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Who tells the story: Unpacking conversations around art and race

Tuesday, Feb. 27, 5:30 p.m. reception, 6:30 p.m. lecture
During ArtPrize 9, one of its best on record in my opinion, the topic of culture appropriation as it relates to race took center stage at a variety of venues or within the various works presented therein. 

And while the topic does not always have clear lines to those artists creating the works, there are moments within the public where those lines are clearly crossed. 

On Tuesday, Feb. 27, cultured.GR, the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives (GRAAMA), and Fountain Street Church invite artists and art fans to join them for a free, special double feature event with a panel discussion on “Who Tells the Story: Unpacking the conversations around art and race” and a closing reception for the Keeler Gallery’s exhibition, "African American Artists Tell the Story.”

The night’s panel will include 2017 ArtPrize artists Monroe O'Bryant, Ericka Thompson (Kyd Kane), and Sofía Ramirez-Hernandez, with Steffanie Rosalez moderating. 

As outlined by the event’s organizers, “this panel discussion is designed to address these questions and move towards action that is more intentional, respectful, and honoring of people of color.”  

I know it will be a fascinating night and one that I hope will spill over into the community and not be ensconced in the choir loft…er, the metaphorical choir loft. 

Butterflies are Blooming: Signs of Spring’s return float into Grand Rapids

Opening Thursday, Mar. 1, 9 a..m. (through April 30)
With the ending of winter soon on our horizon, the itch for warmer weather often sends folks flying to warmer climates.

But not every budget can handle a trip to warm, tropical-like places like Key West, so lucky for us there is the 13th annual Fred & Dorothy Fichter Butterflies Are Blooming exhibition at Meijer Gardens.

What started more than a decade ago as a chance to showcase the various exotic butterflies at The Gardens’ tropical conservatory has blossomed to become the nation’s largest temporary tropical butterfly exhibition.

Boosting more than 7000 beautifully colored butterflies that hail from 50 different species, this annual affair attracts guests from local school field trips to tourists who venture each springtime to experience this once-a-year affair.

The annual event is not just a chance to experience warm 85 degrees often on days that still dip below freezing in a conservatory at 70 percent humidity. It is just what the doctor ordered if you are getting tired of winter (which official does not end until March 21).

Butterflies Are Blooming also offers an array of programming options including special members-only events like those night walks for adults only. These special night events could be a great place to meet someone new, too. I mean, how cool would it be that you met maybe the love of your life at a tropical conservatory observing the wonder and beauty of nature instead of over yet again another pint of a local IPA? 

For all their programming options, visit the Butterflies Are Blooming page at the Meijer Gardens website.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit: Theatre of the unknown debuts here

Unlike anything else that you have experienced on our local theatrical stages comes Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour’s “White Rabbit Red Rabbit,” a fresh and rare production where every night is a new opportunity to experience something truly remarkable. 

First off, the production features a different guest star in the lead role each night and kicks off once the solo actor is handed a sealed script that they have not read or seen to perform cold for the audience. 

All this happens without the aid of all the usual trappings associated with theatre, with no director, no rehearsals, nor a designed set. Right at the start under this premise, you know we are not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. 

“Rabbits is truly a unique living breathing avant-garde theatrical experience. Never before has an audience along with the performer stepped into a script together for the very first time,” says Actors’ Theatre of Grand Rapids’ Executive Director Kyle Los.  “It's a raw and intimate. No moment, reaction, or emotion can be pre-crafted or curated.”

The performers selected by Actors’ are highly trained in their craft but will call upon them to focus all that they've learned up to this point. The cast of local actors performing “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” includes Jon Clausen, Laure Walczak, Amy McFadden, Greg Rogers, Jolene Frankey, Joe Anderson, Todd Lewis, and Randy Wyatt. 

This is rare and nail-biting theatre and you only have eight chances to see the production that took off-Broadway by storm. Something inside of me thinks given the line up of talent that we may see a lot of repeat viewings given the nature of this production. 

