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Finders Keepers: The art of the collection is unearthed at GRAM

History is full of examples of folks who like to keep things in an orderly fashion as they acquire objects. Whether it be art, shoes, or even those garish state spoons your grandma loved to display in her kitchen as proof that she once got around, collecting is, for better or worse, a part of our culture.

Before the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) welcomes the public on Sunday, Feb. 5 to view their latest show, “Finders Keepers: West Michigan Collects,” members will have an opportunity to attend a special opening preview party for this exclusive and original exhibition. (GRAM also celebrates the opening for “Black Waves: the Tattoo Art of Leo Zulueta.”)

Questions like, “what drives the universal human impulse to collect objects” and “what are some of the hidden treasures of our region” will be addressed in this hyper-local exhibition.

The collection will include everything from fine art to Victorian jewelry to antique rifles to sneakers and so much more as “Finders Keepers” seeks to probe the depths of what causes one to collect.

Unlike most art exhibitions where a crew of seasoned curators scour collections to create an organized display, “Finders Keepers” enlisted the assistance of the GRAM curatorial team along with community scouts to produce a very public view of an often private activity.

Often being the key word, because we all remember that one aunt who thought she would secure that lake house via her Beanie Baby collection. View responsibly and make sure you don’t use this occasion as an excuse that your hoarding activities are on deck for a show next. Some things like this are best kept under lock and key (and stacked floor to ceiling) at home.

Members can RSVP for the event here.

The Vagina Monologues: More than vulva spoken here

In 1996, Eve Ensler unleashed on an off-Broadway audience an episodic play, “The Vagina Monologues.” And ever since that time we have witnessed numerous new re-stagings of this now classic, feminist-focused theatrical work.

The Vagina Monologues is an Obie Award-winning theatrical tour de force showcasing a divergent cast of guest female voices who share tales based on the vagina.  

The production covers a lot of ground as these thoughtful stories, including a six-year-old girl, a septuagenarian New Yorker, a vagina workshop participant, a woman who witnesses the birth of her granddaughter, a Bosnian survivor of rape, and a feminist happy to have found a man who “liked to look at it,” all tackle an equally diverse setting for each monologue. 

Debuting this year at The Fuse Box under the direction of  “The Vagina Monologues” veterans’ Taylor Abbie and Gabrielle Diandra, this production is a benefit for our local Women’s Resource Center and also supports the international V-Day Foundation.

If you would like to attend, it is advised to arrive ahead of the curtain because the pre-sale is sold out, meaning seating is going to be tight for these shows. Never give up hope on getting in as cancellations can occur, enabling a seat to open up. Otherwise, there is a chance to score on the night of the show one of the very few standing room only admissions available. 

To see if any extra pre-sale tickets have been released or network (beg) for seats,  please visit their event page here.

Bob Marley birthday bash: Return to chill

Let’s face it. The last few weeks have been rough for a host of reasons. We all could use some time to just chill.

And no other artist evokes an atmosphere of chill more than reggae’s legendary Bob Marley, whose birthday will be the occasion of a returning annual party happening at Eastown’s Billy’s Lounge.

Attendees will be enthralled as the music of Bob Marley is performed by the Michigan-originated reggae bands Reggaeloution and Zion Lion

And while it is doubtful that the ghost of Marley will appear, it is possible that a true spiritual awakening could occur since this Rastafarian’s music is rumored to chill the most savage of hearts. 

So if you are on the edge and need a break, then celebrating one of the greatest musicians who evoked the need to connect more with our humanity in all that we do could just be what the doctor ordered. 

For more info, please visit their event page.

Etsy and the art of social impact: A startup with heart and a creative knack for doing business

While the world is full of examples of how artists have connected their works from studio to collector, the advent of the internet unleashed on the world a whole new landscape enabling artists to take greater control of their destiny.

When Etsy arrived on the internet, the options for artists and craftsmen to sell their wares were limited and often mismatched (i.e. Ebay).  

But Etsy did a lot more than just present another platform as it continued to evolve itsbrand to reflect a different corporate value structure.

