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Smoke and Mirrors: Scratchboard storytelling from young scholars on Grandville Avenue

One need only stop by the Cook Library Center on Grandville to be immersed in pure joy of community conversation with any one of the many neighbors who visit this vital part of the Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities.

The library center is also home of the Cook Library Scholars. This life enhancing program created in 2013 provides year round programming engaging with Grandville Avenue neighborhood families as they prepare their youth to achieve academic success and to train them to be future leaders.

On Friday, the Cook Library Center presents a special artist reception of the work of their scholars created alongside their art teacher, Tony Kroes. 

The scholars utilize the scratchboard technique to showcase a dramatic new series entitled “Smoke and Mirrors,” a series of images addressing the issues of addiction and exploitation through tobacco.

Created over this past summer, Kroes worked with the students to teach them how to maximize image creation within this media to unearth images using scraping or scratching at a black surface to reveal a white underpainting. 

This negative image helps frame the discussions of the dangers of tobacco - a  highly addictive substance. It also enables the students to showcase other themes related to tobacco's history and use while shining a light on the economics and politics tied to this industry. 

Cook Library Scholars is made possible through the community support and partnerships of  organizations and schools in Grand Rapids, including Grand Rapids Public Schools, Calvin College, Grand Valley State University, Kids’ Food Basket, Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University, and many more.

While you have a lot of options this weekend, this is a great place to see firsthand the work of these scholars and the conversation they are inviting us to participate in via their artistic contribution. 

Bottom40 Halloween: It may not be the top dance party, but it rules in other ways

What’s not to love about a party that began as a pop-up dance party event long before “pop-ups” existed. And Bottom40 was not born in a club but an Eastown home’s basement in 2006.

And while they have not been as active as they once were in our city, the chance to revisit those glory days as Bottom40 takes the dance party reigns for a special Halloween is the stuff that legends are made of. 

Bottom40 returns to “The Rez” for a festive costumed affair where I dare you to stand on the sidelines as this underground event with a knack for ironic music drops amazing and festive beats as folks flock to the dance floor.

As always, keep a twenty in your front jeans pocket for cab fare or your phone charged up to hail a ride from Lyft. You might need it!

Grand Raggidy Roller Derby: Double header brings the hurt

It is hard to recall any locally organized, all volunteer sporting team that has achieved a coveted  Top 40 ranking in a world while also carving out time to contribute to the various charities of our region, but that is the power of the our very own Grand Raggidy Roller Derby! 

Speaking of carving out time, this Halloween our local team will skate a double header match against the all-mighty Team Michigan and the Lansing Derby Vixens. 

First up at 5:30 p.m. is our Grand Raggidy Attack! team who will take on Lansing Derby Vixen’s Capital Corruption. 

Both of these teams are pretty evenly matched with a those crunching the stats predicting a near 59 percent chance for the Vixens to crush our Grand Rapids Attack!  But maybe with the right energy coming from the fans, we can turn these numbers around.

Immediately after, the Grand Raggidy’s All Stars will take on Team Michigan—a team that our local girls have not yet been able to beat. But this won’t deter our team’s energy who have been training hard to turn this around. This weekend could be the joyous moment we have been working towards, so why sit at home on Saturday when history is about to be made. 

Both games will be a nail biter for the fans, making victory something truly sweet this Halloween.

Attendees in costume can enter to win a special contest where the winner will receive two free tickets to the derby’s next home game. 

The venue is once again selling beer and wine, with proceeds benefiting the Grand Raggidy Roller Derby’s boosters. Hungry? Soon to be downtown TOM+CHEE will be doling out their famous grilled cheese to the delight of appetites attending the match. All told, the game will have more than 20 vendors at this event, so bring cash or your credit card to purchase some amazing items. 

Tickets to the game are $12 in advance or $15 at the door. Special discounts for kids, students, and seniors are also available. Advanced tickets can be purchased at this link

Día de los Muertos: Extending our journey from here to eternity

There are a lot of reasons to revisit our libraries these days as they have evolved with time to become so much more than a place to borrow a book.

Proof of this evolution to a more community-building space is the Grand Rapids Public Library’s annual Día de los Muertos celebration at the downtown branch.

This very moving exhibition created by community members celebrates the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos (or Day of the Dead), a thoughtful altar creation meant to honor the family and friends who have crossed over in this life. 

