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Read Muskegon's new literacy center hopes to mark beginning of new era for downtown Muskegon Heights

Celebrating the grand opening of its Muskegon Heights Family Literacy Center next week, the nonprofit organization Read Muskegon will be joined by the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce and members of the Muskegon Heights community for a ribbon cutting ceremony.

Beginning at 11 a.m. on October 25, the ribbon cutting event will take place outside of the new literacy center, located at 26 E. Broadway in Muskegon Heights, and feature special guests that include Muskegon Heights Mayor Kimberly Sims and John Severson, Presidents of the Muskegon Area Independent School District, for a ribbon cutting ceremony.

With a mission to "increase the quality of life in Muskegon County through improved literacy," the new Muskegon Heights Family Literacy Center will act as a countywide hub for literacy that focuses on providing programming for adult and family literacy, such as classes to increase job readiness, early literacy, and English language skills.

Other services include one-on-one tutoring sessions, literacy-based play and learn groups for low literacy parents and children ages 0-5, a six-week long literacy-based healthy cooking workshop for parents and children ages 0-5, drop-in literacy lab tutoring, and a family reading corner.

Though the literacy center has been hosting some of the new programming in the space throughout its summer-long interior renovation, Read Muskegon President Melissa Moore says next week's event not only marks the official grand opening of the literacy center, but also a larger milestone for the misunderstood and underutilized commercial corridors of downtown Muskegon Heights.

As the first organization to partner with the Muskegon Heights Downtown Development Authority, Moore says by moving its programs and administrative offices to the new downtown site, Read Muskegon also brings along its volunteers and partners, which allows them to see the city and its emerging opportunities firsthand.

"Opening a literacy center that is accessible to many of our learners with the most critical needs has been at the core of Read Muskegon's long-term planning," Moore says. "We are excited about all of the opportunities that relocating to the heart of the Muskegon Heights downtown brings with it."

The Muskegon Heights Family Literacy Center is open to the public from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and from noon - 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

For more information on Read Muskegon, the Muskegon Heights Family Literacy Center, or the October 25 ribbon cutting, visit Read Muskegon online or find the organization here on Facebook.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Read Muskegon


WMCAT’s new HQ to act as non-profit anchor of West Side development project in growing neighborhood

As part of an ongoing $8.5 million Leave Your Mark fundraising campaign, the West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology (WMCAT) gathered with community members at the end of last month to celebrate with a groundbreaking ceremony of their new West Side facility.

Speakers at the event included Meijer, Inc. chairman Hank Meijer, WMCAT Executive Director Daniel Williams, and remarks by students from both the Teen Arts + Tech program and the WMCAT Adult Career Training Program, which aims to offer new avenues for underemployed adults to find income security through tuition-free education and career preparation. 

During the event, guests were also encouraged to contribute messages for a hand-crafted time capsule, with an open invitation for students and community members to make their own contributions throughout the year. The capsule will be displayed in the new headquarters after its fall 2018 grand opening.

Located on the third floor of a new Rockford Construction development at 601 First St. NW, the new headquarters will act as the non-profit anchor for a block where more new development projects—including plans for Meijer's new Bridge St. grocery store—are forthcoming. 

"We could not be more thrilled to welcome WMCAT to the West Side," says Rockford Construction CEO Mike VanGessel. "Access to quality education and training opportunities is a critical part of a healthy neighborhood. This will be a wonderful addition to support our current and future neighbors.”

At 22,000 square feet, its new headquarters will nearly double the size of its current space at 98 E. Fulton Street and allow for increased support of both its teen and adult programs as well as the expansion of social enterprise opportunities offered through WMCAT’s commercial screen printing business Ambrose, where young adults can gain real-world experience in early college years through apprenticeship. 

“WMCAT is really excited to join our new neighbors on the West Side in providing equitable access to opportunity for teens and adults,” says Williams. “The project not only allows us to strengthen and grow our impact, but it positions WMCAT to make significant contribution to a dynamic neighborhood.”

To learn more about West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology programming, or its new West Side headquarters and the Leave your Mark fundraising campaign that made it possible, visit www.wmcat.org

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of WMCAT on Facebook 

GVSU announces new medical building, warm design

Grand Valley State University is staking another large claim on Michigan's medical mile, with a recently approved $70 million expansion to their downtown Grand Rapids health campus. The building with saddle up to the existing Grand Valley's Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, providing a pair of state-of-the-art facilities.

"Demand has exceeded our ability to accept highly qualified students, and these two new buildings, right in the middle of the city's vibrant medical community, will provide exceptional opportunities for more students to attend Grand Valley and benefit from the unique combination of liberal education with professional training," said Provost Maria Cimitile in the July 14 press release. "This combination makes our graduates highly employable by area hospitals and medical facilities."

