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Transgender Day of Visibility: Stories of Stealth, Activism, and Positivity

Thursday, Mar. 30, 6:30 p.m. (doors), 7:30 p.m. (event)
If you have been driving around the city these last few days, then you most certainly have encountered a white, pink, and blue striped flag. These flags located in area businesses, arts centers, and community spaces are in celebration of Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV).

And while we officially celebrate TDOV on March 31 each year, this year Grand Rapids has a host of events, including a special night of stories in a venue known for producing innovative, community-focussed programming. 

On Thursday, March 30 at 7:30 p.m., North Monroe neighborhood’s SpeakEZ Lounge presents a night of original and heartfelt stories at its Transgender Day of Visibility: Stories of Stealth, Activism, and Positivity event

For this special night of programming, the following topics will be showcased: 

Stories of Stealth: We live and thrive all around you. We are a part of your office, your bar, your organization, your community. Most of the time, you don’t even notice. We walk amongst you. Hear from our siblings who are living in stealth. Find out how they got there, and what has inspired them to come out and share their story.

Stories of Activism: In spite of adversity, members and allies of the community are doing amazing work to promote progress. Find out what’s happening in our neck of the woods and how you can get involved. 

Stories of Positivity: The world is full of hatred, and the trans community is no stranger to this fact. However, living as your true authentic self is one of the most empowering feats, and is worth celebrating. Hear personal experiences on how coming out as trans has been a positive experience worthy of celebration.

Each year the world celebrates TDOV as a day communities can show their support for the trans community. It is their aim to showcase to the world the numerous accomplishments of trans people, but also expose the very real battles of cissexism and transphobia still being waged against this population.  

And unlike Transgender Day of Remembrance, this day is not for mourning but a day of celebration and empowerment. 

SpeakEZ is an open and safe space for LGBTQ and allies.

Live Coverage: Year 15 shakes things up

"Live Coverage" at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) has been many things over the years, and that is, in part, rooted in the design of this popular event that celebrates 15 this year.

What sets UICA’s annual fundraising event apart from all the others is the activities that happen within it each year, as area artists gather to showcase via their tiny pop-up studios the works they have created over the course of the night. 

But this year, on the occasion of the arts center’s 40th anniversary, it is shaking things up by making a few tweaks to an event you think you know by now.

For starters, this event will take place not at its new space on the corner of Division and Fulton, but at the ArtPrize Hub, the site of UICA’s former home at 41 Sheldon Blvd. 

As in years past, this year’s artists will still be invited to create live works of art for auction in front of attendees. But, this time around, gathering artists will be be turning their spaces into mini galleries where you can buy a work of art. 

A portion of the art sale proceeds go to support UICA and its diverse programming. 

In addition to great food and generous drinks, guests are encouraged to don 70s fashion and enjoy the rock music of Jesse Ray and the Carolina Catfish. 

Tickets:  $25 for the public and $10 for UICA members. Go here to purchase tickets.

Disclosure: Tommy Allen of Rapid Growth will be one of the 40 artists participating at Live Coverage.

Ghost-Note: Grammy winners on local tasting room’s stage

It is rare to hear of a Grammy Award winner hitting the stage of a local brewery taproom, but it’s even more rare when you consider that this duo both won their Grammys for work on separate projects. 

This is the beauty of Ghost-Note — a fresh, percussion-rich duo made up of Robert "Sput" Searight and Nate Werth, whose names are well known in the music industry for their talent.  

With a blend of beats rooted in West African, Afro-Cuban, and Brazilian samba, Ghost-Note  drum and percussion influences bring to the ear musical elements that harken James Brown, J Dilla, and the Beastie Boys.

Grand Rapids’ Founders Taproom is just the third stop on Ghost-Note’s first leg of the band’s spring 2017 tour. 

In advance of Ghost-Note’s Grand Rapids appearance, be sure to check out the duo’s Bandcamp page, where you can preview their energetic debut release, “Fortified.”

