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Speak Up GR: Gentrification and our city

It is nearly impossible these days to visit any growing city in the U.S. and not be faced with the topic of gentrification. It is a topic that can be polarizing almost as soon as the word is used, but locally more and more folks are seeing this subject as a chance to engage more fully on its meaning and impact to our region and the overall health of our communities. 

For this special series, SpeakUp GR, our downtown Grand Rapids Public Library (GRPL) once again welcomes the public for this special panel discussion on the topic. 

The panel, which includes Start Garden’s Darel Ross II, Western University’s Dr. Benjamin Ofori-Amoah, and Grand Rapids City Commissioner David Allen, offers a platform for constructive dialog on society’s challenging topics in a neutral place known for bringing together diverse points of view for community discussions and intellectual advancement of our people.

And this is not easy material by any shot since the defining of just the word and resulting impact depending on that definition are tied to so many aspects and parts of society.

“I was actually met with a lot of resistance of people willing to speak on this topic. The people on the panel—heavy hitters in the community—were the ones willing to talk about (it),” says GRPL Business Librarian Steve Assarian.

But the best way to understand such complex topics is through community dialogue. SpeakUp GR has shown in the past via their other panel events they can provide a thoughtful space for discussion on such topics like immigration, fake news, and race relations. The GRPL is so much more than just a place to borrow books. It is a community space where intellectual curiosity is still satisfied in numerous ways. 

Creston Rhythms: Everyone bang a drum

With the addition of the Creston Brewery to the Plainfield Corridor, a lot of good artistic energy has really begun to spring up from their programming that involves local music showcases, Geeks drinking and doing trivia, and even the occasional stand-up comic night. It is refreshing to see another brewery in GR that understands that the creativity one places in their beer making also attracts those artistic souls and their friends/fans to this Creston watering hole. 

On Wednesday night (and possibly inspired by Cabildo’s ready-to-bang drum lined up in front of the band at Creston’s first anniversary party last summer) comes Creston Rhythms—a night of drumming education with hands-on audience participation.

Creston Rhythms will be led by Leah Ivory, assistant director of the Grand Rapids Youth Chorus,  who will introduce attendees of various drumming techniques rooted in the traditional music of West Africa. 

After the lesson, you will have a chance to join the drum circle held in the middle of the brewery’s taproom for a rhythmic jam session.

Leah, who has led many diverse groups in the past including choirs from the North American Choral Company and St. Cecilia Music Society, was introduced to the djembe while in West Africa in 2006. 

Since that time she has been attending master training classes with Mamady Keita and Bolokada Conde, who are both master drummers of this West African musical practice.

Come have a beer and a bang at Creston Brewery where they remind us always to “Keep Creston Funky!”

Christian McBride: Five-time Grammy winner stops in Grand Rapids

On Thursday, November 16, St. Cecilia’s Music Center kicks off their 2017/18 Encore Jazz Series with bassist, composer, and educator but also DJ, and artistic director for the Newport Jazz Festival, the talented Christian McBride.

From the many activities listed on McBride’s impressive resume, it is clear that this teen prodigy jazz musician, born in 1972, never slows down, besting each triumph with his ever soaring heights of accomplishments. 

He has worked with jazz greats like Sonny Rollins, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and Pat Metheny but also accompanied many pop giants, too, like James Brown, Sting, and The Roots. 

He is heralded as one of the most recorded musicians of his generation, having appeared solo as well as a guest artists on more than 300 recordings. For his drive and excellence in all he has done musically, he has been awarded five Grammy awards.

He even has ties to Michigan. Since 2009, this Philly native has been with Detroit’s prestigious jazz label Mack Avenue.

The Encore Jazz Series at St. Cecilia’s, which includes upcoming visiting artists Brad Mehldau on November 30, Gregory Porter on February 22, 2018, and Kurt Elling ending the 2017-18 series on March 22, 2018, is off to a triumphant start with McBride stop here to support his latest release “Bringin’ It.”

This new release is McBride’s second time leading a big band orchestra through a collection of his own works as well as classics like “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” and “Mr. Bojangles.”

While you have a lot of entertainment options to consider, McBride’s stop in Grand Rapids at such a small, intimate, and acoustically perfect venue makes this jazz concert from McBride, a true jazz legend in the making, our top choice for those seeking a truly inspirational music concert experience. 

Tickets are available at the center's website

Lamp Light Music Festival: Beauty in the home

There is something really wonderful about attending a house party, but when a music festival hosted in a series of neighborhood homes continues to evolve year after year while still maintaining its sense of space, well, that my friends is heavenly.

And this is the beauty of the Lamp Light Music Festival—a three-day music event taking place in homes within the Eastown neighborhood of Grand Rapids.

This year’s festival includes 29 local and visiting acts who will be performing in a variety of spaces from living rooms to basements. This year’s eclectic lineup is just as powerful as it always has been. 

The festival’s charm is really its ability to bring in close proximity musicians to music fans in a setting the enables all sorts of moments rare and wonderful to emerge. This includes everything from the chance to see impromptu collaborations, unexpected covers of popular songs, post-concert conversation in the backyard over a cigarette, or just a chance to hear very personal insights to the music being showcased. 