As the demand for medical and health studies increases, so does the competition. Right next door, Michigan State University hosts students at its College of Human Medicine, and just down the road, the completion of MSU's brand new $88 million Research Center is imminent. Universities with medical programs and health professionals are flocking to Grand Rapids, all to be part of the bourgeoning health scene.

With this new building, GVSU demonstrates its commitment to the field, and their prominence in the Grand Rapids area. What sets the university apart is the design of the new building, shown in the most recent renderings. In stark contrast to the existing Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, this new structure will exude a warm, inviting look. Sources at GVSU comment that this differing design is aimed at fitting the structure into the Midtown community, unlike the typical design of cold, sterile glass.

This attention to detail is particularly important in the neighborhood of Midtown, which has experienced a dizzying amount of development and change in the past few years.

And commitment to community is important, especially with $70.1 million, a total of 18 percent of GVSU's funding, is coming from the state of Michigan.

"It's incredibly gratifying for the Legislature to again recognize Grand Valley as the state's most efficiently managed university and our investment in our students and their promising medical careers," said John Kennedy, chair of the Grand Valley Board of Trustees in that same press release. "And the university achieves high performance while still keeping tuition lower than the majority of other public universities in the state. Students are graduating and employers are recognizing their talent. They're staying in Michigan and giving back to their communities."

Blandford Nature Center celebrates Earth Day with grand opening of new visitor venue

When Blandford Nature Center began designing its new 11,000-square-foot visitor center, it intentionally left out the kind of museum-style features often seen in more traditional nature center welcome spaces. Instead, the center wanted the space to serve a more practical role in the organization’s cardinal mission to connect more people with more nature. 

“A building doesn’t make a nature center; the nature does,” says Jason Meyer, President and CEO of Blandford Nature Center (BNC). “We settled on the idea that the the building is just one more tool in our toolbox for getting people to connect with nature, and so we didn’t really want to incorporate dead stuffed animals and a lot of those physical displays that you might see in older nature centers.” 

A crowd of nearly 400 people came out for the Earth Day ribbon cutting ceremony in celebration of the new Mary Jane Dockeray Visitor Center grand opening, hearing remarks from the building’s namesake, BNC Founder Mary Jane Dockeray, as well as Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss.

Costing $3.3 million of the total $10 million in funds currently raised in the final stretches of a larger $10.3 million campaign launched in fall 2014, the new LEED-certified visitor center includes an open interior lobby with a stone fireplace, a large auditorium, an outdoor amphitheater, and an upgraded Wildlife Education Center showcasing decorative wood features made from trees that were already harvested as part of the construction process. 

Initially built in 1968, BNC’s former visitor center was outdated, lacking in handicap accessible design and generally overdue for an update, says Meyer. The organization decided to move forward with a fundraising campaign to afford park upgrades after the center began having to turn away local school groups interesting in doing programming because of insufficient space.

With its fundraising campaign slated to wrap up this summer, Meyer says Blandford Nature Center is looking forward to turning its focus to an even bigger renovation project — restoring the 121-acre Highlands Golf Course at 2175 Leonard St. NW, which BNC purchased back in January in partnership with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan. 

With the Land Conservancy of West Michigan currently heading up some of the initial fundraising, the two organizations are starting to explore how best to transform the new acreage into a public green space that enhances both Blandford’s educational programming and outdoor recreational opportunities, first focusing on restoring the lands natural habitat. 

“A lot of it is habitat restoration. We want to put types of habitat back that are gone from this part of Michigan,” Meyer says, adding that plans include the addition of new trail ways connecting back to the nature center’s existing trail system. 

Meyer says restoring an outdoor recreation space that effectively double Blandford’s outdoor green space, however, requires a bit of al lengthier process than the construction of a new visitor center, relying the slow inedibility of nature to take its course in regrowth. 

“It’s going to be a 50- to 100-year project,” Meyer says, ”And folks will be able to see that change over time that happens with nature reclaiming itself.” 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Blandford Nature Center 

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GRCC’s new preschool lab sets sights on becoming early childhood hub for the area

Operating out of the First United Methodist Church on E. Fulton Street since its founding in 1974, a dedicated space for Grand Rapids Community College’s laboratory preschool has been a long time coming. 

“We are excited to open a new facility that has been specifically designed to meet the needs of two populations — preschoolers from ages six weeks to six years and the students in our child development and education programs,” says President Steven Ender.

The $2.7 million, state-of the-art new laboratory preschool, which broke ground at 210 Lyon Street NW in summer 2015, will celebrate the grand opening of the space with a community open house at 2 p.m. on Jan. 21.