Admission is just $5.

Grand Rapids Latin American Film Festival: Vamos a ver el mundo juntos

There are plenty of reasons to love the seventh annual Grand Rapids Latin American Film Festival, but none is more fitting than the chance to enjoy all of these films for free.

This diverse array of films is brought to our community through the collaborative power of our area’s education institutions of Aquinas College, Calvin College, Davenport University, Ferris State University, and Grand Valley State University, and this event’s contributions to our cinematic culture has been going strong since its debut in 2010. 

Scheduled to appear this weekend are nine award-winning films from Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, and Uruguay.

What makes this festival so delightful is the level of scholarship and community engagement,  with guest speakers and refreshments paired with many of these films to deepen the experience for attendees. 

For complete list of all the films screening including showtimes and special guest speakers, please visit the festival’s website.

Art in Bloom: Limited edition biennial exhibition returns to the GRAM

It may be true that the flowers are finally starting to peek out this spring, but nothing will be able to properly prepare you for the sea of stunning florals that are a part of the Grand Rapids Art Museum’s bi-annual Art in Bloom weekend event.

Unlike other exhibitions at a museum, this one truly is a limited edition in that these special floral arrangements will only be up for three days. But what a wonderful 72 hours of excitement do they have planned for us.

Art in Bloom prominently features imaginative floral sculptures from the area’s leading floral designers in a museum setting, thus elevating these temporal works of art for patrons. 

These designers arrangements are inspired by art works found within the GRAM’s collection, fostering a new level of dialogue between the two pieces to develop. 

In addition to a juried awards ceremony on Friday night, patrons are invited to vote for the People’s Choice Award Winner by casting a single vote for their favorite floral sculpture over the three days. This final award will be presented right before the GRAM’s Sunday Classical Concert at 2 p.m.

If you depart the GRAM after it closes on Saturday and see a lot of folks frozen, it is not to say that Medusa was in town to turn them into stone. No, it is just the debut of Downtown Live -- a live mannequin event hosted throughout various downtown venues. Visit this link to find out more details on how to extend your fun this weekend in the city.

Art in Bloom’s 2017 schedule:

Friday, March 24, 2017
6:00 - 9:00 p.m. - Art in Bloom floral design on view and People’s Choice Award voting opens
6:00 p.m. - Opening Reception (Free for members, others admitted with paid regular admission.)
7:00 p.m. - Juried Winner Announcement
7:30 p.m. - Creativity Uncorked: Floral Painting

Saturday, March 25, 2017
10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. - Galleries open and People’s Choice Award Voting Continues
11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. - Art in Bloom Tour with Ron Platt and Alice Waterous
12:00 -1:00 p.m. - Little Member Morning (A special toddler-focused tour) 
1:00 p.m. - Drop-in Studio Tour

Sunday, March 26, 2017
12:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. - Galleries open and People’s Choice Award Voting Continues
1:30 p.m. - People's Choice Award voting closes
2:00 p.m. - People’s Choice Award Announced before Sunday Classical Concert
2:00 p.m.- Sunday Classical Concert Series: Music in Bloom

For more information about the GRAM’s Art in Bloom including the museum’s admission options, please visit their site here.

Andrés Chávez: Grandson of civil rights activist César E. Chávez in West Michigan

While many may be able point out the name César Chávez that adorn our nation’s many parks, schools, and even street signs, do folks really know who this man was and what his contribution is to our society?

To our Hispanic members of society, he is on par with other groups’ civil rights leaders, as Chávez led, over three decades, numerous hunger strikes, organized marches, boycotts, and other direct actions to support the farmworkers’ rights movement. 

And while Chávez passed away in 1993, his legacy lives on in so many -- but none had the perspective of his grandson, Andrés Chávez, who will be at Grand Valley State University to speak at its annual César Chávez Celebration at the Kirkof Center in Allendale. 