Each year communities members from both the Latinx and non-Latinx populations of our city create heartfelt tributes in the form of an altars as they seek to celebrate the life and memory of the dead. 

And while the altars are up from Saturday, October 28 – Wednesday, November 1, on Sunday, October 29 is a chance to bring the whole family for this special celebration that includes live music by Gabriel Estrada III.

On Sunday for the library's family day, kid's attending will be invited to decorate sugar skulls, participate in face painting, and enjoy a variety of other activities provided by the museum and community members. There will even be light refreshments should a sugar cookie not hit the spot. 

This event is sponsored by the Grand Rapids Public Library Foundation and further sets the bar for other organizations looking to integrate more culture-boosting activities into their lives. Don’t miss this beautiful and culturally sensitive event that is more celebration that one might think. It is a truly wonderful experience not to be missed. 

The Meanwhile at 10: Praise for neighborhood bars and their power

Author Ernest Hemingway wrote, “Don't bother with churches, government buildings or city squares, if you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars” and on Friday night in the city’s East Hills neighborhood is a chance to celebrate The Meanwhile’s tenth anniversary and see first hand why it feels like the living embodiment of this famous quote. 

For starters, The Meanwhile represents the power of sweat equity as brother and sister owners, Jeff and Tami VanderBerg, both toiled away with friends and contractors to deliver a modern iconic bar in our city. 

And sure it has changed drastically since the banning of smoking in bars in Michigan, it never lost any of its charm in the wake of smoke clearing enabling more to freely enter their doors. 

Over the years, The Meanwhile (as referred to by the locals) has become a very welcoming space not just to the residents of this neighborhood but to the overall community as they have hosted  art openings, assisted startups, produced original T-shirts, and created one of the most relaxing patio settings in the city where conversation between locals spark easily in this casual setting out back. 

They have provided a model for businesses on the street as they’ve collaborated with others on the street like their long-term Meanwhile Film Series in partnership with the Wealthy Theatre brokered by the soon to depart (and sorely missed) Community Media Center’s Theatre Director Erin Wilson. (We will miss you, Erin.) 

They even minted their own currency as captured in this National Public Radio story from Kaomi Goetz.

Rapid Growth has been there since the beginning to observe and celebrate. We even created this movie about the opening of the bar back in 2007.

We know you have a lot of choices of where to land this Friday, but why not stop in for a quick drink and conversation in a bar that has always been a tiny micro-system of our ever-evolving city. The Meanwhile is even a great place to create a kick ass selfie with a giant hammerhead shark that hangs behind the bar.

Congrats on ten fantastic years, The Meanwhile! We can’t imagine our city without you. 

Festival Amigo: Unidos por México y Puerto Rico!

One of the most disappointing aspects of modern society is how fast news events fall off our radar as front page headlines turn into “below the fold” stories before eventually being buried completely inside our newspapers. 

Two such events that have connections to our West Michigan Latinx community are earthquake in Mexico City and Hurricane Irma, which brought waves as huge as 30 feet to the island of Puerto Rico ushering in devastation to these American’s lives, infrastructure,businesses, and homes.

Our local Hispanic media outlets, El Vocero Hispano, La Mejor GR radio, Farandula magazine, and Vive Michigan magazine, have joined forces to ensure that we do not forget as they host an event this Sunday to the raise much needed funds for those in need after such devastation. 

On Sunday, people who want to help support this special one-day event are invited to visit S. Division’s Supermercado Mexico for Festival Amigo: Unidos por México y Puerto Rico. 

At Festival Amigo will be live music from acts including the FM band, DJ AngelGEE, Unico Flow Latino, Latino Klan, and the Mexican costume-rich dance act, Ballet Folclórico de San Francisco Javier.   

There will be a variety of raffles offering up a chance to win televisions, Mexican blankets, and gift cards from community businesses while raising critically important funds for the benefit of the people impacted in Mexico City and Puerto Rico..

This special fundraising and awareness producing event is brought to our community via radio host "La Guera de Durango" (Maria Sanchez), Chuy Morales from La Mejor GR and Farandula’s Adrian Sotelo.

Grand Rapids Comic-Con: Now with Lando Calrissian from Star Wars!

