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Project 1: Part one of the big reveal from ArtPrize

It seems like only yesterday that we put ArtPrize 10 to bed for a two-year rest. (ArtPrize returns in 2020 to Grand Rapids.) But no worries since the off-year, new biennial program, Project X, will debut fall 2019.

This Thursday night special reveal party is just the first of many reveals to come for this brand new art event that is focused heavily on curation.

At the ArtPrize Hub, guests who attend this kick-off reveal of Project 1 (Fall 2019) will learn first who are the international, national, and local artists who will be creating works for their debut.

And while you will learn the locations at a later date for ArtPrize’s new multi-sited exhibition project, tonight’s reveal is about the artists who will be visiting our region in preparation for this new event. 

In addition to Project 1’s artist reveal will also be a chance to see the new brand identity, created by Grand Rapids’ very own Conduit Studio.

In addition to a chance to hear first about the art project while sipping beer and wine (first drink is on ArtPrize), you will be able to enjoy the DJ sets by hi-ker and DJ Adeshola Makinde.

From ArtPrize: “Project 1 — the next evolution of ArtPrize — is the first in a series of multi-sited public art exhibitions in Grand Rapids, Michigan. With ArtPrize moving to a biennial schedule, the Project series shifts the organizing principle of our fall exhibition from competition to commission every other year. In Project years, we’re able to build deep collaborations with artists and provide resources, time and community connections in a whole new way.”

Libations & Learning: Grand River Rapids Restoration Update

As we move farther away from the river restoration and park creation launch event held at DeVos Place last year, many folks are beginning to turn their attention to all things related to the Grand River — the state’s longest running river and namesake to our city Grand Rapids. 

On Thursday, Grand Rapids Whitewater (GRWW), the group who has spearheaded the rapids restoration movement, will be presenting to the public registered to attend this special Libations & Learning event an update of the project’s current status. 

Libations & Learning is also a chance for those who could not attend the launch event to hear firsthand from GRWW how the project is progressing and will impact downtown living in Grand Rapids as the project moves ever closer to implementation. 

Please register in advance to attend since space is limited. Free tickets may be secured here.

Irish On Ionia: Dancing (and drinking good beer) in the streets!

There are plenty of ways to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Grand Rapids, from visiting any one of the Irish bars of our city for more traditional fare to joining folks in the street for the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. 

But another event of a different jig is also heading back into the streets for the state’s largest St. Patty’s celebration: Irish on Ionia.

One part Irish Fest mixed with a hefty dose of EDM (electronic dance music), this annual street fair is a day-long endurance test if your goal is to make it from its 7 a.m. debut to its 10 p.m. closure. (No worries, most know on this day it is all about pacing oneself.) 

Scheduled to appear this year on the event’s two stages is a collection of artists and dancers all celebrating the joy of this holiday held out in the open air (so dress warmly).

The event offers two levels of tickets as well, but a word of advice, this event has been known to sell out so be sure to purchase your tickets in advance to ensure your entry.

For all the details on the acts performing, as well as to purchase tickets to Irish on Ionia 2019, please visit their website.

People & Pets: LaughFest’s furriest event bounces back into town

Sunday, Mar. 17, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. (Contest at 12:30 p.m.)
On the last day of the 2019 LaughFest and barring any unusual, rapid body hair growth from Ali Wong (the festival’s closing act at DeVos Hall), People & Pets will be the furriest event once again this year.

Folks with pets (or those who simply love to be around them) are invited to the GRCC Ford Fieldhouse (111 Lyon St. NE) on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for this annual free event centered on the humor of our furry friends. 

People & Pets is a chance for furry friends and their owners to showcase how funny their pets truly can be. Folks who arrive early and register from 10:00 a.m. to noon will be able to compete in the 12:30 p.m. contest for prizes and trophies for Best Costume, Best Pet Trick, Best Look A Like, and Most Unique Pet.

In addition to the contest, People & Pets includes a chance to visit animal vendors tables, sit for a portrait in a pet-friendly photo booth, enter giveaways, and enjoy festive entertainment for the whole family, regardless of how you define it.