Black Panther: A new superhero leaps to the big screen

There has not been a more exciting moment for the superhero cinema genre than right now as the nation prepares for a game-changing new film. For if the numbers hold, then “Black Panther” will opens nationwide on February 16 as a true blockbuster.

When folks started tracking the pre-sales of “Black Panther,” they were shocked that what was once forecasted as a $125 million opening has now logged in more than $150 million-plus in advance ticketing. 

But we could have seen this momentum coming after the teaser dropped a year ago and racked up an astonishing 89 million views in less than 24 hours. Rarely do we hear the roar of a game changer like “Black Panther.”

Part of its attraction is that “Black Panther” is not just the latest in a series of vintage Marvel superheroes to hit the big screen, but more importantly it is the fact that it showcases a nearly all black cast centered on a multi-layered story with a nearly all black cast centered on a story with roots in Africa.

Directed by Ryan Coogler, “Black Panther,” as a big-budget studio film, has no equal and there is one good reason why so many are anticipating its debut. 

The film stars notable actors like Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa/Black Panther, Lupita Nyong'o, Michael B. Jordan, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis.

“Black Panther” is the story of T’Challa who is the heir apparent to the throne of the fictional land of Wakanda, a tiny country hidden for centuries. Within this country hides the source of a powerful secret: as this nation is in the sole possession of vibranium, an alien element acquired from a fallen meteor. (It is also the same metal used in Captain America’s shield.) 

As the world expands around them, the isolation of Wakanda remains difficult once it is revealed they hold so much of vibranium. After T’Challa’s father is cruelly assassinated (not a spoiler), this new, young king will learn to wield a suit made of vibranium to become the Black Panther and a warrior for his people. 

We understand that the cinema is a year round industry, but when you look at all of the factors leading up to this fresh debut, it is hard not to be Christmas-like happy when a film like “Black Panther” arrives in the theaters. “Black Panther” is ushering in a new era of filmmaking that is thrilling, inspiring, but, most of all, about to set a new bar vibranium-tough for future films to emulate and follow.

Taste of Soul Sunday: Revamped and more relevant than ever

The city is full of options each year that seek to celebrate the legacy and meaning of Black History Month. And while we have many choices, one organization, our downtown Grand Rapids Public Library, has a plethora of educational programming that flows throughout the month, offering a diverse array of topics and experiences. 

By far the library’s (and possibly the city’s) biggest event during Black History Month is its Taste of Soul Sunday, where they invite locals to come downtown and experience African American history and culture.

What makes this year’s sensational programming really soar is that the GRPL held a community focus group over the summer of 2017 to garner insights and feedback from the community. The result of this listening session is a freshly revamped and lively event rooted even more in our local culture and Black experience, but also one that ventures into the headlines of the days we find ourselves living. 

Organized into easy-to-navigate categories of Listen, Learn, Create, Eat, and Preserve, the GRPL welcomes everyone to venture down this Sunday for a truly remarkable afternoon that moves beyond just the “Taste” experience that draws so many to this venue each year. 

Scheduled to appear at Sunday’s GRPL Taste of Soul Sunday event are:

– Karisa Wilson Music
– Zion Lion
– Noel Webley and Jazzy Friends Quintet
– Julius J. Hight featuring Bedrock

– A Team of Her Own: Minnie Forbes & Negro League Baseball
– The Spirit of South High School
– From Jackie Robinson to Kaepernick: A Brief History of Athlete Activism with Dr. Louis Moore

– What Does Your Name Mean to You? Poetry Workshop with Fable the Poet and The Diatribe.
– Crafts for Kids

– NoLos Soul
– IRIE Kitchen
– Big Ed's BBQ
– Mosbyspopcorn

The “Preserve” portion of the program is where the public contributes to deepen this event and future ones by sharing their story. 

GRPL and the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives (GRAAMA) invite attendees to bring down to the downtown branch their personal family photographs, letters, and journals during Taste of Soul Sunday. These items will be digitized along with your spoken word narrative about how your personal history contributes to the story of our community. 

This event is free and open to the public and is made possible through the funding of the Grand Rapids Public Library Foundation. You can see the posted performance times at GRPL's website.