While some folks get really pumped about the big fall events like ArtPrize and Thanksgiving. For me, it is that chance to attend and see what the Grand Rapids Comic-Con has in store.

With every passing year, this annual event just getting bigger and better with each year as our local comic showcase takes over DeVos Place (and most of downtown surrounding the convention center) as kids of all ages en masse flock often in costume to attend this fabulous three-day convention in the heart of the city.
Among the highlights this weekend filled with authors, actors, and artists include animation voice performers like Mike McFarland of “Dragon Ball Z”, a plethora of bestselling young adult authors, Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Gates McFadden, a car show, Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo, and Star Wars’ Mr. Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams)! Even the guy who played Toho Godzilla and “My Little Pony’s” Thom Zahler is here this year. 

If you decide to attend, you are certain to see plenty of cosplay members roaming the halls and streets of the city that you might just think you woke up in Gotham and not Grand Rapids. 

This is one of the best events in the city and with good reason since it attracts so many diverse individuals who all gather to help celebrate the art of storytelling. 

For a complete and exhaustive look at what is on deck this year, please visit Grand Rapids Comic-Con to see the full 2017 schedule.

Know Your Muslim Neighbor Open House (UPDATED)

This Saturday is a chance to be a part of a unique experience as the Grand Rapids Islamic Masjid and Religious Institute opens their doors for an event they are calling “Know Your Muslim Neighbor.”

For this special day, folks in the community are encouraged to bring the family and friends to the masjid (Arabic for mosque) for a chance to learn more about the world’s largest religion.

No, this is not a veiled attempt to convert anyone but a true community outreach to help our city’s curious to better understand this member of our society. 

While on this tour you’ll visit the Prayer Hall, learn about the Quran, try on a Hijab, and event learn how to write your name in Arabic. 

One area of interest that really stands out is the opportunity to speak with not just a Muslim teen and a Muslim woman but to ask questions of a Muslim refugee. 

Judging by the popularity of the most recent sold out ArtPrize film about immigrants, “Human Flow” by Ai Weiwei, this element of the program should be most fascinating. 

While at the masjid you can get a henna tattoo or try one of the many foods and drinks from the Muslim nations represented at this event. (In fact, if you like something you tried, then there is a good chance it can be procured at the wonderful Super Green Market just North of the masjid.)

According to the Islamic Mosque and Religious Institute website, they seek to draw its guidance from the Noble Qur'an and the Sunah. They are dedicated to the advancement of Muslims and society at large. They serve the ethnically diverse Muslim community within the West Michigan region.

So if you seeking a wonderfully structured learning experience from a member of our faith community, please consider a stop this Saturday at the Islamic Mosque and Religious Institute.


The response has been so overwhelmingly positive that the center has issued these few items to enhance your experience as you prepare to visit on Saturday. And no worries if you cannot make it today, the Grand Rapids Islamic Masjid and Religious Institute will be looking to host another welcoming event in January 2018. Be sure to like their Facebook page to be alerted of this next event. 

1. Parking may be limited. You can park in our parking lot, the parking lot directly across the street, or the mosque next door to ours. Please carpool if you can! We will have security there to assist you.

2. Adult and teen women are asked to dress modestly and wear scarves on the main level. If you have a scarf that covers all of your hair, please bring one with you. We will have a limited supply but it may delay your tour if we run out.

3. You will be asked to remove your shoes when taking the tour of the main level so slip-ons would be advised. You might like to bring a bag to carry them in or we have shelves in our coat room. We have shoe covers for disabled and elderly people who cannot remove their shoes. Again, we only have a limited supply, which could delay your visit.

4. This is an open house so no "program" is planned. Feel free to take the tour, ask questions, and enjoy the activities in our lower level. Plan on an hour for your visit.

Police officers and Hispanic community team up: Soccer as neighborhood building

While the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) has hosted many community events over the years, I’m hard pressed to find one as inspiring as this one.

On Saturday, a special sporting event will be held at MacKay Jaycees Park on the southside of the city. As reported in Rapid Growth recently, “The beautiful game that's bringing Grand Rapids neighborhoods together,” soccer is proving to be a great unifier of communities. 

For this special match, two teams made up of the GRPD and Latinx community members will take to the field for a special scrimmage match.