The biggest shift came when Etsy decided to become a Benefit Corporation (or B Corp), upending the once thought to be traditional path of all startups that sought to maximize profit while also enabling a massive rapid growth.

On Monday evening, Local First welcomes artists and the curious to join them at LaFontsee Galleries as they welcome Matt Stinchcomb, co-founder of Etsy and executive director of Good Work Institute.  

Stinchcomb will share his fascinating story of how a post-punk garage band musician went from touring to cofounding Etsy and later to go on to produce a new type of business school unlike any other via the Good Work Institute (formerly known as etsy.org). You will not look at your resume the same way after hearing this special guest speaker at one of Grand Rapids’ oldest galleries. 

In addition to Stinchcomb’s LaFontsee Galleries free lecture, the Esty cofounder will be speaking earlier on this day to The Economic Club of Grand Rapids. For more information, you can go here.

Us is Them: The boldest art act of the year

For years within the many spaces of our city where I serve as a volunteer, I have made a commitment to drive home the message of what we gain when we place those on the stage whose voices are too often denied the spotlight they deserve. The invisibility of such persons on those stages means that those rising up through the ages have no example, much less clue, if they are welcome or not in said institutions. 

Friday, Jan. 27 is not just the opening of another new exhibition, “Us is Them,” but is a chance for a generation of people within our region, who haven’t been represented locally as they should, to step into the center stage spotlight. It is thrilling to see this exhibition arrive here at this point in our city’s history. 

“Us is Them” originated at the Pizzuti Collection in Columbus, Ohio and was organized by Curator Rebecca Ibel before heading to open at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts. It will feature more than 50 works of art by 42 renowned international artists who use their vast array of media to confront societal issues, from politics to religion to racism.

This diverse exhibition is organized and presented during a period in our time where many profound social justice movements are afoot in society. This art exhibition dives head first into these areas with a honest portrayal of our current state of affairs around our planet and delivered via art. 

This exhibition will challenge us as a community to ask where we are in the work and how we can better enable voices, like these on display, to emerge in our city moving forward, whether via the art we create, showcase or discuss. In short, the power of art to challenge our view points is about to be unleashed within our region, producing exciting opportunities for conversations to emerge.

This show chooses to take the high road, not to isolate or alienate, but will ask each of us to consider where we have intersecting points for dialogue to emerge around what unites us, not  divides or breaks down our collective advancement.

“Us is Them” is an exhibition that is sure to stick with you long after the works have been crated and shipped out of town. While they are here, see them often and let the dialogue that it produces hopefully shift the way we look at ourselves and those around us. 

This is the power of “Us is Them.” 

Artists include: Derrick Adams, Nick Cave, Noah Davis, Roberto Diago, Omar Victor Diop, Jonathan Hammer, Zhang Huan, Wang Jin, Hayv Kahraman, Titus Kaphar, Patrick Lee, Simone Leigh, Tianbing Li, Wangechi Mutu, Adi Nes, Aminah Robinson, Yinka Shonibare, Jeff Sonhouse, Mickalene Thomas, Hank Willis Thomas, Diane Wah, Kara Walker, Nari Ward, Carrie Mae Weems, Judi Werthein, and Kehinde Wiley.

Admission: The 5:30 p.m. reception is free to members, the public is admitted after 6 p.m. and entrance costs $5. For more information, you can go here.

Ai Weiwei at Meijer Gardens: Natural State

When I saw my first Ai Weiwei exhibition, I spent so much time with the works that my hours just evaporated, causing me to almost miss my boat off Alcatraz in San Francisco. 

But the truth is that we have never had an artist like Ai in my lifetime who could delve into so many different human rights abuses and still empty a complex set of mediums to convey deeply rooted meanings that could be shared across the world. That was what moved me about  “@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz,” held on the island of Alcatraz.

Ai was born in Beijing and spent his childhood in forced exile before moving to the United States in 1981. Over the next 12 years, he would meet many of the art stars (like Andy Warhol) of this era, many of whom were holdovers from the pop movement who so clearly influenced his early works. He would return to China in 1993 to tend to his ailing father in Beijing.

