande Vitesse inspired a vibrant public art movement – starting with the very first Festival of the Arts in June of 1970. It’s Grand Rapids’ biggest street party of the year … and it’s all about bringing people together to celebrate artistic expression. Want to learn more about how it all started? Check out the video below!

It changed the role of the arts and public sculpture in the life of this community.
- Gordon Olson, former city historian

Fast Facts

  • La Grande Vitesse is 43 feet tall, 54 feet long and 30 feet wide.
  • It’s a stabile – a stationary sculpture that uses multiple flat planes to give the appearance of volume and movement.
  • It’s painted in the artist’s signature “Calder Red” color.
  • The modern design was controversial at first, but was eventually embraced by city residents.
  • A scale model at the base of the sculpture allows blind visitors to “see” the Calder in its entirety.
  • Provides the perfect photo shot spot with many angles for variety.
  • Calder Plaza will be undergoing significant enhancements and repairs come 2026. The Plaza will be reimagined as a more flexible event space, with additional seating, improvements to accessibility and added greenery.