Having grown up with such access to a truly luminous leader, Andrés Chávez will share first-hand accounts of the solidarity, boycotts, and picket lines that led to the significant changes in how the farming industry treated its workers. 

Andrés Chávez has stated in the past that while he understands that many of the battles his grandfather fought and won are now a part of a civil rights past, he does believe Latinx millennials still have the power to initiate changes to have their voices heard in their communities on the issues facing them in contemporary America. 

Andrés Chávez, 24, is currently is majoring in public policy and administration at California State University, Bakersfield. Immediately after the lecture will be an informal meet and greet for attendees. 

This is a rare and wonderful opportunity for anyone who would like to hear a first-person perspective and learn more about one of America’s leading civil rights leaders. 

For more information on all the César Chávez Celebration activities that the college is hosting in conjunction with this year, please visit www.gvsu.edu/oma.

West Michigan Design Week: A city celebrates the power of design

A huge part of our city’s success is a direct result of its heritage, but none of this would be possible if it weren’t for great design woven into the fabric of who we are today. 

Starting this weekend, we will once again as a community celebrate the impact of design with world renowned speakers, interactive workshops, and special tours at the Fourth annual West Michigan Design Week that runs from Saturday, March 25 through Saturday,  April 1 at various locations in the city.

Highlights this year include keynote speakers Jason Mayden, a sneaker designer at Nike, columnist for Hypebeast Magazine, and CEO of Super Heroic; and John Maeda, head of design at Automattic (WordPress), author, and the 16th president of Rhode Island School of Design.

Mayden may have worked to create performative designs for athletes like Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Derek Jeter, and Michael Jordan, but at his Super Heroic the designer gets to focus his energy on providing quality play-performance footwear, apparel, and technology for elementary school-aged children.

With a background as an MIT-trained engineer, Maeda has produced award-winning creations, as well as assisted leaders, inventors, and designers to ideate beyond perceived boundaries, thus opening up new possibilities by design.

A few highlights of West Michigan Design Week’s more than 15 events include:“We expect over 2,500 attendees to join us at over 15 events planned throughout the week,” says Sara Klele, AIGA West Michigan Programming Director. “Design Week has become a mainstay for the design community in West Michigan. And as the design community here in West Michigan continues to grow in size and impact, it’s increasingly important for our organization to connect that group with the public.”

Klele wants to reminds us that Design Week is open to everyone,  “not just traditional designers.”

The event is produced by AIGA West Michigan (the professional association for design) in collaboration with American Institute of Architects - Grand Rapids (AIA) and Interaction Design Association - Grand Rapids (IxDA).

A full list of events and sponsors can be found at the Design Week website, www.wmdesignweek.com

Ride The Runway: Pick a lane and an outfit for the journey forward

What better way to kick to the curb your winter blues than a fashion show devoted to one of West Michigan’s favorite activities: bicycle riding.

And who better to host an event than our local She Rides Her Own Way (SRHOW), which has partnered with the Gilmore Collection’s Eve at The BOB for its very first bike and fashion show titled, Ride The Runway.

One of the joys of a SRHOW project that Rapid Growth has covered over the last few years has been founder Johannah Jelks’ ability to bring to the table so many diverse people and businesses to create something truly unique.

For this first time event, Ride The Runway will honor all four seasons of riding in the city with four different local cycling companies showcasing the best gear to extend your year round pleasure. 

Businesses participating on the runway include Alger Bikes (Winter/Spring), The Spoke Folks (Spring/Summer), Freewheeler (Summer), and Central District Cyclery (Summer/Fall).

Immediately after the runway show the music continues as guest DJ Superdre entertains attendees. 

In addition to presenting a fresh take on the popular runway show, this event will feature local vendors to ensure you get connected to what you need to be your best no matter the season. 

Proceeds from the night’s event will benefit our local JDRF Michigan Great Lakes West Chapter. 