How Ai differs from most artists is that he is an architect, author and a human rights activist who is not afraid to harness his art to speak truth to power and often against the Chinese government for its dismal record of human rights violations. In 2011, when he was arrested, he posted personal and medical x-rays of his abuse at the hands of his government that led to worldwide official and public protest.

Now, Ai’s powerful work, which includes sculpture, photographs, ceramics, and installations, is coming to Grand Rapids. “Ai Weiwei at Meijer Gardens: Natural State” opens Friday, Jan. 27 and runs through Aug. 20.

“It has been an extraordinary experience to work with Ai Weiwei on this highly unique exhibition, as he has been extremely involved in every level of decision making and detail,” states Joseph Antenucci Becherer, Chief Curator and Vice President of Exhibitions and Collections at Meijer Gardens. “With more than 30 works installed across galleries, conservatories and public spaces, this fascinating and thought-provoking collection of works is quite unlike any exhibition Meijer Gardens has ever mounted.”   

Needless to say, this exhibition is one I have been waiting to arrive in our region for nearly a year and is a reminder of the power of art to transform not only us but also the world we live in today. 

Meijer Gardens in 2015 added Ai’s the Iron Tree, which is a rare work of art and was purchased to commemorate our botanical and sculpture garden’s 20th anniversary.

Do not miss this show by one of the world’s greatest living artist. Ai has an impressive and prolific Instagram and Twitter, where he showcases much of his past year’s work supporting the refugee humanitarian efforts in Greece.

Ai Weiwei is part of a new generation of artists not afraid to lend their voices but also their bodies in advancing the justice so many deserve on this planet.

Admission is free for members or with each paid admission. For more information, please go here.  

The Bootstrap Boys: Neighborhood pub debuts first live show

Sure, a new brewery seems to open every other week in West Michigan, but when one who has committed to creating neighborhood-inspired brews are showcasing their pub as a place for community members to gather around a table and not a TV, well, you take notice of what they are doing. 

Not only is there a real tangible energy here that spills over from the busy street just outside on Plainfield Avenue, but once inside that energy is conveyed via the brightly lit corner south facing floor to ceiling windows. This is the beauty of the Creston Brewery in the heart of the Creston -- the city’s largest neighborhood. 

Kicking off its first concert in the newly-opened space that debuted in August 2015, Creston Brewery welcomes the Bootstrap Boys -- a four-piece band that is sure to help you fight off that Sunday feeling you need to nap. (My friends always say you can sleep when you are dead.) 

Our local ‘Boys will be performing an acoustic country-roots music set with plenty of tight harmonies and a delicious lick of guitars and an eclectic bass. 

And while there are plenty of brewpubs to visit these days, why not stop in here and be a part of history as they kick off this new aspect of a business that is reinventing the neighborhood watering hole with real style. 

The entertainment is free. Creston Brewery offers an amazing array of fresh brews, great eats, and of course, a chance to meet someone at this very friendly spot on the north end of Grand Rapids. For more information, you can go here.

Beatriz Santiago Muñoz: Whitney Biennial 2017 artist pops into Grand Rapids

Situated in a westside warehouse district of Grand Rapids (home to many creative studios and artists’ collectives/businesses), Civic Studio welcomes Whitney Biennial artist Beatriz Santiago Muñoz to Grand Valley State University’s (GVSU) 2016-17 Visiting Artists series, Art and the Radical -- a thought-provoking program of lectures from some of the world’s best artists working on projects that aim to increase dialogue as they transform our understanding of art and our world. 

Beatriz Santiago Muñoz’s research-based works are created through lengthy observational periods and employ the camera to document her subjects. 

Her film work is grounded in a rooted-in reality-approach that conveys a sense of place (albeit places often in decay) and is combined with a pace out of sync (in a good way) with many who work within this narrative-producing format. 

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Muñoz creates work that explores themes of recuperation from trauma, regeneration, and the ways in which our connections to the past are actively produced, maintained and refuted.  Her use of the camera, a device we are all familiar with at this point, according to GVSU Professor Paul Wittenbraker, acts as a “linguistic, political and conceptual frame through which actions or events are seen.”