Please note this pet policy for those brings their fur babies: please keep all pets on a leash while at the event. Make sure your dog is well-mannered and up-to-date on vaccines. Be aware that puppies under the age of 16 weeks have not received all their shots and are more susceptible to acquiring an illness. Dogs four months and older should be current on the rabies vaccine. Also, be aware that not all dogs are given bordetella, the vaccine for dogs that prevents kennel cough. 

Parking is snap when you use the Lyon Street ramp for this LaughFest event at Ford Fieldhouse.

LaughFest is an arm of our local Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting cancer, grief, and emotional health support programs offered for free to area children, adults, families, and friends.

Opening Day 2019: John Ball Zoo wakes up the beasts of the Westside

Lions, tigers, and bears! Oh my!

After a long winter’s sleep, the animals of John Ball Zoo are ready to receive visitors as they take their first steps into the advancing oh-so-slowly warmer season is nigh. 

So if you have run out of options with your kids who are undoubtedly climbing the walls for new adventures beyond museums and movie screens, then the opening of the 2019 season of our local and much beloved John Ball Zoo is just for you.

But our zookeepers remind us that not all animals are acclimated to our weather, so some animals might decide to stay inside a bit longer than others (Can’t blame ‘em.) But rest assured, they will be out and those who are not will be as soon as the temps rise with time.

But for the animal-faithful fans of our region, the opening of the John Ball Zoo’s new season is always a welcome sign that the worst of the winter is finally behind us. Brave souls should dress warmly as we welcome our city’s animals as they venture out for the first time this year.

Matt Bellassai: Laughfest's class of 2019 gets a queer over-achiever that the audience loves!

Friday - Sunday, Mar. 8 -10, 7:00 and 9:00 p.m.
LaughFest has been many things over the years, but one of the pure pleasures, in my opinion, has been how willing they have been to embrace a wide array of avenues from which comedy can spring. 

This can include everything from their inspiring galas (signature event) to their embracing of the emerging artists who take non-traditional paths to each of our area stages. Some comics take to the stage as their sole path to their comic careers, but many more are emerging in the era of the standup via platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook.

One such act using modern platforms as a stage is the comic stylings of Matt Bellassai — a comedian who is also a much-lauded writer and beloved social media personality. 

Bellassai is unique in that he created "To Be Honest" on Facebook and quickly built an audience of more than half a million followers. 

When Bellassai arrives in Grand Rapids for LaughFest, he will have just wrapped a sold-out, nationwide comedy tour, The Drunk and Alone Tour, which visited 20 cities. 

What makes Bellassai so much fun is his frankness but also his refusal to bury his sexuality — making him a perfect fit for those who all too often blow up my phone asking, “Who are the queer comics at LaughFest this year?” (Elaine Dalcher, here is your queer comic. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.) 

Bellassai claims to have been born around 1400 BC, after being abandoned by his mother in a wicker basket soon after his birth and sent down the Nile wrapped only in a scratchy blanket full of grass stains, dirt, and fingernails. Yes, he has Mose syndrome … but don’t we all at some point?

This Chicago native now living in Brooklyn, NY has sold more than 7,500 tickets with most venues adding multiple shows due to increased demand, so buy your ticket now. In 2018, Bellassai won the fan-voted People’s Choice Award for Social Media Star and attended the American Music Awards as their official social media correspondent, covering both the carpet and live show.

I will be your host for both shows at The Pyramid Scheme and promise this is sure to be quite a hit at the festival this year that boasts a plethora of amazing and off-the-beaten-path comics that are sure to connect with our we-are-over-winter-so-let’s-laugh-out loud-together West Michigan audience.

If you need a greater motivator to check out Bellassai’s act, he has added four more shows to his initial two. Yeah, he’s a big deal and should be on your list of must-see LaughFest 2019 shows. 

To discover all the comics coming to Grand Rapids for LaughFest 2019, please visit their website.

