Amazing art can pop up in the most unexpected places in Grand Rapids – including on otherwise nondescript electrical boxes that house electrical conduit, traffic control signals and other basic infrastructure.
Twenty-six electrical boxes scattered across downtown GR have been painted with colorful portraits of influential women: artists and abolitionists, scientists and suffragettes, rock stars and rabble-rousers, and agents of change of all kinds.
They’re part of the Rad Women Public Art Initiative, a joint project of local arts nonprofit Lions & Rabbits and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI), our Downtown Development Authority. In 2019, the two organizations worked together to hire local female-identifying artists for the project. The collaboration was inspired by the book, “Rad American Women A-Z,” written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl.
You can see all 26 boxes on this alphabetical walking tour, which should take 90 minutes to two hours at a casual pace.
Begin your journey at the southwest corner of Pearl St. and Monroe Ave., across the street from the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel:
“A is for Angela Davis” by Corryn Jackson
Angela Davis (born 1944) is a political activist, professor and author who has been speaking out against racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination for more than 50 years.
Now walk one block north on Monroe to the Lyon St. intersection:
“B is for Billie Jean King” by Emily MacDonald
Billie Jean King (born 1943) was the top female tennis player in the world a male former pro challenged her to a “Battle of the Sexes” match in 1973 – and she won!
Walk two blocks east on Lyon to the Ionia Ave. intersection:
“C is for Carol Burnett” by Kerry Rolewicz
Carol Burnett (born 1933) is a beloved comedienne and Hollywood trailblazer who hosted the award-winning “Carol Burnett Show” for 11 seasons.
Walk one block east on Lyon to the Division Avenue intersection:
“D is for Dolores Huerta” by Anna VanderLoon
Dolores Huerta (born 1930) is a teacher and community organizer who helped found the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) to promote dignity and justice for farm workers.
Continue east on Lyon to the Bostwick Ave. intersection:
“E is for Ella Baker” by Marie Couretas
Ella Baker (1903-1986) has been called “the backbone of the Civil Rights Movement” for her behind-the-scenes work to organize and mobilize Black and White Americans.
Continue east on Lyon to the Ransom Ave. intersection:
“F is for Florence Griffith Joyner” by Nia Mays
Florence Griffith Joyner (1959-1998) was an American track and field athlete who set world records for the 100 m and 200 m, and captured public attention with her eclectic personal style.
Continue east on Lyon, up the hill to the Lafayette Ave. intersection:
“G is for Grimke Sisters” by Korin Hollinshead
The Grimke Sisters left their South Carolina slaveowner family in the 1820s to move north and advocate against slavery, and for women’s rights, until their deaths in the 1870s.
Walk one block south on Lafayette to the Fountain St. intersection:
“H is for Hazel Scott” by Kim Nguyen
Hazel Scott (1920-1981) was a jazz/classical pianist & singer who spoke out against racial discrimination and used her influence to improve the representation of Black Americans in film.
Walk two blocks south on Lafayette to the Fulton St. intersection:
“I is for Isadora Duncan” by Jordyn Romersberger
Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) was a dancer and choreographer who helped pioneer the form of modern contemporary dance.
Walk five minutes west on Fulton to the Jefferson Ave. intersection:
“J is for Jovita Idár” by Barb Danger
Jovita Idár (1885-1946) was a journalist, teacher, political activist and civil rights worker who championed the cause of Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants.
Walk one block west on Fulton to Ransom Ave., turn right on Ransom and walk two blocks north to the Fountain St. intersection:
“K is for Kate Bornstein” by Maddie Jackson
Kate Bornstein (born 1948) is an author, playwright and performance artist who was assigned male at birth and received sex reassignment surgery in 1986. She now identifies as non-binary.
Walk two blocks west on Fountain to the Division Ave. intersection:
“L is for Lucy Parsons” by Blake Noble
Lucy Parsons (1853-1942) fought for the rights of workers and poor people, once leading a Chicago march of 80,000 people to demand an eight-hour work day.
Continue west on Fountain a short distance to the Ionia Ave. intersection:
“M is for Maya Lin” by Meg Porter
Maya Lin is a designer and sculptor famous for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., as well as downtown’s Grand Rapids’ Rosa Parks Circle.
Walk one block north on Ionia to Pearl St., then walk one block east on Pearl to the Division Ave. intersection:
“N is for Nellie Bly” by Maria De'Angelo
Nellie Bly (1864-1922) was a journalist who launched a new kind of investigative journalism and was widely known for her record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days.
Walk back one block west on Pearl to the Ionia Ave. intersection:
“O is for Odetta Holmes” by Mary Martin
Odetta Holmes (1930-2008) was a powerful singer, musician, lyricist and civil rights activist often referred to as “The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement.”
Continue one block west on Pearl, turn left on Ottawa Ave. and walk south one block to the Monroe Center intersection:
“P is for Patti Smith” by Devon Dumond
Patti Smith (born 1946) is a singer, songwriter, painter and author who was an influential voice in the New York City punk rock movement of the 1970s, and is still relevant today.
Walk back one block north on Ottawa, turn east on Fountain St. and walk two blocks to Division Ave., then walk one block south to the Library St. intersection:
“Q is for ‘Queen Bessie’ Coleman” by Madeline Graumlich
Queen Bessie Colman (1892-1926) was the first African American woman and first Native American to earn a pilot license. She flew in air shows throughout the U.S.
Walk one block east on Library, turn south on Sheldon Ave. and walk one block to the Fulton St intersection:
“R is for Rachel Carson” by Dayna Walton
Rachel Carson (1907-1964) was a marine biologist and conservationist whose influential book “Silent Spring” and other writings helped boost the global environmental movement.
Walk one block west on Fulton, turn north on Division Ave. and walk one half block:
“S is for Sonia Sotomayor” by Lesley Esse
Sonia Sotomayor (born 1954) is the first Puerto Rican woman to become a judge in a U.S. federal court and the first Latina/o to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Walk about three blocks south on Division to the Oakes St. intersection:
“T is for Temple Grandin” by Valarie Wahna
Temple Grandin (born 1947) is an animal behaviorist who advocates for the humane treatment of animals and is a spokesperson for autism rights.
Walk one block south on Division to Cherry St. intersection:
“U is for Ursula K Le Guin” by Katie Moore
Ursula K Le Guin (1929-2018) was an author who explored important issues like gender, war and religion through science fiction, a field still dominated by men.
Walk two blocks west on Cherry to the Ionia Ave. intersection:
“V is for Virginia Apgar” by Jenna Sherwin
Virginia Apgar (1909-1974) was a physician and anesthesiologist who invented the lifesaving Apgar Score, a simple but still used method of assessing the health of a newborn baby.
Walk three blocks north on Ionia to the Fulton St. intersection:
“W is for Wilma Mankiller” by Elena Gray
Wilma Mankiller (1945-2010) was a Native American activist who became the first woman elected to serve as the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1985.
Walk one block west on Fulton to the Ottawa Ave. intersection:
“X is For Those Whose Names We Don't Know” by Hannah McKinney
This is a tribute to the women who aren’t in the history books and who never got credit but made a world of difference to their families and communities.
Continue west on Fulton to the Monroe Ave. intersection:
“Y is for Yuri Kochiyama” by Piper Adonya
Yuri Kochiyama (1921-2014) was a Japanese American civil rights activist whose experience in a WWII American internment camp drove her to become a fierce advocate for all Americans.
Walk two blocks north on Monroe to the Louis St. intersection:
“Z is for Zora Neale Hurston” by Jasmine Bruce
Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) was an author, anthropologist and filmmaker whose work reflected the African American experience and her struggles as an African American woman.