City Art Tour
Art is food for the soul - and West Michigan serves up a rich and varied banquet!
Grand Rapids Art Museum is a great place to start your tour. The facility itself is something of a masterpiece, hailed by Newsweek as one of the world's best buildings of 2007. Inside, a permanent collection of more than 5,000 works is augmented by the nation's best touring art exhibits.
Just two blocks away, Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts spotlights groundbreaking work in visual art, music, film, literature, dance and performance art.
Download the Outdoor Arts Inspirations tour map for a guide to 27 prominent downtown sculptures and historic buildings - including La Grande Vitesse, the bright red Alexander Calder sculpture that has come to symbolize the city's artistic spirit.
As you walk this tour you'll also encounter artistic tributes to notable figures from the city's history. The Community Legends Sculpture Project is an ongoing initiative to erect 25 bronze statues honoring people who helped shape Grand Rapids. The collection currently includes statues of:
- Lucius Lyon, an early pioneer who served in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate.
- Chief Noonday, who led the Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians.
- Bishop Baraga, the "Snowshoe Priest" who bought Catholicism to Grand Rapids.
- Jay Van Andel, the co-founder of Amway Corporation whose philanthropy helped revive the downtown area.
- Lyman Parks, the city's first African-American mayor.
- Helen Claytor, the first African-American president of the national YMCA.
As you are hunting for sculptures, be sure to find the sculpture of the 38th President of the United States, Gerald R. Ford, who was raised in Grand Rapids. You can find him welcoming visitors at the entrance of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. The President and Mrs. Ford are also buried on the grounds of the Museum, on a hillside spot that attracts a steady stream of people paying their respects to our native son and his dear wife.
Head due south along Division Avenue for a short stroll along the Avenue for the Arts. This commercial corridor is lined with art galleries and public art projects, and hosts a variety of art events throughout the year. It leads directly to Cathedral Square, a three-block area of peaceful garden settings and an Italian-style piazza reminiscent of Michelangelo's Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome.
Wherever you journey, keep your eyes peeled for signs of ArtPrize - the world's largest, richest art competition (and one of the world's top five events in 2013, according to TIME Magazine). Some of the 1,500 artists that enter ArtPrize each September leave their work behind for the city to enjoy in perpetuity - like the glittering mosaic on the exterior wall of Grand Rapids Children's Museum.
You're probably hungry from all this walking. There are many downtown restaurants that have mastered the art of farm-to-fork-dining. Some also nurture the artistic soul - like Reserve Wine & Food, which displays the very first ArtPrize Winner, a massive oil painting of the sea, and San Chez, a Tapas Bistro, is a perfect complement to a day of art, with its hand-painted tiles and original artwork.
Now it's a 10-minute drive to Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park - one of the world's 100 most-visited art museums, right alongside such icons as Paris' Louvre and New York's MoMA. Stroll through beautifully manicured gardens punctuated by massive sculptures from world-renowned artists.
Head back downtown for dinner and a show. Stop by LaFontsee Gallery and Urban Craft Boutique on the way for a dazzling selection of fine art and collectibles.
Downtown is a dynamic center for performing arts, with live music and live theatre virtually every night. There's something for everyone!
Drive west to Lake Michigan and visit a trio of pretty-as-a-picture beach towns, all just 30-40 minutes away:
- Saugatuck/Douglas is one of the nation's best small-town arts destinations, with a proliferation of galleries, artist studios, and street art fairs.
- Holland features a classic downtown main street lined with specialty shops and sidewalk sculptures.
- Grand Haven offers art and specialty shopping just steps away from the beach.
Some of the locations included in this tour are listed below - click on "Map These Events" for directions. And be sure to tell us what art attractions you'd add to this self-guided tour!
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