She Rides Her Own Way is a locally organized program that seeks, according to their mission, “to build self-esteem and bring health awareness through biking to women by getting active outdoors.” Men are welcome as well to participate, too.

Purchase your $10 tickets in advance here

Mishigami: Concert under the (indoor) stars

Beginning his musical journey at the age of three, when he was fascinated by the rhythmic patterns of a drum, Miles Coleman would grow to become known as the artist known as Mishigami.

Along the way, he would study classical piano and be later introduced into the world of jazz, which would influence his distinct electronic style of music.

Mishigami is a part of the thrilling new music series at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, Concerts Under the Stars in the Chaffee Planetarium, where while reclining in comfortable seating, attendees can experience the wonder of the cosmos projected above as they take in the music of our region’s electronic, folk, funk and jazz inspired local music acts.

A Grand Rapids native, Mishigami has been performing since early 2014 and has developed a nice following of music fans because of his brand of taking multiple layers of keyboards and synthesizers and marrying them to an infectious percussion-driven beat to create an almost stream of conscious flow to the compositions. His style creates a soundscape of rhythmic, textural beats influenced by jazz melodies with intricate chord structures.

And no planetarium show would be complete without a visually-rich presentation on the museum’s great dome.

For the Thursday night concert, Mishigami’s compositions will be accompanied by Nate Eizenga, whose ability as a video DJ involves live mixing in real time videos to create a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

Locally, folks may recall seeing his visuals first in 2015 with Darkly on stage, but since that time Eizenga has worked with Rocksteady Disco, FourFour SoundSystem, and Vinyl Fetish. 

This is the third concert in the series and is sure to expand the minds and consciousness of those who will venture to edge of the universe by way of the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

Admission: $10 for GRPM members, $15 for non-members on the day of the concert. For further information about the series, please go here, and to purchase tickets, click here

Irish on Ionia: Michigan’s largest St. Patty’s Day street festival turns 7!

Each year on St Patrick’s Day the party faithful seek to find the perfect celebratory spot space for your annual marathon for your liver. 

Luckily for you this year, you have two great opportunities spread over two days (three if you want to count last weekend’s flurry of St. Practice Day events). 

First, you can select from any one of the numerous bars in our city that will be serving up the best in Irish entertainment on Friday.  But come Saturday, it is time to take your revelry out of the bars and into the streets. In this case I am speaking directly of Irish on Ionia

Irish on Ionia, hosted by BarFly Events, is celebrating its seventh year and is now Michigan’s largest St. Patrick’s Day street festival. It is on Saturday, March 18 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. in downtown Grand Rapids. 

Spread over two event stages will be Irish acts, bagpipers, and even DJs to keep you moving as you enjoy a festive selection of beers, as well as food booths and trucks. 

There are two levels of tickets to consider, from the general admission ($20) to a special VIP (Very Irish Person) option, which includes the ability to skip to the front of the line, as well as in and out privileges.  

For a complete list of acts, as well as other festival details, please visit the event’s website.

47th Annual Sugarbush Festival: Tapping into a sweet history

One of the beautiful aspects of the Blandford Nature Center is not just the 143 acres on which it is situated with miles of hiking trails, but because once a year they invite the public to be a part of the Sugarbush Festival

This very analog event seeks to educate the public while at the same time give folks a chance to enjoy firsthand the ancient process of taking fresh tapped maple trees and turning the delicious sugary water into the dark and complex maple syrup.

This year’s event, which celebrates its 47th year, enables guests of the nature center to learn about the process with sugarbush demonstrations happening all day long on Saturday.

As a guest of the center, you will learn how to identify the best characteristics of what makes for the most ideal maple tree for tapping, explore the different historical processes -- from the Native American to the pioneer sugaring techniques -- and end your hands-on education with a taste test at Blandford’s Sugarhouse. 