Captain Marvel: Women's History Month gets a helluva kick off

Women’s History Month has plenty of ways that one can celebrate its significance, but, damn, Girls Rock Grand Rapids (GR!GR) has defiantly raised the bar with the best and most epic event so far this month to commemorate this moment in time.

In honor of Women’s History Month, GR!GR along with downtown GR’s community player extraordinaire Vault of Midnight is thrilled to be hosting a special “Captain Marvel” film premiere/fundraiser for GR!GR.

Captain Marvel is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first female-led superhero film and stars Brie Larson as Carol Danvers in the role as the universe’s most powerful hero right as Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races. The film is set in the 1990s, a previously unseen period in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

According to Disney’s Marvel Studio, “Captain Marvel” must navigate two alien races as they reach Earth. Captain Marvel uses her skills along with a small cadre of allies at the center of the maelstrom to drive this thrilling new entry into the Marvel canon of film works. 

This special screening is a benefit for our local Girls Rock Grand Rapids (GR!GR) —  a volunteer group of women housed at the Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities and is dedicated to empowering girls and women through music.  

All ticket proceeds are pledged to directly benefit GR!GR as funds raised support their music summer camp.

As an added bonus, GR!GR’s band Calling Shotgun will also be performing a live set on stage before the film begins, so arrive early. The film starts at 7 p.m. sharp, so get there early to bask in the glow of all things female at this amazing and festive night out at Celebration Cinema North.

For all the ticket options, please visit in person the Vault of Midnight Grand Rapids or online at vaultofmidnight.com. Tickets are also available at the Cook Arts Center. Tickets are non-refundable.

Advocacy & Me: YNPN's Conversation Starter presents something worth talking about

Most weeks, G-Sync Events feature events to fill your after-work hours with an escape from the grind of your day-to-day living. But for this week, we wanted to feature an inspiring event happening during your lunch hour that is sure to amp up your advocacy game with the many nonprofits that so many of our readers have indicated they proudly serve in our region.

As one who has been an advocate for so many organizations since I arrived here many decades ago, the powerful importance of advocacy on behalf of our community’s many organizations has never been more important than right now.

Our Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Grand Rapids (YNPNGR) seeks to present an event devoted to advocacy and how it strengthens our communities while also elevating critical voices of an organization’s stakeholders. Advocacy also helps us be able to articulate for others who may not be in a position to have their voices heard.

Advocacy is a vital and an often overlooked area in our toolbox for change. And yet, our contributions when we act as an advocate create a positive impact, according to BoardSource, who reports that only "15% of nonprofits nationally have established processes for how to engage in advocacy and lobbying."

On your Wednesday lunch hour join Justin Sheehan, an experienced attorney and nonprofit leader, who will share how your organization along with your assistance can move the mission forward through intelligent advocacy.

According to YNPN’s site, “since November of 2015 Sheehan has been the Executive Director for Lansing Promise and, in addition, he currently works for Michigan Community Resources (MCR) traveling the state of Michigan supporting nonprofit organizations in learning their rights and building their capacity to engage in effective advocacy and lobbying efforts. Prior to his role at Lansing Promise, he was the Senior Legal & Policy Program Manager at MCR.”

In addition to Sheelan’s appearance will be a chance to network with House Representative and former WMEAC Executive Director Rachel Hood, who will share how to advocate with elected leaders.

The event is free to attend, but you are asked to pre-register here.

Please remember YNPN’s Conversation Starters are held over the lunch hour and that while limited appetizers are provided, if you seek a heartier lunch, City Built Brewing has a stunning array of flavorful dishes from which to choose.

Oscar Shorts 2019: Live action, documentary, and animation creates space for local visual learning

Through Mar. 9 (Documentary, Animation), through Mar. 14 (Live Action)
You could spend the weekend scouring the web for access to the many short films nominated for Oscars this year and maybe eventually discover them. Or you could just visit the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art (UICA) and see all of the 2019 Academy Award nominees in one place.

What makes this annual film series so important for locals is the chance to screen the 2019 Oscar-nominated shorts in the genres of animation, documentary, and live action. Specifically for filmmakers (or those thinking of becoming one), this opportunity creates an informal classroom as the best of contemporary cinema are projected here. 