It is also rare that our region has a visiting artist in advance of the Whitney Biennial. For the 2017 Biennial, the formation of the self and the individual’s place in an upending society are the top themes  for the 2017 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City (March 17 - June 11, 2017). 

This is a tremendous opportunity for local artists and fans of contemporary art to listen and learn from one who is poised to enter the world art stage during a time of great social upheavals. I am sure this is to be an insightful lecture. 

This speaker series has already presented Jen Delos Reyes and Nicolas Lamper to our region in the fall of 2016 and will welcome Jeanne Vaccaro later this semester.

The event is free, but limited seating so please RSVP via their event page.

$MC Presents: Super Disco Breaks DJ Phizyx & AB

Maybe it is a mix of nostalgia and a desire for an analog experience, but locally for some time various late-night event producers have been diving into old album bins to resurrect forgotten gems for the dance floor from days long passed.  

This trend of falling in love with vinyl is not limited to just vintage records. In fact, it is part of an ever-growing music industry-wide uptick in new music vinyl sales that could translate into a billion dollar industry in 2017, according to NME Magazine.

Locally, this trend of mining for old albums has translated into a revival of long-lost sounds from Grand Rapids Soul Club to the various on-off parties being spun at many of the various venues around the city welcoming these energetic dance events. 

Part of the renaissance in vinyl that is happening in Grand Rapids will be back on stage this Friday, when the $teady Mobbin' Crew will present their latest chapter in a series of dance events as they showcase a night devoted to old school disco dance breaks, b-boy, and hip-hop hailing from those glorious years of 1977 to 1983.

The energy fueling this event is no doubt tied into pop culture’s fascination with this period of time when a movement in music was born. The energy of the music from this period of time was recently the subject of a new Netflix series, “The Get Down.”

Super Disco Breaks is hosted by Grand Rapidian AB and welcomes a headliner from the eastside  of Michigan, DJ Pizyx (Flint/Detroit), who will be joined on the 1s and 2s by Grand Rapids Soul Club’s Boogiman, and DJ Ill-One. 

DJ Phizyx is a former resident DJ at St. Andrews and is primarily known for his expertise in b-boy breaks and old school dance floor gems. He was also the house DJ for Detroit’s Southwest Breakers: Dreams II Reality.

If you plan to attend, be prepared to dance a lot, so you might want to layer as the dance floor will be super hot this Friday.

Admission: $5; go here for more information.

HopCat's 9th: Our local downtown brewpub that has impacted the world of beer

Saturday, Jan. 21, 11 a.m. - 2 a.m.
It is hard to imagine Grand Rapids’ Ionia Avenue before the arrival of HopCat -- a downtown watering hole that not only boasts one of the most eclectic beer lists anywhere in the country, but is a place that has received numerous awards like the prestigious RateBeer.com ranking in 2012 and 2013 as the number one brewpub in the United States.

In addition to a great selection of beers from around the world, HopCat’s other claim to fame is its secret spices that, when added to their deep fried potatoes, becomes the much-sought after menu item: crack fries. 

On the occasion of their ninth anniversary in Grand Rapids, HopCat is inviting the public to come celebrate with them. Instead of free cake, those who show up can enjoy complimentary crack fries from 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. (with every meal) -- as well asinvite guests to participate in a series of special activities happening on this special customer-focused appreciation day when the gifts keep coming your way.

Right when the doors open at 11 a.m., fans of their limited release brews will have a chance to secure bottles of HopCat’s 2017 Oil Spiller —  their trademark Imperial Stout — and 2017 Red Nymph, brewer Ernie's too-tasty-to-be-true flanders red sour ale. 

In addition to a host of specialty brews created for the day will be three collaboration offerings from New Belgium Brewery, Arcadia Ales and Rockford Brewing Company. 