It is an all day event complete with draft horses, maple sugar cotton candy, interactive games, real wildlife encounters, and so much more. 

Admission: $5 for members, $8 for non-members.

Bowles Family Benefit: Showing up for a community advocate

If you have lived in Grand Rapids for as long as I have, then you know that there are those in our community who are real champions of the arts. 

Most times these folks are easy to spot in our community from their names on the top of our arts buildings to the dedication plates often adorning many of the seats within our local theatrical venues. 

But there are also those less obvious champions who through their lived experience and devotion to community organizing within the arts have made a lasting impression just as valuable as any name on a building or brick. 

One such person is our singer/songwriter Ralston Bowles, who not only has made a professional name for himself, but along the way has shepherded so many acts over the years to the center stage spotlight.

Ralston has done this quietly via numerous activities, from his early days of showcasing local musicians on one of our local commercial radio stations to the wildly popular Tuesday Night Music Club he hosted at Meijer Gardens. 

And while this community of artists has highlighted our capacity over the years to care for our artists in need, I want to break from the standards of this entertainment section to feature an important fundraiser worth considering attending this Sunday. 

Recently, Ralston Bowles’ wife, Cindy, was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, and because of the added financial strain this has placed on our first family of our local music scene, area musicians are banding together on March 19 at The Intersection Lounge to raise money to help them during their hour of need.

Ralston has been a true champion for so many in the performing arts over the years, and it is time for us as a community to consider how we can shower this family at this time with the gratitude and funds they so humbly deserve.

John Sinkevics of Local Spins will be the emcee for the event with the following acts scheduled to perform:

Josh Rose                            3:30 p.m.

Fauxgrass                            4:00 p.m.

Joe Shields                            4:40 p.m.

Channing & Quinn                    5:05 p.m. 

Drew Nelson                            5:45 p.m. 

Troll for Trout & Larry McCray    6:15 p.m.

Mick Lane                            6:55 p.m.

Eric Engblade Trio                    7:25 p.m.

Hannah Rose Graves             8:05 p.m.

The Soul Syndicate             8:35 p.m.

MOVEMEDIA: World premieres all night long

Friday - Sunday, Mar. 10 - 12, 6:30 p.m. (doors), 7:30 p.m. (performances)

It is hard to imagine that Michigan’s only professional ballet company is celebrating is 46th season, and part of this success is their ability to reinvent and refresh our opinions of this very physical art form. 

This weekend, fans of dance will flock from all over the state to join others at the Peter Martin Wege Theatre for the Grand Rapids Ballet’s seventh edition of MOVEMEDIA. This innovative dance series is stunning for its expansive definition of what makes dance so vital and contemporary, and it is brought to this region through the leadership of Grand Rapids Ballet Artistic Director Patricia Barkerand Executive Director Glenn Del Vecchio.

MOVEMEDIA is a chance for our local ballet troop to invite other artists to the stage for a night of dance that continuously challenges those long held stereotypes about the artform.. 

Acting as a dance incubator, MOVEMEDIA showcases fresh and visually arresting new works by some of the world’s most significant and celebrated contemporary choreographers.

Aptly titled “MOVEMEDIA: World Premieres,” this weekend’s debuts will feature never-before-seen works from three world-renowned choreographers. Joining our local troop on stage this weekend will be special guests Robyn Mineko Williams (Hubbard Street), Robert Dekkers (Post:ballet), and Penny Saunders (Hubbard Street). 

What makes MOVEMEDIA stand out is this dance showcase’s ability to seamlessly blend all the visual elements of a performance, from set pieces to props to lighting, in a modern space that is illuminated creatively through the use of technology and digital media to enhance the body in motion. 

Needless to say, this is not your grandparent’s ballet, as MOVEMEDIA employs the talents and tools of our modern age to create something truly breathtaking in the heart of our city.

For tickets, please purchase them here or at the box office. 

Photo by Eric Bouwens

Laughfest 2017: Annual tickle your funny bone event turns 7!