Each of the new laboratory preschool classrooms boast outdoor meeting spaces, as well as individual meeting spaces, with a separate classroom, lockers, and other designated space for GRCC students in the college’s childhood development and education program. The new building also features a children’s library, multipurpose spaces to host large motor activities for the children, and an office for Child Development and Education program faculty. 

Named the Phyllis Fratzke Early Childhood Learning Laboratory in honor of the person who began both of the programs within its walls, GRCC Preschool Director JaneAnn Benson says the interior weaves an ecological theme throughout and uses the textures already there as a tactile representation. 

"Different textures represent things such as forest/woodland, marsh/meadow, lake/river and sand dune/beach," Benson says. "There also are circles throughout the building representing many things, including how connected we are, bubbles in the river, bubbles that children love to play with, and our connection with the neighborhood.”

Thanks to the additional classrooms afforded by the new building, GRCC can also allow the preschool to expand its services and broaden early childhood educational support for families and caregivers in low-income Grand Rapids neighborhoods. 

GRCC received funding from the Frey Foundation, PNC Bank Foundation, and W.K. Kellogg Foundation for the creation of a new community liaison position at the college to help implement an outreach program that positions the new preschool as a hub for connecting families, teachers, and students with best-practice early education resources. 

"Early childhood care providers from the community will meet here to learn and share practices that best support children and families," Benson says. “The building will also serve to support families in the care of their children -- providing a dynamic space for their children to learn and grow, providing child and community resources, and events that support healthy family development."

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grand Rapids Community College 

From Second City to Beer City: These GR comedians plan to open improv comedy venue

Grand Rapids comedian Joe Anderson knows that when it comes to opening an improv, sketch and experimental comedy venue and cocktail bar in downtown Grand Rapids, failure is not an option.

“We want to come out swinging because unless we do that, we can't open,” says Anderson, who has worked for the past two years alongside fellow comedian Ben Wilke to draft plans and garner support for The Comedy Project. The two recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for the venue, and its $25,000 funding goal is growing steadily within reach.

“Even with the Kickstarter, we could have done it for more money, but the worst thing that would have happened would be not meeting that Kickstarter goal because we need everything to be a win,” he says. “In the same way, there are so many people — whether it's a restaurant, but certainly a theater and comedy — so many people have had enough bad experiences or just mediocre experiences that they're not excited to go back… So, we need to make sure that anyone who comes, the first time they come, they're just like, 'Oh my gosh, this is great. I could do this once a month.’”

A Western Michigan University graduate, Second City alumnus, and seven-year board member of the non-profit Dog Story Theater in Grand Rapids, Anderson began working with Wilke — a Chicago native who also has roots in the Windy City’s famed Second City comedy troupe — began working more dedicatedly on The Comedy Project two years ago.

The goal of the space, Anderson says, is to be a kind of “repertoire comedy place,” with a small group of six to 10 performers who are on stage performing both improv and sketch comedy shows regularly,  with scheduling wiggle room for other comedians and improv troupes to host their own shows.

“There would be this core group of people doing the ‘heavy lifting’ of the performances, but then there would be an unknown huge amount of other people putting shows on, putting shows on the other nights, stepping in when for some reason someone else can't do the show — kind of building this stable of performers,” he says, adding that although they are open to hosting some alt stand-up comedians for special event shows, they’re avoiding the more traditional comedy genre in favor of the more experimental.

In addition to daily improv shows, The Comedy Project will offer improv and sketch comedy classes geared at career development and innovation within professional organizations, using the tenets of improv to help people in all walks of life sharpen their communication skills.

“There will be an 18-year-old kid who just thinks he's funny, and then the 35-year-old mom who also does improv and then some 65-year-old executive at a company who’s also trying to learn how to talk more extemporaneously, how to seem more approachable or be more open to other people's ideas, since those are all things that happen in good improvising,” Anderson says.

Though the duo are still waiting to finalize details on the space, they’ve already solidified a few very important partnerships, including working with Matt Smith, owner of PitStop BBQ & Catering, to bring a full menu to a space with only a prep kitchen in its plans.

Anderson and Wilke have also received support from Michele Sellers, who was instrumental in the launch of local establishments that include Stella's and Hopcat, and like Revue Holding Co.'s Brian Edwards has been consulting on the project and plans for the future space -- which promises something just as unconventional as its performances.

“In our minds, we want this space to look like the comedy place cobbled together after some kind of apocalyptic event happened, and everyone just grabbed whatever they could to make this place seem like a theater — but they did grab the best things they could,” Anderson says.

There are a few logistics and funding hurdles to clear before solidifying any concrete timeline for opening, though ideally the The Comedy Project would be fully operational this spring for LaughFest 2017.