In short, this is an experience unlike anything else in the city. Word to the wise: this is a festival for folks who like music, so if you are seeking a place to converse while the band plays this may not be the event for you. For music fans, this is as close as you will get to heaven all year. 

There are weekend and day passes available here, but sales of all tickets are extremely limited, so please consider purchasing in advance or run the risk of not being able to attend. 100 percent of the ticket sales goes back into the pockets of the artists performing at Lamp Light. 

If you would like to attend but money is an issue, one way to gain access is as a volunteer. Please sign up here


The Recycle Art Market: Creating good through repurposing, up-cycling or recycling

Each year, you are faced with the challenges of what to give someone for Christmas, and if you are like me, one thing you worry about is giving something mass-produced and available by the crateful. . 

An easy solution to this gift-giving phobia is The Recycled Art Market that pops up each November kicking off our region’s holiday markets. 

Unlike the mall, The Recycled Art Market welcomes more than 60 artisans to bring their works that must follow a strict entry guide with an emphasis on the repurposing, up-cycling, or recycling of the materials used in their production. This year, there are also a group of 15+ artisans whose work falls exclusively in the realm of handmade. 

This is a truly inspiring event where I always walk away with a few gifts that are sure to be appreciated due to the craft and care in their production. 

Cost is $2 to attend, which includes helpers who’ll assist you in carrying those gifts to your vehicle. 

George Wietor: Rizo art star in our backyard

This city is full of so many people that it is often hard in all the hustle and bustle to recognize a true rising star in our community.

Rising would imply that one is ascending, and so I must say that, having known local artist, curator, publisher, and organizer for more than a decade now,there is no other way to describe the person of George Wietor.

Not only has Wietor been a part of our city’s evolving art scene and on so many platforms from co-founding the Division Avenue Arts Collective (DAAC), a DIY music and visual art facility/platform, to assisting artists realize their vision via his company Issue Press

On Monday night, Wietor will kick off a series of events in our city starting with a public lecture from Grand Valley State University’s Department of Visual & Media Arts. 

Wietor is a graduate of Grand Valley's Film and Video Production program, and over the last 15 years has helped shape a new cultural landscape within and outside of Grand Rapids via his local run, but internationally known Issue Press, which employs the use of Risograph printers to produce art books and zines. 

As a leader in the advancement of this type of printing, Wietor has created real buzz within design circles, museums, and art schools around the world with our local renaissance man being invited as the keynote speaker at the first RISO biennale at the Jan van Eyck Academie in the Netherlands (later returning to participate in a week-long version of the biennale in 2016).

This last March, Wietor conducted a three-day workshop at Duplica 2017 in São Paulo, Brazil. 

Issue Press may not be a household name here, but many of his publications have been included in major art book fairs from New York to Norway. 

The lecture is on Monday, but other events will be  held throughout the week including a workshop and an open house of his studio in the Tanglefoot building. Please visit this link for the complete list of events.

Bo Burlingham: “Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big”

If you ask me what I love about living in Grand Rapids, I will give you a list as long as the weekends here during the warm summer months. But when you ask who inspires me, then that list shortens to a select few who truly act to move our community in a forward direction.

One such person is Mayor Bliss, who in her first month in office, invited the community to join her in the reading of the book “A City Within a City: The Black Freedom Struggles in Grand Rapids, Michigan” by Todd E. Robinson.

For her second year in office, she has challenged the community to read the book “Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big” by Bo Burlingham.  “Small Giants” is the 2017 Mayor’s Book of the Year.

On Monday, Burlingham will be in Grand Rapids and you have two opportunities to hear him speak live. 

The first is at the Monday 12 - 1:30 p.m. luncheon at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids held at the JW Marriott. This lunch event is open to members of the club as well as the public. To reserve a seat at the event, please follow this link

Later in the afternoon at 3 p.m. is The Art of Celebrated Service presented by Celebration! Cinema North where Burlingham will share stories from his book that explores 14 privately held companies, each in varying sectors of industry, who’ve made a conscious decision to be “great instead of big.” The examples these companies provide our locals showcases how we as a community have begun to take serious the wholistic approach a city needs if it is to evolve in an ever-changing economic landscape.

“Bringing Bo Burlingham to Grand Rapids is a wonderful opportunity for business owners and community members to hear his message about why it’s important to use business to strengthen communities,” said Elissa Hillary, Local First president. “West Michigan is home to so many amazing companies that are small giants and Bo’s book has sparked a community dialogue over the last year about using business as a force for good. We’re excited to hear his story and learn ways we can continue to support the small giants in our community.”
Burlingham, a regular contributor to Forbes and the former executive editor of Inc. Magazine,  has also written: “The Great Game of Business,” “A Stake in the Outcome, Finish Big: How Great Entrepreneurs Exit Their Companies On Top,” and “The Knack: How Street-Smart Entrepreneurs Learn to Handle Whatever Comes Up.”

His appearance in West Michigan is provided courtesy of Local First, the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, Celebration! Cinema, and Mercantile Bank.

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.
1916 Articles | Page: | Show All
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