Every community has its own vocabulary -- the names and places that make it feel like home. Here's an insider's look at the history, culture, and special character of a place called West Michigan. By the time you're done reading, you should be able to find us on The Mitten, name some of our beautiful beaches and local celebrities, describe the function of the Fish Ladder, and identify why dentists have a special place in their hearts for Grand Rapids. For extra credit: what world-famous architect designed our downtown amphitheatre?
Visual Arts. Performing Arts. Insider and Outsider Arts. We've got 'em all!
Although we have long been recognized for our cultural happenings, two events in particular are drawing national and worldwide praise. ArtPrize is a radically open competition where the goal is for the general public and artists to collide, exchange ideas, and come away changed. The event boasts more than 1,700 artists from 44 states and 21 countries. These artists have the unique opportunity to interact with more than 200,000 visitors! Gilda's LaughFest is an event that celebrates laughter for the health of it - a festival of comedy, peformance, film, and a variety of seriously funny stuff. All proceeds benefit the cancer, grief, and support programs offered through Gilda's Club Grand Rapids. Past events have featured national celebrities, such as Bill Cosby, Betty White, Kathleen Madigan, and others.
Some of our other more noteworthy happenings have included an exhibit of Frank Lloyd Wright leaded-glass windows and the first-ever showing of artworks by Perugino -- a contemporary of Michelangelo at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the only U.S. showing of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Public Museum, Princess Diana Exhibition (with visit from The Today Show) at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, and the Bodies Revealed event at the Public Museum.
In addition to traditional museums with substantial collections, West Michigan has a lively underground fine arts scene, with galleries in downtown Grand Rapids and several other communities. The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, a dynamic, multidisciplinary laboratory for the advancement of contemporary art, offers visual art, music, film, literature, dance and performance art, featuring local, national and international artists. Film-lovers look to UICA for foreign and indie films - 80 annually.
We also have a vibrant performing arts community, anchored by three well-regarded regional theatres and several other more specialized companies bringing productions to inspire audiences virtually every weekend. Opera Grand Rapids is Michigan's longest-running professional opera company; The Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra is recognized as one of America's leading regional orchestras; and the Grand Rapids Ballet Company, Michigan's only professional ballet company, recently opened a $6.2 million Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified theatre on the south end of downtown Grand Rapids.
See also: Film, GRAM, Museums, Sculpture