In a city that just keeps growing, Anderson says he’s confident he and Wilke have come to Grand Rapids at a time when something like The Comedy Project has a real shot.

“It’s just what's happening right now in Grand Rapids. It's the same reason why there's all these restaurants and all of these new developments; there's a Trader Joe's, and there's another brewery,” he says. “I think people just feel like they've been given permission to try things, and I think that applies to us as well. Looking at the kind of climate here in Grand Rapids right now it's like, ‘Yeah, we gotta do this. Grand Rapids can pull this off.’”

Click here to learn more about The Comedy Project’s Kickstarter campaign, which is open through Nov. 11, or find The Comedy Project here on Facebook.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Comedy Project

GROW's micro-loan program increases opportunities for women entrepreneurs in West Michigan

Although the organization Grand Rapids Opportunities For Women (GROW) has been an active entrepreneurial resource for West Michigan women interested in business ownership for more than 25 years, CEO Bonnie Nawara says it’s not uncommon for she and her co-workers to be approached at speaking engagements by attendees who can’t believe they’ve never heard of the organization before. 

“I think the city has grown, and I think there are a lot of new people that aren’t familiar with the resources available to them in the city,” says Nawara, whose organization’s micro-loan program will now be able to provide more support than ever before thanks to a recent designation as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). In order to receive this certification from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, the organization must have a primary mission of promoting community development, providing financial products and services; serving one or more defined low-income target markets; maintaining accountability to the community it serves; and being a legal non-governmental entity. 

Nawara says the CDFI designation will allow for GROW’s micro-loan program to offer five times the funding it has in the past, increasing from $50,000 to $250,000, creating even more financial support options to be provided alongside its professional, high-quality training and business counseling programs in finance, management, marketing, and strategic planning.

Over the past four and a half years, GROW has provided more than $1 million in these micro-loan funds, helping local individuals create more than 53 new businesses, fund 21 new start-ups, and create 92 jobs in low to moderate income communities last year alone. And although 77 percent of GROW’s clients are women, the organization’s service demographics reach beyond gender to include 23 men, and 51 percent of the businesses served by GROW’s micro-loan program are minority owned. 

“If you are a micro-borrower under GROW’s umbrella, then our training resources are free resources to you, and we really encourage our borrowers to take advantage of that,” Nawara says.

For more information on GROW, its micro-loan program, or educational opportunities for new business owners, visit www.http://www.growbusiness.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grand Rapids Opportunities For Women

GR Child Discovery Center begins 'greening their school' following successful fundraising campaign

As it currently sits at its Heartside campus on 409 Lafayette SE, more than 75 percent of the Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center grounds are covered in concrete. 

However, thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign that won the charter school $30,000 in matching funds from the Michigan Economic Development Cooperation and Michigan State Housing Development Authority’s Public Spaces Community Places Initiative, the process of de-paving is poised to begin. 

“Well, with the campaign closed, we have the funds necessary to begin work, so now we’re in the process of communicating with the vendors, getting the plans drawn up, and getting the appropriate permits from the city,” says GRCDC principal John Robinson, adding that the project is slated for completion at the end of the summer and will be ready for the school year come fall. 

With its crowdfunding campaign launched May 17 via the Michigan-based crowdfunding platform Patronicity, GRCDC’s “Greening Our Schools” project was able to raise $38,981 by the June 17 deadline. The funds will be used to de-pave the majority of the current concrete parking lot to offer an open and accessible community and public green space for the students and surrounding neighborhood residents, leaving new grass to root and replace what is currently 30,000 square feet of concrete.

GRCDC’s proposed plans leave the south end of the lot for parking, but also call for a re-routing of current traffic flow for pick-up and drop-off, and though Robinson says the specifics of the new routes are still being determined, the idea is to relieve some of the current traffic congestion on Lafayette and the Wealthy Street round-about by diverting it south. 

The new green space will also divert and reuse rainwater, for both sustainability and educational purposes, as well as provide a space for creating natural play structures, community meeting areas, and outdoor classrooms.

Robinson says that although early discussions about possible natural play structures and outdoor classroom designs including things like using repurposed Sycamore trees as climbing structures and wood balance beams, or creating man-made structures focused on tactile learning and sense awareness, there are still more ongoing conversations to be had among students, staff and administrators at GRCDC before making any final decisions. 

However, teachers and school officials are already in the process of creating the proposal for a new rain garden, which would utilize the new rainwater systems as an educational tool for teaching students about sustainability through rainwater diversion and re-use, and Robinson knows that when the time does come to start making decisions on those big things, all of the new play structures and outdoor learning spaces will all be designed to align with the school’s approach to education — one which champions a collaborative approach and emphasizes the impact of connectedness, whether it be with other students, neighboring community members, or even just the ground beneath their feet.