Drunken Retort: Black History spoken aloud

Over the last five years, a group of spoken word artists have been gathering downtown at Stella’s Lounge for a night of performances organized under the header “The Drunken Retort.” (2018 is their fifth anniversary.) 

And while the team made up of AutoPilot, Rachel Gleason, and Fable the Poet have often used their Monday night platform to elevate this art form, locally inviting other poets to join them on the stage as guest performers, for The Drunken Retort’s Black History night on February 19, the star is you and your voice. 

This group of artists invite folks to come down and share pieces reflecting Black excellence, freedom, greatness, hip-hop, and all things related to Black History.

This centering on the experience and lives of black people has the power to transform an audience, too, because when one shares their personal history, something begins to shift under the weight of this community perspective.

And while they enjoy hosting guest poets, these theme nights, according to Fable the Poet, are wonderful and unique because they focus on keeping it “strictly local.”

Folks who want to see how the event works with black nationally known poets—and 80 percent of those featured at The Drunken Retort are Black/Brown poets from all across the country— you can return on March 5th when they welcome Natasha T. Miller to Grand Rapids.

The Drunken Retort is part of a series of programming in the city that through their performances in our area help transform all of us who witness this powerful art form. Don’t miss this unique Black History Month event in the Heartside neighborhood of downtown.

LaFontsee Galleries: 30 years of incredible views

It is hard to imagine those days in 1987 when LaFontsee Galleries (then called The Underground Studio) opened in a tiny space on Grand Street in the middle of a neighborhood just east of Heritage Hill.

Back then if you were looking to purchase art, you had to visit Eastown, the Amway Grand Hotel, or the mall. And even then, the costs to secure a work of art was out of reach for most of us who were looking to take down our Spencer Gifts’ Erté prints or posters we inherited from our college days or Believe in Music.

Over time, proprietors Scott and Linda LaFontsee began to crack the local art code, first welcoming local artists (most often students or faculty from area colleges), and then later expanding upon their representation to include national artists. (Full disclosure: I was one of those local artists they carried in the 1990s and into the early aughts until I left for a lakeshore gallery.) 

The best memories of the decades since has been watching the community grow over time to welcome more original art into their homes and businesses. Another found memory is the receptions, which in the early days was how the local artists community connected, since there truly was so little to do back then related to fine art.

And while many of the galleries that used to dot our city map have shuttered their doors, LaFontsee kept on plugging away as the city grew. They even opened a gallery in Douglas over the years after beta testing that market with a series of what is best described as temporary or pop-up spaces until they built a brand new building at this lakeshore community. 

On Friday night, LaFontsee Galleries is celebrating turning 30 and will be hosting a special art reception with live music, refreshments, fresh art, and so much more. In fact, advance notices indicate that their entire crop of artists will have work up on this special night so you will not want to miss this one if you are in the market to discover a new artist or secure a work of art. 

In addition, the gallery will be donating during the month of February 5 percent of all retail sales to two local arts organizations: The Cook Arts Center and Artists Creating Together. So by supporting local artists you are also doing good, too, this month. 

Jammie Awards XIX: Grand Rapids Grammys

The timing of the annual Grammys Awards ceremony is always an exciting time because it means that we are just a few days away from our own local music awards show, The Jammies.

Recognizing West Michigan's best albums and songs of 2017, the Jammies XIX, presented by WYCE 88.1 FM, used to be held on a weeknight until 2013 when the event took a huge leap under then station director Kevin Murphy’s leadership and vision. And to say the least, there has been no going back since this move brought so much fresh energy to the two stages it is held on Friday night.

Now the awards show has become a cultural flashpoint for our area music fans who show up en masse to cheer on their favorite acts.

And if you think this will be just another Jammies, then look at the XIX lineup scheduled to perform this year at the Intersection. And don’t leave after the awards since WYCE invites you to stay for an after party featuring Desmond Jones.