There is also a chance at 3 p.m. to enter to win $500 during. HopCat’s crack fries eating contest, and the local winner will advance to the finals in Ypsilanti at the 2017 Michigan Brewer’s Guild Summer Beer Festival. If you wish to compete, you must register before 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. You can do it in person or contact HopCat’s general manager, Matt Wemple, at mwemple@hopcat.com or by calling 616-451-4677.

If you miss the event, or maybe the thought of crowds of folks watching a person cram as many crack fries in their pie hole is not your style, then lucky for you there is a more civilized way to celebrate this wildly popular downtown brewpub by attending its special beer anniversary dinner on Sunday, when specialty beers will be paired with a five-course meal. Check out the details here.

For more info about Saturday’s event, you can go here.

Hook a Sista Up’s Shift Your Mindset, Shift Your Income: Start your economic engines, ladies!

One of the joys of being in Grand Rapids these days is the flurry of folks seeking to create new ways of making a living. Some might be happy with punching the clock, but as we have witnessed over the last decade, there is a steady stream of people here seeking to build something new.

And while we have plenty of larger institutions with a host of clients they serve at various stages of development, one organization that I have had the privilege of getting to know better over the last couple years is the woman-led entrepreneurial group Hook a Sista Up (HASU) from Linda Otterbridge.

What makes HASU really shine is the sheer number of women who not only are making waves in their offerings to the world, but how they are incredibly supportive of one another. It is really an exciting group of women entrepreneurs who are taking control of their vision and making it a reality.

A part of HASU’s success is the group’s ability to meet women where they are, and, through strategic steps like these, accountability check-ins enable them to celebrate as they support one another on their path forward. 

For their first meeting of 2017 they are inviting others to join them on this journey with special guest speaker Mattie McKinney from MyEcon. McKinney is a corporate business professional and educator who has more than 20 years of management experience

McKinney will present at this orientation and accountability check-in a presentation titled, “Shift Your Mindset, Shift Your Income,” during which attendees will have a chance to learn about ways to eliminate debt and reduce expenses as she shares tips for building one’s business wealth.

The best part is a chance to meet others who are also seeking to find a way to make their visions a reality. Come prepared to listen, share and learn that you are not alone in the pursuit of your dream. Always true to their name, they are really here to Hook a Sista Up with a better future. 

Admission: $10; see the event details here.

LocalMotion Awards: Locals wanted/celebrated

The new year is a time of creating fresh pathways, of integrating ways of working, and for placing a will to resolve that which might have troubled us in the past. This time of the year is a time to also celebrate what we already have, as evidenced by this year’s LocalMotion Awards from Local First

Our LocalMotion Awards is a chance for our city’s residents and businesses to celebrate those organizations within our community who are taking bold steps as they seek to improve our region through the intelligent leveraging of our local supply chains, the establishment of sustainable practices, and enacting smart neighborhood revitalization efforts, and dedication to the power of the triple bottom line that Local First imparts here. The triple bottom line refers to companies’ emphasis on the social, environmental and financial bottom lines.

The event also follows Local First’s mission with a strolling dinner provided by members of the organization and is a chance to network with others looking to celebrate and learn more about this exciting movement that has brought so much positive change to the region. 

Before and after the awards ceremony, guests can also enjoy the music of Desmond Jones and a live art painting demonstration by artists from Picardo Art, Sanctuary Folk Art and The Collective Artspace.

This is a fundraiser for Local First, and the perks of attending are incredible -- but the real pinnacle is that you get to meet so many folks who are committed to making their contribution to Grand Rapids extend beyond just padding their bottom line. These are the people and businesses who are truly changing so much of our region for the better through their example. And that, my friends, makes all of them local heroes.

So, why not join this tribe who are sure to inspire each and every attendee?

Admission: $40 - 50; see event details and purchase tickets here.

New Urbanism Film Festival: Short films to spark community dialogue

A few things happen locally now when you remark in a conversation that you would like to attend a “new urbanism” event. Either folks look at you with a vacant, “I-don’t-know-what-you-are-saying” blank stare, roll their eyes large, or get so excited they nearly spill their craft beer on your artisan cheese board. 