“As we consider designing those spaces, we’ll consider our approach, which is about collaboration, and using the environment as a teacher, and connecting with our community,” Robinson says. “We really believe the importance of the natural environment and in being a part of that. We’ve seen how our children can learn things like collaboration in outdoors, and even just kindness in being outdoors, so it’s a great connection to who we are as a school…this a big step in that direction of living more fully to that approach.”

For more information about GRCDC’s educational philosiphy or its Greening Our Schools project, visit www.grcdc.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center

Planting the seeds of community: Urban Roots helps grow food justice in Grand Rapids

With a Master’s degree in community sustainability and ecology food and farming systems, experience in bio-intensive and organic growing, and a certification in permaculture design, Levi Gardner is no stranger to the concept that community gardening can be a potential game-changer.

He’s actually seen his fair share of different groups try their hand at small-scale efforts, but the trouble is that most of the time, he says, it doesn’t really end well. 

"We recognize that it's not a lack of interest, people or land, but a lack of tools and agricultural knowledge," says Gardner, who founded the nonprofit Urban Roots initiative with the intention of using community-driven agricultural growth to help address issues of food justice, unemployment, and community place-making. 

After the donation of a new community farm plot and education center by LINC Community Revitalization located at 1316 Madison SE, Urban Roots more recently launched a new mobile classroom initiative that aims to tackle issues of access to adequate tools and knowledge by bringing those educational elements to to people and places with a growing interest in educational gardens, including schools, churches and other organizations.

Supported by a recent awarded YMCA grant related to urban farming efforts, Urban Roots was able to purchase a retired ambulance vehicle to serve as the new mobile classroom, and the group is currently re-outfitting its interior in preparation for the upcoming growing season. 

The launch of the classroom comes nearly a year after Gardner first began piloting the concept, filling the bed of his own truck with as many seeds and fertilizers, hand tools and hoses as he could manage, bringing his collection of physical resources alongside his skill set to those who requested his assistance.

“To run a successful small-scale growing operation, whether it’s 100 square feet or 10 square feet, you need certain tools and implementations and skills to do it well, and we want to help people learn how to do it well,” he says. “We want to help people experience the rewarding upside of growing instead of just the discouraging downside.” 

In essence, the new mobile classroom offers struggling — or more often just curious — community gardeners a chance to familiarize themselves with the tools, required skill set, and best practices of a deceptively complicated ecosystem that can result in a costly blow to morale if executed improperly. 

“What we said was, what if we could come up with something that could seize those assets people bring — because land, interest and need are all assets — but then augment them with the tools and the skills and the kind of connections we have to be able to transform what they hope to see happen into a reality?” he says.

The mobile classroom is part of a series of exciting events happening at Urban Roots. Over the course of the last six months, the nonprofit has established its board of directors; began developing a community farm and education center in the Madison Square neighborhood at 1316 Madison SE, where they now have CSA shares available for purchase; formed community partnerships with various local organizations; overhauled its website and online presence; and received grants from both the YMCA and Slow Food to facilitate the purchase and operation of the ambulance re-outfitted for use as a mobile community classroom.

Inspired by a TEDtalk called “Leaders Eat Last,” which posits the idea that people don’t follow what you do, but rather why you do it, Gardner has committed the past year of his life to building the grassroots effort and has put a lot on the line to make Urban Roots a reality. 

The sense of certainty that pulls him forward, he says, has much less to do with confidence in every aspect of running a nonprofit organization, but instead has more to do with why he’s doing it and who he hopes to affect as a result.

“I’ve lost a lot to be able to make this happen, and I’m not going to say I’ve never doubted myself because I have definitely doubted myself — but yet I’ve always trusted what this is as a larger idea,” he says. “…We say in our tagline that we’re just a group of people trying to become fully human, trying to celebrate all of what it is to be alive and be human, and that’s a reality that permeates what we do and why we do it.”

Over the next year, Gardner says Urban Roots’ most important goal is “to know and be known” by its surrounding community and establish itself there as both an available resource and community asset, beginning on May 14 with a plant sale and resident open house for Madison Square area neighbors from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. 

From there, Gardner wants to extend that goal of connecting and establishing Urban Roots as an available resource and community asset beyond the nonprofit’s home neighborhood and into the larger Grand Rapids community. The group will continue operating with the goal of alleviating issues of food injustice and socioeconomic inequality by meeting people where they’re at with whatever tools they’ve got — even if sometimes all they need is a little bit of optimism. 