WYCE Jammie Awards XIX Official Lineup, which includes many acts who have never performed before at our local awards show:

Showroom Stage
5:30 Wicker Basket
6:00 Award Presentation: Listener Choice Awards [Best Album & Best Album by a New Artist]
6:05 Dan Rickabus
6:23 Award Presentation: Special Jury Prize [Best Album & Best New Artist] (Critics Choice)
6:28 Cameron Blake
6:46 Award Presentation: The "Traditions!" Award & Best Roots/Revival Album
6:51 The Founding
7:09 Award Presentation: Electronic Album of the Year & Hip-Hop Album
7:14 Yolonda Lavender
7:32 Award Presentation: Best Jazz Album
7:37 Jake Kershaw
7:55 Award Presentation: Best Rock or Pop Album
8:00 Mark Lavengood
8:18 Award Presentation: Best Blues/Soul Album of the Year
8:23 Hollywood Makeout
8:41 Award Presentation: Best Americana Album
8:46 organissimo
9:04 Award Presentation: Best Alternative Album
9:09 May Erlewine
9:30 Award Presentation: Best Contemporary Folk
9:50 Lipstick Jodi
Award Presentation: Song of the Year
10:15 ConvoTronics
Award Presentation: Best New Artist
10:35 Afro Zuma
10:55 Award Presentation: Album of the Year

The Stache Stage
5:40 B-Side Growlers
6:10 Brian Koenigsknecht
6:40 Thunderbolt & Lightfoot
7:05 Hannah Laine
7:30 Justin Avdek & The Underground Circus
8:00 Bigfoot Buffalo
8:25 Blushing Monk
8:55 Major Murphy
9:20 Tom Hymn
9:50 Hannah Rose & The GravesTones
10:15 Lazy Genius

All Ages Welcome | Doors: 5:30PM
$5 Suggested donation to your community radio station WYCE

Black Girl Magic Showcase: Beer Month’s bright spot

As the city prepares to celebrate GR Beer Month, the Creston Brewery—the city’s only black owned brewery—continues to test their community-focused model in the heart of the Creston neighborhood with a special new event that places the focus on black women entrepreneurs.

This day long event that stretches into late night is being called Black Girl Magic and is the brainchild of Bri Ross and Kyd Kane.

These two powerful women have invited area Black women of our community to showcase their creations and services for all those who  venture.

In addition to checking out new vendors to add to your life, you can sip on a delicious beer that is probably named after so historical or significant event that has roots in our city.

At 7 p.m., the event welcomes to the stage Bri Ross and Kyd Kane, who will both be performing spoken word poetry. 

Immediately following at 8 p.m. the brewery will convert into a dance party keeping the energy flowing into the evening as DJ’s Sun*Rise and SuperDre take to the 1s and 2s. 

Creston Brewery is extremely proud to be a Black owned brewery in the great beer city that is Grand Rapids!

The event is free to attend and all ages are welcome here until 9 p.m. when it becomes a 21+ venue.

We know you have a lot of choices, but Black Girl Magic is definitely something worth investing some time and cash as the city advances to make more room for others. In a beautiful way, you get to be a part of making the magic happen here. And that is why we might be worth being called “cool” a bit longer. 

fierce pussy: Old school activists still relevant

It is hard to imagine a time without a home computer and a printer to produce the materials one needs to have your voice heard on a topic. But this is the realities of the era that would produce fierce pussy, a collective of queer women artists in New York City in 1991.

Their "giving a care" drive in the face of a nation’s complacent silence as the raging AIDS epidemic was killing so many people sparked a new era of activism that feels very DIY by the standards of today’s tools. 

Because of their contributions, they were able to mobilize folks around LGBT rights, but also ushered in via their group, fierce pussy, a lesbian identity and visibility we had not seen before.

Over the years, fierce pussy projects have included wheat pasting handmade posters on the street, renaming New York City streets after prominent lesbian heroines, re-designing the restroom at the LGBT community center, harnessing PDF’s for activism, and even venturing into video production by creating PSAs. The body of their work has been the subject of numerous installations and exhibitions in galleries and museums around the world.