But you’d be wrong to roll your eyes or look confused when you consider how incredibly cool it is that the Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) is bringing to Grand Rapids a program of short films from the New Urbanism Film Festival (NUFF), held in Los Angeles each year since 2013. 

The NUFF L.A.-based event is known for its immersive experiences created around the topic of new urbanism, like walking tours, bike rides, art strolls, and foodie stops, but also for the thought-provoking films that it screens.

Keeping in line with the festival’s vision that dialogue on new urbanism topics needs to be happening outside of places like the classroom, developers’ offices, or city hall, the New Urbanism Film Festival has been taking the best of the festival on the road to communities around the nation in the hopes of sparking local dialogue around the issue.

New Urbanism’s short films program will continue the festival’s mission to present emerging themes like the merits of creating walkable neighborhoods with tree-lined streets, as well as looking into topics like mixed housing neighborhoods, parks and green spaces, and how architecture and good design play into what works…and what may not.

This night’s diverse program will address in this bite-sized format a host of topics that only a short film can deliver with insights on density, design, walkability, urban cycling, displacement, public art, and even parking. 

This ICCF event is co-sponsored by the Michigan chapter of the Congress for New Urbanism.

Admission: $3

Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5: Grand Rapids Symphony to perform 20th century masterpieces

On the first of the year, everyone sets the bar quite high for creating new pathways via those pesky resolutions we all set for ourselves. But they don’t have to be seen as a chore. 

In fact, I would guess that if you have been wanting to add a bit of a cultural kick up to your New Year, why not select the thrilling and perfectly timed Grand Rapids Symphony’s (GRS) concert this weekend?

Your local GRS welcomes to the podium the youthful Teddy Abrams, the music director of The Louisville Orchestra who will conduct an eclectic and, in many ways, a contemporary  program of 20th century masterpieces that originate in three different countries but ring familiar to our modern times. 

This weekend’s program is filled with powerful music created during a time period in our world when the upheaval of societal systems were drastically shifting, the world was warring with one another, and the arts were attempting to connect with their audiences as music composers sought to produce new works under hostile  governments. (Dare I say that our world history is often a document of repeating cycles.) 

The night’s clear stand out is Jean Sibelius’ “Symphony No. 2” -- a powerful and (still) very modern piece that will put any orchestra through a thrilling ride of an ambitious score. Sibelius is so beloved as an artist that in his homeland they have a national holiday named in his honor. The closest the U.S. has got to this is Easter, when a few folks quietly celebrate the creator of the Peeps. 

Also performed this evening is Sergei Prokofiev’s “Violin Concerto No. 1,” which was created right before the turbulent years of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Rounding out the program, Abrams brings it back to our American soil with Samuel Barber’s “Medea’s Meditation” and “Dance of Vengeance” and Aaron Copland’s music used in the iconic Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.”

A word of caution: when you get to the end of the thrilling Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5, be sure to count the final six chords signaling the end. This ending has tricked many a concert-goer over the years who have been known to clap prematurely thinking it is over after the first of the final chords has been struck.

Admission: Tickets start at $18; students with a valid ID $5.

Rap for a Stack (The Short Stack Edition): Next gen hip hop voices live on stage

Everyone likes a good competition, and on Friday night fans of rap music are in luck as the Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grille -- a unique and gem of a watering hole on the west side of the city - will host the Rap for a Stack contest.

A stack is a pile of cash, and, in this case, a $500 short stack for which area rappers, who have pre-signed up in advance of the event, will battle the night away in this High Rise United & Screaming Needle Tattoo & Body Piercing Studios joint production.

Hosted by local entrepreneur and MC performer Ajax Stacks, Friday’s Rap For A Stack has been created as a way to expose emerging artists to our music scene while also building up our local hip hop community.

The competition is three rounds and will only involve eight MC/groups in a single elimination format. What makes this event a thrill to behold is that Rap for a Stack will see performers bringing their A-game in this winner-take-all thrilling format set in one of my favorite venues in the city.  Arrive early and enjoy a bite to eat from the bar’s kitchen. 

Admission: $10 in advance, $12 at the door
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