“I think at the end of the day, all of us want to be able to hang our hat on some optimism, and there are very few things more optimistic to me than growing something and planting a little seed and then having faith in this thing you have absolutely no control over.” 

To learn more about its May 14 open house or how you can get involved with the new mobile educational classroom, visit www.urbanrootsgr.org or find Urban Roots here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Levi Gardner/Urban Roots 

New Kruizenga "teaching" art museum nears debut on Hope College campus

It’s been a long time coming, says Matthew VanderBorgh, but now that the Sept. 8 opening is drawing near, the new Kruizenga Art Museum (KAM) is going to be a big deal for the Hope College community. 

VanderBorgh is director of the Netherlands-based design firm C Concept Design and was the architect of the new $7.8 million art facility on Hope College’s Holland Campus, a project he and co-designer Donald Battjes took on pro-bono as a donation of services to their alma mater. 

“When this project was launched, there was no seed money,” says VanderBorgh, who graduated from Hope College with an art degree before pursuing another degree in architecture at Harvard University. “…they wanted a museum that was a little different than the other buildings on campus, they just didn’t want a brick box. With my relationship to Hope, they pulled me in to loosen things up and eventually said, “Why don’t you design it?’” 

At about 15,000 total square feet, about 4,620 square feet of the museum will be open to the greater public with the remainder reserved for back-of-house facilities. Its “double-lung” floor plan was designed not only to demonstrate a diverse collection of art works, with one gallery focused on showcasing Hope College’s permanent collection, but also to highlight on-campus diversity, with the other side of the KAM reserved for rotating and traveling exhibitions. 

“If you look at the GRAM it’s really a public museum, open to the greater state. With the Kruizenga Art Museum, the canvas is really a teaching museum, and that’s what’s unique about it,” VanderBorgh says. “It’s meant to educate students in the same way a biology lab is or a sports hall. Students should be able to easily walk into it -- it shouldn’t be intimidating…”

VanderBorgh says the flame-cut, exterior charcoal slate panels used to craft the exterior were designed to facilitate a classic, modernist style, using architecture that creates a unique fixture against the grain of the predominately red-brick collegiate architecture of the surrounding campus.

“In this case, most campuses should represent the diversity of their students and especially in West Michigan, a lot of campuses are starting to look international,” he says. “…architecture should represent the international, but each should have an individualistic, expressive style. Our building seeks to do that…What makes campuses unique is when you have a collection of different identities on the campus, the same way it reflects the students with different themes and different backgrounds all coming together.”

VanderBorgh created the new aesthetic for Hope College’s KAM alongside donated services from project managers Lisa Warren and Chad Gould of Progressive AE, just another part of what VanderBorgh describes as a community-wide effort with a lot of donated time and money from both alumni and others. 

He likens the project to a concept in the Netherlands called the “polder model,” which refers to efforts by communities in the Netherlands to reclaim land from the sea to create productive farmland. The continuous pumping and maintenance of the dykes require a greater level of cooperation by the various societies living in the shared polders, and throughout history — even in times of war — these communities have still worked together in service of a greater purpose. 

“No one person could do that and no government could do that. It had to be a community of people  — perhaps self-interested — but a community of people working together,” VanderBorgh says. “The museum is a lot like that, too.”

“It was really a community effort, more so than most of the projects I’ve been involved in,” he says. “In that way, the polder represents the effort of the museum in the larger picture. It wouldn’t have happened without a lot of donors, alumni, students, and interns contributing along the way.”

Click here for more information on the new Kruizenga Art Museum, which opens to the public Sept. 8. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Tom Wagner Photographer


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New DGRI parklet plans give KCAD grad students real-world architectural design experience

Organizers with Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. are working with graduate students from Kendall College of Art and Design's new Master of Architecture program to design a new parklet outside of DGRI's downtown Grand Rapids offices at 21 Pearl Street. 

Tim Kelly is DGRI's planning manager, and he says the idea to use the parklet project as a real world learning experience for KCAD graduate students was the brainchild of DGRI Director Kris Larson and KCAD's Master of Architectures Program Director Brian Craig. 

"It seemed like a natural fit in terms of scale and real world applicability -- something they could design and build that could meet up with their school schedule," Kelly says. 

Students spent the first semester designing the parklet, and will spend next semester working out cost estimations and building details. Kelly says he's met with KCAD's architectural grad students a handful of times throughout the process to give them an overview of the parklet program, and other local architectural firms have come in to help review designs, give feedback on new ideas and answer questions about the process. 

"We try to give them as close to real world experience as we can and treat them like a normal contractor or client," says Kelly. "There’s always that component of wanting to give them the learning experience, too, so we might give a little bit more direction in terms of the process and the best way to go through design or development phases, groups you need to make sure you're talking to." 
 