Here is a quick overview of three short film programs being screened at UICA: 

Oscar Shorts 2019: Animation

Animal Behavior
Synopsis: Dealing with what comes naturally isn’t easy, especially for animals.

Bao (Winner) 
Synopsis: An aging Chinese mom suffering from empty nest syndrome gets another chance at motherhood when one of her dumplings springs to life as a lively, giggly dumpling boy. Mom excitedly welcomes this new bundle of joy into her life, but Dumpling starts growing up fast, and Mom must come to the bittersweet revelation that nothing stays cute and small forever. 

Late Afternoon
Synopsis: Emily is an elderly woman who lives between two states, the past and the present. She journeys into an inner world, reliving moments from her life. She searches for a connection within her vivid, but fragmented memories. 

One Small Step 
Synopsis: Luna is a vibrant young Chinese American girl who dreams of becoming an astronaut. From the day she witnesses a rocket launching into space on TV, Luna is driven to reach for the stars. In the big city, Luna lives with her loving father Chu, who supports her with a humble shoe repair business he runs out of his garage. As Luna grows up, she enters college, facing adversity of all kinds in pursuit of her dreams. 

Synopsis: The story of a young boy shuffling between the homes of his recently divorced parents. Surreal dream-like moments mix with the domestic realities of a broken family in this hand-animated film set in 1980s Toronto. 

Oscar Shorts 2019: Documentary

Black Sheep
Synopsis: Everything changed for Cornelius Walker on 27 November 2000 when Damilola Taylor was killed. Damilola was 11, the same age as Cornelius. He lived five minutes away. He had the same skin colour. Cornelius’s mother, scared for her son’s safety, moved their family out of London. Cornelius suddenly found himself living on a white estate run by racists. But rather than fight them, Cornelius decided to become more like the people who hated him. They became his family and kept him safe. And in return, Cornelius became submerged in a culture of violence and hatred. But as the violence and racism against other black people continued, Cornelius struggled to marry his real identity with the one he had acquired. 
End Game
Synopsis: Where will loved ones spend their last days? Who will be in the room? What feelings and secrets need to be shared with family before it is too late? 

Synopsis: Volunteers from a German non-profit risk the waves of the Mediterranean to pluck refugees from sinking rafts pushing off from Libya in the middle of the night. Lifeboat puts a human face on one of the world’s greatest contemporary, global crises and provides a spark of hope surrounding how civil society can intervene in the refugee crisis in a meaningful way. 

A Night at the Garden
Synopsis: In 1939, 20,000 Americans rallied in New York’s Madison Square Garden to celebrate the rise of Nazism — an event largely forgotten from American history. A Night at the Garden, made entirely from archival footage filmed that night, transports audiences to this chilling gathering and shines a light on the power of demagoguery and anti-Semitism in the United States. 

Period. End of Sentence (Winner)
Synopsis: In a rural village outside Delhi, India, women lead a quiet revolution. They fight against the deeply rooted stigma of menstruation. For generations, these women didn’t have access to pads, which lead to health problems and girls missing school or dropping out entirely. But when a sanitary pad machine is installed in the village, the women learn to manufacture and market their own pads, empowering the women of their community. They name their brand “FLY,” because they want women “to soar.” Their flight is, in part, enabled by the work of high school girls half a world away, in California, who raised the initial money for the machine and began a non-profit called “The Pad Project.” 

Oscar Shorts 2019: Live Action

Synopsis: Two ten year-old boys are detained by police under suspicion of abducting and murdering a toddler. A true story based on interview transcripts from the James Bulger case which shocked the world in 1993 and continues to incite public outrage across the UK today. 

Synopsis: Set in a surface mine, two boys sink into a seemingly innocent power game with Mother Nature as the sole observer. Alone in the wild the two boys play around. Complicity evolves into a confrontation where one wants to have power over the other. Taking proportions larger than nature, this game will not prove as harmless as they thought. 

