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 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.
Calder Plaza during Festival of the Arts
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.
Phase 1 of this project, to include the construction of a new café and stage/pavilion. Future phases will add a splash pad water feature, new landscaping, access ramps, staircases and a pedestrian bridge – all designed to renew Calder Plaza’s prominence as the city’s town square.
La Grande Vitesse inspired a vibrant public art movement – starting with the very first Festival of the Arts in June of 1969. 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!