This soccer match is the brainchild of La Mejor GR radio personality Chuy Morales who, along with GRPD Chief David Rahinsky, created this festive, first-time event. 

This free match is sure to attract not just soccer enthusiasts but also our Hispanic community members, GRPD supporters, and all Grand Rapidians who are up for a real game changer. Free food and beverages will be provided to spectators as well as participants. Spectators should plan on bringing chairs or blankets to watch the game.

For more details on this special match, please visit their Facebook event page.

Grand Rapids Film Festival Spotlight: What is possible from the mitten state

Friday, Oct. 13, 6 - 10 p.m. (rain date Saturday, October 14)
Michigan has a lot of creative talent and one area where we are really beginning to flex our muscle is within the filmmaking community.

Showcasing the works of our state’s filmmakers and those fans of this art form is the Grand Rapids Film Festival who, since 2009, has aimed according to its website is “to increase regional access to and overall production of quality films that provide meaningful, constructive and encouraging entertainment while harnessing the transformative power of film.”

Making good on the festival’s pledge to provide more space for such celebrations of Michigan film comes their Spotlight event, which is a socially-driven community event happening on Friday, Oct. 13. 

Presented by the Michigan Film and Digital Media Office, Spotlight’s free outdoor cinema will feature two Michigan filmmakers—the winners of the April Festival’s Best Michigan Feature and Short.

Opening the night’s film program will be Jason Honeycut’s 14 minute short, “Supermom.” The film tells the story of a daughter who believes her mother to be a real-life super hero, something that the film convincingly leads us to believe might just be right. It stars Justine Herron ("Kevin Hart - Let Me Explain") and John Hensley (lead of "Nip/Tuck," "Teeth," "Hostile III”).

The main feature at Spotlight is “Something Fun” a film from University of Michigan graduate Chad Rhiness. In the film, Veronica Atburn returns to her hometown after a year of traveling the United States, reunites with her high school friends, and forces everybody to stop rehashing the past and start doing something fun.

Spotlight is free to the public, but if you want to enjoy a beer from Brewery Vivant or something to nosh on from Blue Spoon’s food truck, then bring your wallet. And while the film program begins at dusk, arrive early to enjoy a live DJ, interactive games, a photo booth, or just chill around the fire. Be sure to pack chairs or blankets for this special outdoor screening event.

Filmmaker Adam Khalil: Redefining the narrative

While there is no shortage of visual media these days as streaming services penetrate our phones, tablets, laptops, and even our TV screens, finding content that challenges the very structure of narrative or documentary filmmaking is often a rarer breed. 

Lucky for local fans of documentary filmmaking comes a film from a man with roots in our state who is on the road this fall screening his latest work, "INAATE/SE/ [it shines a certain way. to a certain place./it flies. falls./]”, to Wealthy Theatre.

The story of "INAATE/SE/ [it shines a certain way. to a certain place./it flies. falls./]" re-imagines the Seven Fires Prophecy, an ancient Ojibway story that is being discussed more and more within contemporary circles. Within this film the structures of time are not subjected to European culture’s presentation, instead the film is a kaleidoscopic experience for the viewer as Khalil blends documentary, narrative, and experimental filmmaking as the linear is disrupted, creating what is best described as a story that crosses from filmmaking to art. 

From the film's Vimeo page, "INAATE/SE/” employs "acute geographic specificity, and grand historical scope, the film fixes its lens between the sacred and the profane to pry open the construction of contemporary indigenous identity."

“'INAATE/SE' is a truly unique film that affirmed and disrupted my knowledge of Native Americans,” says Grand Valley State University Professor of Visual Studies and Foundations’ Paul Wittenbraker,  “It resonated with me as a settler person who lives in a richly indigenous place.”

This special program, the first for the newly formed Department of Visual and Media Arts at GVSU, will include the screening of "INAATE/SE/” followed by a discussion with local artists Shane McSauby, Kay Mayer, and Krzysztof Lower, who are all part of the curatorial team who have brought this film to our city.

In addition, if you enjoyed the film or just couldn't make Sunday’s screening, Khalil will be at GVSU’s Allendale campus as a part of the university’s Visiting Artist Lecture Series. Check their Facebook event page for all the details including directions to the lecture.