Synopsis: An aging woman and her nurse develop a friendship that inspires her to unearth unacknowledged longing and thus help her make peace with her past. 

Madre (Mother)
Synopsis: A single mother receives a call from her seven-year-old son who is on vacation with his father in the French Basque Country. At first the call is a cause for joy, but soon it becomes a horrible nightmare when the child tells her that he is alone and cannot find his father who left a while ago. 

Synopsis: A small supermarket in a blue collar town, a black man smiles at a 10 year old white boy across the checkout aisle. This innocuous moment sends two gangs into a ruthless war that ends with a shocking backlash. 


Bad Jews: The body is barely cold and the family fighting is just warming up … with laughs

We have all been there and if you haven’t yet, then it is just a matter of time before a relative passes and the uncomfortable divvying up of the deceased “stuff” commences. 

As is typical in my experience over the years, kinfolk, normally sane, will go off the rails over the tiniest of objects left behind by the deceased.

This scenario is pretty much the setting of the newest production from Jewish Theatre Grand Rapids as they present the wildly funny and very dark comedy “Bad Jews,” written by Joshua Harmon and directed by Tom Kaechele.

“Bad Jews” centers on relatives Diana and Liam, both polar opposites spiritually speaking and yet equally as biting with their stinging brands of humor. These two characters, along with the cast that are swept up into their drama, take us on a journey into the modern meaning of faith in a secular world. There is even a hilarious performance of “Summertime” from the Opera “Porgy and Bess” in the play that is sure to leave the audience rolling with laughter. 

Bad Jews offers something for everyone, from the Jew to the Gentile and everyone in between. 

The show runs February 28, March 2, 7, and 9 at 8 p.m. and March 3 and 10 at 3 p.m. Tickets: $25 General, $23 Seniors, $8 Students. There are no Friday performances because of Shabbat.

Laugh at Rosa!: A community kick-off celebration of laughter

Over the years, LaughFest has invited the city to join them for a community-wide celebration of this popular festival devoted to the art of laughter. 

In the past, we have been treated to everything from rubber chicken tosses in an attempt to set a new world record, to restaurants serving up fried chicken, to community showcases rich with stand up comedy.

For LaughFest’s ninth year kick off, they are (once again) inviting the community to join them at Rosa Parks Circle with a celebration of their opening day complete with family activities, engaging contests, and a chance to win free tickets to one of festival’s amazing shows taking place March 7 through 17! 

Billed as Laugh at Rosa, comedy fans are in for a special treat this year as their three-hour program at Rosa Parks Circle will present a snapshot of the festival with on-stage performers, stand up comedians, food trucks, and music. 

To follow all the fun as it happens this year, be sure to follow LaughFest's Instagram account for an insider’s edge to all of the programming happening.

Slow Flow: All bodies welcome

Over the years we, as a city, have watched yoga culture go from something obscure that you could only get from folks like Carolyn Heines at her then-tiny basement Eastown studio, to the complete saturation of these facilities in converted storefront shops in nearly every neighborhood now.

But what often keeps some folks from participating are the body issues that often can stop folks from taking their first steps in practicing this form of exercise and wellness. 

Lucky for us, Creston’s Flip Dog Yoga is offering a slow flow class that is centered on the welcoming all bodies regardless of one’s familiarity with yoga. 

Move your body with kindness is a series of Thursday night classes rooted in a body-positivity yoga class on the city’s north end.

Led by Any Body Yoga’s Emily Martin, Slow Flow seeks, according to their site “to create brave spaces for all bodies to practice radical self love through embodied movement.”

Martin takes time to help guide folks through this class, assisting folks to find poses that work best for them and always in a supportive and healthy non-judgmental atmosphere. 

So if you have been a bit shy (as I have been at my weight level) from walking into a local yoga class, then Slow Flow is for you regardless of your age, size, health, fitness level, ability, and any yoga experience … or not.

Drop-in class price is $15. but please consider registering in advance since this class does sell out. Complete series packages are available on Flip Dog Yoga’s website.