The DGRI parklet will be different from past parklet projects by Barfly Ventures, both in its modern, almost abstract aesthetics and in regards to its public accessibility. In other words, you don't have to be a patron to use the parklet's seating or space. 

"I think, really, when the parklet program started we really wanted to explore some interesting and creative uses for those spaces that were formerly just for automobiles," Kelly says. "I think this speaks to the intent of the program. We love the parklets Barfly did and they’re pioneers in terms of getting them installed and available for people to use, but the students recognize that there is an opportunity for creativity and making things that are aesthetically pleasing for those walking by and those able to sit in and use them." 

Costs of the parklet and construction details will be hashed out by KCAD students over coming months, with construction slated to start in April near the close of the spring semester, which is also the beginning of the city's build season. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images Courtesy of Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc./Kendall College of Art & Design 

Creative Many moves HQ to TechTown Detroit, sets sights on Grand Rapids for 2015

On the heels of its announcement confirming the relocation of its organizational headquarters from Wixom, Mich. to TechTown Detroit this week, CEO Jennifer Goulet of Creative Many Michigan says the nonprofit is looking eagerly toward Grand Rapids in 2015 for a new satellite campus. 

The organization, formerly ArtServe Michigan, is a statewide economic development organization "focused on the mission to develop creative people, creative places and the creative economy for a competitive Michigan," and although there are no formal plans set in motion to establish a Grand Rapids satellite campus, Goulet says it is a top priority for the organization's board of directors in 2015. 

"First and foremost, the Grand Rapids region is one of the top leading communities in terms of the extent and presence of cultural institutions – individual artists as well as individuals and businesses in the creative and design industries," Goulet says. "The creative sector is alive and thriving in Grand Rapids, and in order for us to be really strategic about where we have a presence on the ground, it's an important thing to consider." 

Though Creative Many doesn't have offices in Grand Rapids yet, Goulet says they have been getting to know the city's creative community through programmatic activities in past years, including professional practice seminars, summits and dialogue networking events through programs that include the new Lawyers for the Creative Economy Initiative, which provides pro-bono and low cost legal resources to artists and creative businesses.

“We've already been on the ground and excited about the prospect of having a physical presence in the Grand Rapids community,” she says, adding that she hopes to garner more support in the coming months from the existing creative community in Grand Rapids to help in making Creative Many Grand Rapids a reality. 

Goulet says the organization sees Grand Rapids as second only to Detroit as being one of Michigan's key hubs for the arts, creative and design industries.

"We really have been focusing our work in the key hubs for the arts and for the creative and design industries statewide," she says. "Detroit clearly is one of those regions and Grand Rapids would have the second lead on that." 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images Courtesy of Sarah Nesbitt 

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Applications available for C.A. Frost Environmental Science Academy high school expansion

The Grand Rapids Public School Board of Education unanimously approved major expansion plans for C.A. Frost Environmental Science Academy Monday night as part of Superintendent Theresa Weatherall Neal's comprehensive district Transformation Plan developed last year.

With the start of next school year, C.A. Frost will add preschool, alongside two 30-seat ninth grade sections, at its existing building on 1460 Laughlin Drive NW, followed in 2016 by three sections of 10th grade, and three sections for both 11th and 12th grade each year after that. 

GRPS Executive Director of Communications and External Affairs John Helmholdt says when the high school expansion is finished, the goal is to have three 30-seat sections of each grade level. C.A. Frost currently enrolls 487 students, but will increase capacity by a total of 360 seats – 90 in each grade level – by 2018.  

Along with the expansion, the new and improved C.A. Frost would become one of the Grand Rapids Public School District’s Centers of Innovation, dedicated to innovative partnerships that offer students and parents more school choices and opportunities for improving student achievement. 

With a reputation for practicing challenging, hands-on education methods and integrated curriculum, C.A. Frost focuses on environmental stewardship, a theme that will carry into the high school grade levels with an added leadership component infused. 

Helmholdt says the district was losing a lot of eighth-grade students after graduation due to a lack of options that met the educational and learning standards students and parents grew accustomed to at C.A. Frost Environmental Science Academy. 

"What we heard loud and clear is that the parents love Frost, but it ends at eighth grade and they wanted continuity beyond eighth grade," he says. "A lot of the families were not even staying all of the way to eighth grade because if they didn’t get into City High Middle School or another option that was viable to them, they left the district."

Helmholdt says what C.A. Frost parents want, more than anything else, is the same thing their students need: consistency. 

