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The Rapid: Your Pass to Culture

Work and school are top reasons why people ride The Rapid. Shopping and health care appointments also are high on that list. Increasingly, though, culture is becoming a strong reason for area residents to hop on the bus. Really? Culture?

Once again, people are giving ArtPrize props for the business boost. According to Jennifer Kalczuk, external affairs manager for The Rapid, an additional 32,725 trips were provided by The Rapid for ArtPrize visitors between Sept. 22 and Oct. 10, with an average of more than 2,000 trips a day. Many of these riders are not regular users of the system and, for some it was their first ride ever on The Rapid.

Meijer stores ringing the city served as launch pads for art patrons seeking to avoid the hassle and expense of downtown parking. Meijer offered up its expansive lots as park-and-ride hubs, with The Rapid tweaking routes to get the art crowds to the downtown art venues. Once within the downtown area, ArtBus shuttles helped patrons get from one venue to the next.

As an added incentive, anyone purchasing a wristband from ArtPrize was able to ride The Rapid for free during the 19 days of the event. Wristbands were sold with ArtPrize maps for $5, with additional wristbands for family members just $1 extra.

In a news conference announcing the partnership between ArtPrize, Meijer and The Rapid, Mayor George Heartwell said that Grand Rapids had been designated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Siemens Corporation as the most sustainable mid-sized city in the nation. "That doesn't happen without these kinds of partnerships," he said, referencing the arrangement between ArtPrize, The Rapid and

"The kind of communities that are succeeding today are practicing innovation – and what could be more innovative than ArtPrize – are partnering with business – and what better partner could you have than Meijer – and have municipal government and public transit all coming together," said Heartwell.

Prior to ArtPrize, The Rapid launched a new online trip planning tool which allowed riders to input their location and their desired destination, with The Rapid suggesting where they could get on a bus and where they might need to transfer. Also, The Rapid's hotline was available to help talk potential riders through the process.

Although the ArtPrize wristbands no longer provide free fares, The Rapid remains a convenient way to access Grand Rapids' cultural destinations.

When GRAM was developed as an institution, access to The Rapid was high on the list of considerations for prospective sites, said Randy VanAntwerp, Interim Director of Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM). "It was important to the Committee that visitors could get to the Art Museum using public transit. I think public transit is critical to all cultural institutions in the area, GRAM included. By having affordable public
transportation options, it allows for greater public attendance."

VanAntwerp said GRAM's role as an ArtPrize Exhibition Center further raised the broader community's awareness of the institution. "We encourage the visitors to ArtPrize to visit and enjoy the variety of programs and exhibitions offered throughout the year at GRAM."

That's a message shared by The Grand Rapids Cultural Marketing Group (CMG), formed in 2006 by Grand Rapids' arts and entertainment marketing leaders representing more than 20 area non-profit and cultural organizations.

This year they launched the Culture Pass, a year-round benefit card that provides access to exclusive discounts and special offers to 24 local arts and cultural organizations. Subscribers and members of these organizations received their complimentary Pass by mail, while additional passes were handed out at ArtPrize. Culture Pass holders present their benefit card to obtain offers and discounts, which can be viewed at www.CulturePassGR.com.

The Rapid provides an excellent way to tap into the cultural bounty Grand Rapids has to offer, said Nicole Gram, Director of Marketing for Broadway Grand Rapids and Public Relations Officer for CMG and the Culture Pass program. "It's a great way to spend a Saturday, seeing all that Grand Rapids has to offer," said Gram. "And it's not just three weeks out of the year during ArtPrize. It's all year long!"
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