A Robyn Party: Groove on the dance floor with Sweden's biggest export

It is hard to imagine that after Swedish pop export Robyn dropped her iconic "Body Talk Pts. 1 & 2" (2010) that it would be another eight years before this dance floor diva with a knack for attracting a large international queer culture audience would release her newest release "Honey" in 2018. 

And to celebrate her amazingly infectious dance floor-focused release, as well as pay to homage to the uber-popular New York “This Party Is Killing You” dance parties held at the Brooklyn Bowl, comes Grand Rapids’ first Dancing Together - a Robyn Party hosted by DJ RobotBoy.

Held at the now legendary Pyramid Scheme — a downtown mid-sized concert venue with a Twin Peaks-inspired dance floor — Dancing Together - a Robyn Party is a chance for folks tired of the polar vortex to heat up as they join hundreds of Robyn fans who will be most certainly dancing all night long.

In addition to the chance to get sexy sweaty with your besties, Dancing Together - a Robyn Party will feature special remixes, a special dance performance by Dance in the Annex’s (or DITA) Amy Wilson and Hannah Sullivan, and a very inspired drag performance by Siren.

The event also provides an opportunity for attendees to participate in a raffle that includes not only local business gift cards and an adult photo session from Katy Batdorff Photography, but the raffle will have amazing and rare Robyn merchandise. But all eyes will be on those two tickets to see Robyn herself live at her March 6 sold-out concert in Chicago!

The doors open at 9:30 p.m. for those ages 21 or older with proceeds benefiting the Grand Rapids Pride Center. Speed up your entry to the dance floor by purchasing tickets in advance, here.

So come out and be a part of a music sensation who is burning up dance floors all over the world once again. 

Live African American Museum: Standing up for Black History Month

This week’s G-Sync events have centered our focus on those beautiful, small-ish events that often go unnoticed. 
One such event that pops up each year and in one of the unlikeliest of places, the Woodland Mall, is the return of the seventh annual Live African American Museum held Saturday, Feb. 23, from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m. 

Live African American Museum is an education-forward focused interactive performance piece produced by congregation members of New Hope Baptist Church and showcases the stories of African Americans. 

With their lens ever-evolving, this year’s live show will welcome new additions, including a tribute to hip hop’s Run-DMC. In the past, this event, which seeks to highlight the legendary as well as the hidden histories of African Americans, has featured performances about people like Ray Charles, Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, and Barbara Jordon.

And if any of these names don’t sound familiar, then maybe this is the best argument as to why a trip to the mall on Saturday is all you need to shore up these gaps. Knowing other people's history is often the best way to build greater societal understanding and empathy within our nation.

The seventh annual Live African American Museum is a free event and a gift to our community that continues to evolve in greater importance with every new year.

Small Ball: The Sovengard proves that big taste comes in small packages, too

It is clear that our city’s annual Beer Month GR is something worth celebrating as folks clamber for access to everything from impressive tap takeovers to the release of Beer City Brewer's Guild Tree Beer to the hard-to-get ticket to the Winter Beer Festival, which celebrates its 14th year.  

But this year’s Beer Month GR has something truly special that captures our heart and it’s held at one of our favorite restaurants who continues to amaze us every time we visit: The Sovengard.

This year, in an attempt to continue to celebrate as well as educate our beer fans, The Sovengard presents Small Ball — a celebration of those beautiful small movements in our culinary and beverage industry of Michigan.

Visit The Sovengard’s Small Ball over the course of the week of Feb. 19th-24th and you will have a delicious opportunity to taste 20 of the best beers curated from those off the beaten beer path as our artistically-focused eatery on the westside narrows their offerings to those small and independent breweries of Michigan. 

Building off their inspiring theme for Beer Month GR, the restaurant will shine a spotlight all week on the small farms and purveyors where they source their ingredients that make their menu one of the best locally.

They have published their list on the restaurant's Facebook page, but please note that beers from Ann Arbor’s HOMES and some of the first drafts from Marquette’s Barrel + Beam will be tapped starting Thursday at 5 p.m. Get to The Sovengard early on Thursday if you want to ensure you can sample these gems. 
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