Starting with a community kick-off celebration held at Rosa Parks Circle on Thursday, Mar. 9, 5:30 p.m, LaughFest 2017 is inviting those looking to have their funny bone tickled with their West Michigan Live Mannequin Challenge. 

From there, the fun doesn’t end until Sunday, March 19.

Highlights of this year’s festival include many showcase series that are quite popular with locals, as well as a long list of new faces and headliners offering truly something for everyone.

A few standouts that could get overlooked as headliners create big buzz are those special events that are connected to various organizations and issues of interest to members of our region.

For starters, Samuel J. Comroe will be at The B.O.B. (Thursday, March 16, 7:30 p.m.) as a part of partnership with DisArt -- a biennial festival devoted to the arts and their intersection with disability. 

Comroe has been featured on Conan O’Brien and BET's “Real Husbands of Hollywood” with Kevin Hart (alum of LaughFest) and has received top honors during San Francisco Comedy Competition and the Ricky Gervais Just Saying Stand-up Competition.

Even LaughRX is back with Disability Advocates of Kent County's The Real & Funny Side of Living Life with a Disability with comics hailing from our local scene. It is sure to be a wild night of fresh talent on the stage at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. 

Another highlight is the chance to laugh through the pain of comic Jeanette Rizzi, daughter of a monk and nun raised in Florida, whose “Blindsided" show at Dog Story Theater (Saturday, March 18, 5 p.m.)  explores the comic depths she experienced after the suicide of her best friend. Rizzo’s show is about finding hope during seemingly hopeless times.

Lastly, Rapid Growth’s Publisher Tommy Allen will join hosts Dan and Michele Terpstra, DJ Snax, Emcee Fred Stella, #WeRFunnyGirls, Pop Scholars, Stu McCallister, Nancy Gallardo, Teresa Thome, and seven other presenters on stage at Wealthy Theatre for the fast-paced and personal PechaKucha

Japanese for “chit chat,” PechaKucha is sure to tickle the funny bone as presenters will have just 20 slides that are on screen for a total of 20 seconds each to visually illustrate their story with the audience. This quick format means that mayhem is sure to happen, and that is sure to bring laughter in unexpected places throughout the evening. 

So, while LaughFest is turning seven this year, it appears to be just as fresh and committed to showcasing the best in emerging, diverse and established talent right here in West Michigan.  Besides, being a part of this annual festival is the best way to chase the blues of this year away. 

No Motherland Without You: Images of North Korea

There are many places in this world where, if you have the funds, you will not have difficulty accessing the earth’s vast cultures.

But there are those that are (even) more difficult to reach in our ever-splintering globe following the U.S. November elections. One such place that is enshrouded in mystery is North Korea.

For the small price of a few gallons of petro, you can get to the De Pree Art Center and Gallery at Hope College and peak into this mysterious nation via the visually arresting photographic works of artist Tom Wagner, who made several trips to North Korea from 1995 to 2004.

“No Motherland Without You” is Wagner’s homage to the popular North Korean song that is also considered an Ode to Kim Jong-il, (the father of the current Kim, North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un). 

“An interesting element of revisiting this work in the present, for me, is seeing how little North Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, has changed, and how the stories, the news, the headlines now are the same as they were during each of my trips,” says Wagner.

The images exhibit the politics of fear, surveillance and a divine, unquestioned leader who determines facts and truth to fit a preferred nationalist narrative, looking at the architecture and people of the place. 

And this is unlike any other photo-based show we’ve seen locally in a while, as these images are large prints with four-by-eight-feet rear-illuminated duratrans printed locally at 40 Visuals of Spring Lake.

This exhibition also includes a massive 55-inch touchscreen display for easy navigation to other works, as well as a projector show.

Be sure to go quickly: the opportunity to look inside the headlines about North Korea will only be available until Thursday, Mar. 16

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