"The district been in a state of churn for more than 20 years," he says. "We’ve eliminated one thousand positions, slashed the budget by more than $100 million and closed almost 30 schools. For parents, what they need is stability, predictability. They want to know who the principal is going to be next year, they want to know who the teacher is going to be next year. They want to know early and often, not two or three weeks before school starts."

Helmholdt says the next step for the Transformation Plan is to convene a district team that will explore plans to renovate 1417 Covell Avenue NW, where the former Covell Elementary closed in 2014 due to low capacity, to create more space for the C.A. Frost expansion.

As of today, updated applications for the 2015-2016 school year are available in both English and Spanish on the district's website and administrative offices located at 1331 Franklin St. SE. The deadline for submission is February. 27, 2015. 
 
On Nov. 20, GRPS will hold a School of Choice Expo from 4-7 p.m. at the Gerald R. Ford Museum to educate parents about the choices available within the GRPS district, including theme schools and COI's. 

"It just makes sense," Helmholdt says. "We have 52 kids in eighth grade ready to go into the high school who have basically said, 'If you build it, we will come.' This is really the dawn of a new day; with Theresa Weatherall Neal, we are being responsive to our customers, we are being responsive to our community, and we are investing in what’s working."

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grand Rapids Public School District 

Former Literary Life owner moves nonprofit headquarters into former bookstore space

In service to its mission of encouraging, promoting, and celebrating the literary endeavors of writers in the Great Lakes region, the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters has opened its new headquarters at 758 Wealthy Street SE. 

The organization used to rent out the bookstore space at the Creative Youth Center, but GLCL President Roni Devlin says the shared space led to some confusion when it came to distinguishing each organization from the other in terms of their respective missions. 

"We realized fairly quickly that people were confused about who did what," Devlin says. "Creative Youth Center has a very specific mission themselves and we never wanted to detract from that. We wanted people to know that they shared their space with us but it was confusing for people to know what we were trying to do and what our mission was as an organization."

When the CYC moved into its own new building at 413 Eastern Avenue SE, Devlin moved the GLCL back into the 1,000-square-foot Wealthy Street building that used to house her bookstore, Literary Life, before it closed in 2012. 

Devlin says renovations on the space were primarily aesthetic, but the new digs include a small stage with a piano to be used for literary events and gatherings with comfortable tables, chairs, couches and ottomans gathered around a crackling fireplace. 

 "We wanted to have a space where people could come to write, we wanted to be able to hold events that celebrate their efforts, and we wanted to be able to utilize our connection to the literary world to promote their work and endeavors," she says. "We wanted to be able to schedule workshops and classes and contests that would encourage writers that are actively pursing their craft. We get to fulfill all of those three big components of our mission statement to utilize the space."

To learn more about GLCL's mission, events or its new membership program, visit their website at www.readwritelive.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images courtesy of Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters

Children, parents move to happy rhythms at growing Joyful Sounds music experience studio

The happy, upbeat rhythms at Grand Rapids' Joyful Sounds Music Studio rock to the accompaniment of giggles and gurgles as parents, infants, and young children learn to make their own music. But none of it is about learning to play an instrument -- it's all about learning to play with music.

Joyful Sounds' owner Michele Venegas, a violinist, guitarist, and member of Celtic band, Andro, brought the international program Music Together to the city many years ago. For the past six years, she has engaged babies, toddlers, parents, grandparents, and nannies on a musical journey filled with fun from her studio in the Blackport Building, 959 Lake Dr. SE.

"We offer active music making," Venegas says. "We teach them how to be music makers, how to sing a tune, and how to keep an accurate rhythm, and it happens best when they're doing it with their most important people. The kids are having fun, that music is getting in there, and they're modeling what their parents are doing."

There are classes just for pre-mobile infants and their caregivers, plus classes that include children from infants to age five and their caregivers. The classes are 45 minutes long. After 30 minutes of music and movement, class participants choose music-making toys and instruments -- egg shakers, drums, bells, etc. -- from a basket and make music and rhythms any way they want to.

Venegas, who taught Suzuki method violin lessons for 20 years, says she has had to turn people away because the classes fill up so quickly. She has hired a music therapist and plans to schedule more classes to help meet demand, including classes for children with special needs. She also plans to expand the program to areas north and south of Grand Rapids.

"By coming to the class, these kids are able to sing in tune and keep an accurate beat," Venegas says. "When you go to a school and hear a program, you realize that doesn't just happen. The classes make for a solid foundation for a musical instrument later on because the kids don't have to learn how to stay in pitch, how to stay in time, they already know that."

And besides, it's just good, exuberant fun.

To see a video about Joyful Sounds created by WZZM-13, click here.

To find out more about Music Together classes, visit Joyful Sounds Music Studio's website here.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Joyful Sounds Music Studio
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