On Thursday, Feb. 15, fierce pussy—who is known for using literally almost any creative means necessary like old typewriters, found photographs, their own baby pictures, and the printing supplies and equipment accessible in their day jobs — will be at Grand Valley State University's Allendale campus for a special lecture on their artwork in the area of political art. 

For those who are curious about the power of artists collectives or are just curious about the viewpoints of artists who during the AIDS crisis tried just about everything to turn the tide on this epidemic, then this is a historic opportunity for our community to experience. 

fierce pussy’s appearance here in West Michigan is also tied to events happening at GVSU starting Feb. 14. 

36-Hour Challenge: Screening of the new

Modern cities are full of examples of weekend warriors who start out on a Friday with a task and then by Sunday present their solutions. Locally, this act often takes the form of young entrepreneurs assisting one another to deliver a viable startup business plan or a group of designers solving a problem for a local nonprofit. But for some time, groups within the arts scene of Grand Rapids have been doing this far longer.

One such group, the Grand Rapids Film Festival (GRFF), champions collaborative filmmaking and exhibition but also—through its 36-hour Challenge— provide a working exercise that further expands the education opportunities in Grand Rapids’ filmmaking scene.

And while the creation portion of the 36-hour Challenge has already attracted 150 participants of various degrees of experience, this project has resulted in 26 new films of which 20 will screen at Celebration Cinema North.

There will be an awards ceremony and networking opportunity at the theatre’s Wave Room at the end of the screenings.

“We want filmmakers to expand their networks and work with new people,” says Jen Shaneberger, GRFF President and CEO. “We want universities to work together. No more silos!”

Shaneberger also mentions that area education centers including GVSU, Calvin, Compass College of Cinematic Arts, KCAD, and Ferris, all sent teams to this year’s competition.  A first this year was the infusion of  professional teams from Lansing and Chicago as well joining the 2018 36-Hour Challenge. 

For more details, visit GRFF’s Facebook event page.

Winter Punk Fest: Raw. Unfiltered. Westside.

Last November on the banks of the Grand River’s westside, the Grand Rapids’ Ford Presidential Museum welcomed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame traveling exhibition, “Louder Than Words: Rock, Power, Politics,” with a lavish opening night complete with a tribute to the sounds of punk rock.

Now Winter Punk Fest, a punk rock music event, is returning this weekend to the westside venue Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill. But don’t let this no frills venue with a old school moniker of a name fool you. This is a great venue to experience music, and for three days, punk acts will be packing the space with fans of this music genre.

Slated to appear this year are 15 acts that range from local to acts as far away as Indiana and Detroit. Thanks to Todd Krabs (former Cheeztones bandmate) for organizing this event. 

The best part of this festival (besides to see Grand Rapids’ The Cheeztones live again) is that we have 15 punk acts on Grand Rapids’ Westside committed to the raw and majesty of this music art’s history and evolving form. 

Appearing in this year’s Winter Punk Fest are: 

Friday: $5
Dance Contraption
The Distractions (Indiana)
No Bails
Sleep Cheaters

Saturday: $5
Bad Assets
Bare Knuckle Hooligans (South Bend)
Paper Thin

Sunday: $7
Against the Grain (Detroit)
The Holy Warheads
Desiring Dead Flesh (Saginaw)
The Bitters

George Clinton & The P-Funk Allstars: Rock and Roll Hall of Famer drops the funk

Saturday, Feb. 3, 7 p.m. (doors), 8 p.m. (concert)
Since the 1960s and the decades after, artist and band leader George Clinton has piloted his mother ship of acts from The Parliaments to Funkadelic to Parliament Funkadelic to the most recent P-Funk All Stars, who will roll in to Grand Rapids’ 20 Monroe Live.

As a fan, I can say, at 76 years old, George Clinton doesn’t act his age on stage. He's a serious performer whose concerts’ length and energy would put other younger acts to shame for his mammoth sets filled with classic tunes from a canon of music that only a master could assemble over fifty years. 

