In 1969, Alexander Calder’s mammoth La Grande Vitesse sculpture was installed in front of City Hall in downtown Grand Rapids. The city had commissioned Calder to create a piece as part of its urban renewal initiative. The sculpture, built to reflect the “great swiftness” of the Grand River that flows through downtown, quickly became a symbol of the city’s fresh vision and forward movement.
Just as importantly, La Grande Vitesse inspired a vibrant public art movement – starting with the very first Festival of the Arts. It’s Grand Rapids’ biggest street party of the year … and it’s all about bringing people together to celebrate artistic expression.
A sure sign that summer has arrived in Grand Rapids is the annual three-day Festival of the Arts (commonly called Festival), which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The festivities kick off
The first Festival of the Arts drew about 7,000 people and activities were confined to Vandenberg Plaza, the public square now commonly referred to as Calder Plaza. Today, the event spans multiple city blocks and attracts upwards of 300,000 visitors – always on the first weekend of June each year.
Festival of the Arts has also expanded its scope over the years, encompassing virtually every discipline of the arts – visual art, dance, music, film, literature, design and more. It’s also become one of the city’s favorite food events, as local nonprofit organizations host booths offering a tremendous variety of street foods, including Greek, Polish, Asian, and Latin favorites.
One thing hasn’t changed in 50 years – admission to the first Festival of Arts was free. And it still is today. Festival remains an all-volunteer operation that invites everyone to attend and experience the region’s rich artistic talent.
ArtPrize and Project 1 by ArtPrize have made Grand Rapids a global arts destination. But we’re local first – and Festival of the Arts is the purest expression of that. Come be a part of the 50th anniversary celebration!
June is a great time to visit Grand Rapids. Why not turn your trip to the Festival of the Arts into a mini-vacation? Take a look at the wide range of hotels options available. Looking for something cozier? Our Bed and Breakfasts will not disappoint. Do you love the outdoors? Then check out our campgrounds.