Wicked: Three weeks under a spell from Oz

Opening Thursday, Oct. 19, 7:30 p.m. (through Nov. 5.)
After years of dreaming this day would arrive, finally the smash Broadway production of “Wicked” arrives in Grand Rapids for a fun-filled three weeks, making this one of the biggest and longest running touring shows to arrive in our city. 

For those who have been living under a rock the last few years, “Wicked” is a musical that tells the story of “The Wizard of Oz’s" Glinda the Good and Elphaba, who in this production is a young, green girl who will go on to become the Wicked Witch of the West. 

This family-friendly and visually stunning musical pre-dates the popular film “The Wizard of Oz,” so don’t look for Dorothy or her little dog, too.

What you will get is a true Broadway spectacular, which has won many awards but even more hearts. There are many show-stopping moments but the chance to see the thrilling “Defying Gravity" in our town is sure to take your breath away at DeVos Hall.

But don’t delay purchasing tickets, since “Wicked” has nearly sold out its entire three week run in our city.

If you would like a peek into the world of Oz as seen in "Wicked", please visit this link for a special preview of the show. 

Detroit 67: Reimagining the riots of 1967 with a familiar beat

Opening Friday, Oct. 6, 7:30 p.m. (through Sunday, Oct. 14, 3 p.m.)
It is hard not to reflect on progress or the lack of as we approach the local debut of “Detroit 67” the Ebony Road Players, whose latest production will be held at the nomadic by design SiTE:LAB’s latest home/venue on Franklin Street. 

It has been fifty years since the 1967 riots in Detroit and over the last few months, the Motor City has commemorated this time period in our state’s history with gallery shows and tributes.

Now locally comes a special two weekend performance of the play “Detroit 67” by Dominique Morisseau and helmed by first time Director Amisha Groce.

The play is the story of a party that stalls when a stranger appears inside a basement underground joint where Chelle and her brother Lank are running like a classic Detroit side hustle. 

With the rioting happening above ground, "Detroit 67" builds like a sitcom of the era as the story unfolds. Another device used in the play to propel it forward is the music of Motown used here in a manner that creatively adds a fresh perspective to these songs. 

“Detroit 67” is the winner of the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History and is presented locally by the Ebony Road Players whose mission according to their website is "to inspire, educate and engage cultures of our community with high-quality theater productions focused on the Black experience."

Please check the ticket site for availability. 

From Russia With Love: Ballet’s legacy behind the iron curtain on stage in Grand Rapids

Opening Friday, Oct. 6, 7:30 p.m. (through Friday, Oct. 13)
While Russia dominates the news these days with talks of hacking and the tampering of the 2016 election, many folks may not know the huge debt the arts owes the Russian people who have given us some of the world's greatest works of art from fine art to theater to dance. 

Playing to that deep Russian legacy comes a special night of dance from the Grand Rapids Ballet featuring four one act ballets including “Flames of Paris Pas de Deux,” “Raymonda Pas de Dix,”  “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux,” and “Giselle Act II.”

This special program is also a chance to see one last time dancer Dawnell Dryja Black on stage. Black has performed 15 seasons with our local Grand Rapids Ballet and will be retiring after her final performance on October 13, so do not delay in getting ticket for what will be a thrilling night of Russian Ballet.

For tickets please visit the Grand Rapids Ballet's website

Animal Blessing 2017 in the Garden of St. Francis of Assisi: Furry or not, all welcome

While kitten videos often can change your mood for a few minutes, imagine for a moment what  a live experience for you and your own pets at the annual Animal Blessing at the Dominican Center at Marywood’s Garden of St. Francis of Assisi can do for your weekend.

Known for producing events that are welcoming at the core, this annual Dominican Center service invites animals of all shapes and sizes to attend this blessing. That means expect to see dogs, cats, goldfish, bunnies, salamanders, chickens, hamsters, guinea pigs, and even pot belly pigs who have all graced the event in the past.  

This year, since it is a big game day for Michigan and Michigan State, attendees who are fans of these teams can feel free to dress their pet up in their favorite school coolers. 

Officiating is Pastor Ginny Makita who will be offering a blessing to all pets and attendees…regardless if you brought a pet with you or not. Even if you have recently lost a pet, please feel free to bring a photo of your forever friend to have it blessed, ushering in a layer of comfort for your soul. 
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