In fact, when Clinton and The P-Funk Allstars perform, the audience is never certain what to expect, since Clinton approaches his concerts with an artful chillness that rewards concert-goers beautifully. (Many times his shows can stretch to three hours if the spirit moves the man.)

Not only has this act created some of the best funk and rap of the last 50 years with hits like “Flashlight,” “Atomic Dog,” “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker),”  but also indie classics like “One Nation Under a Groove,” and “(Not Just) Knee Deep.” 

Either way, this is an American classic with Michigan roots and a member of the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame. 

In fact, the timing of his arrival in Grand Rapids could not be any better since the band was just a guest on the office concert series NPR’s Tiny Desk.  

So you can stay home and chill with your Netflix or you can secure tickets and haul ass downtown to 20 Monroe Live to party with a real American icon.

If/Then: The life we create and the other lives lived within our choices

In a musical that vacillates between the worlds of could’ve, would’ve, and should’ve, “If/Then” is the latest production from Actors’ Theatre to hit  Grand Rapids Community College’s Spectrum Theatre.

The musical is actually made up of many stories following the character of Elizabeth as alternative versions of her life and possibilities play alongside each other, often flowing back and forth with tiny clues  delivered via the lighting or through the use of eye glasses. (I guess Elizabeth develops poor sight in one version of herself or else the playwright who directs such props doesn’t think the audience sophisticated enough. Oh well.) 

The musical is story of chance and the choices we make in our lives. It is sure to delight fans of this reality-punching genre. And who wouldn’t want to see a musical that once starred the darling of Broadway, Idina Menzel (“Rent” “Glee”) when it opened in 2014 in NY.

“If/Then” is directed and choreographed by Jolene Frankey with music direction from Scott Bell and according to Actors’, and is about living in the business of today and all of the possibilities of tomorrow.

“If/Then” is the  brainchild of the same creative team who won the Pulitzer Prize (2010) and numerous Tony Awards in 2009 for “Next to Normal.” (It was performed at Actors Theatre in 2012.)

So while you have a lot of entertainment options this season to consider, why not make the choice to see “If/Then” for the thrill of experiencing an imaginative musical that is sure to stick with you long after the curtain closes on this production on February 10.

“If/Then” cast includes:

Elizabeth: Molly Jones
Kate: Jess Luiz
Lucas: David Houseman
Josh: Patrick Finn
Anne: Emily Diener
David: Nate Reynolds
Stephen: David Hatter
Elena: Maddie Jones
Ensemble: Lucas Story, Michael Stewart, D'Marco Hughes, Amy Cain, Mary Kate Murnen, Catilin Cusack

The Refined Line works of Roger Bruinekool: Grand Rapids artist ushers in a colorful new show

If you have driven by East Hills’ Richard App Gallery over the last week, then you know that while the cold, white stuff has been retreating, a new brilliance of color has entered your vision as the gallery prepares to welcome the work of Roger Bruinekool.

Titled “The Refined Line,” Bruinekool’s latest exhibition is a visual delight for the eye with rich colors freely weaving across the surface in a playful and powerfully bold manner. 

Bruinekool, a graduate of the Kendall School of Design in 1957, has a wonderful history in our region over the decades, from being a member of the creative team that launched in 1982 On The Ground Magazine, to a two-time competing artist at ArtPrize. 

Known for his abstract artworks, Bruibnekool after graduating from KCAD, spent about a quarter of a century painting and working as graphic designer and art director in Miami, Fresno, New York, Los Angeles, and Kingston, Jamaica before returning to Grand Rapids in 1974. He has also had two solo exhibitions of his works at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM).

From his 2007 GRAM exhibition, Kate Nagengast captured this quote from Bruinekool: "My goal is to attend to compositional elements in a way that evokes an adventure for the eye," he said. "Real objects are combined to form a composition in which they lend themselves to abstraction and the apparent abstraction helps the viewer to see his or her reality in a new way.” (MLive’s “Roger Bruinekool exhibit is an adventure in 'pop art’”).

The public is invited to gather this Friday at the Richard App Gallery where the artist will be in attendance for an opening night reception. 
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