Take a trip back in time ... to 1969
In 1969, Alexander Calder’s La Grande Vitesse was installed in front of City Hall in downtown Grand Rapids in an area now called Calder Plaza. “La Grande Vitesse” is French for “the great swiftness” or “the grand rapids.” This 43-foot tall, vibrant red metal sculpture was commissioned by the City of Grand Rapids and the Kent County Board of Supervisors, and was made possible through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. "The Calder", as it's called among locals, was among the very first of the national "Art in Public Places" installations, setting Grand Rapids apart from most cities its size.
The Calder inspired a three-day community arts celebration to be held annually each year in June. Originally sponsored by the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids, the first festival of the arts was held in 1970 and co-chaired by Betty Jo Crosby and Dan Heines. Alexander Calder created the original Festival sun logo – still in use today – as a gift for the event. With only two stages and a few food booths on Calder Plaza, no streets had to be closed for those first few Festivals.
Over the years, Festival's popularity grew, eventually encompassing most of downtown Grand Rapids, and attracting nearly half a million visitors each year. Today, Festival is one of the largest all-volunteer arts events in the nation.
In 2002, Festival became its own 501c3 nonprofit organization.
Festival celebrates its 43rd year in 2012, with six performance stages featuring the best of West Michigan talent - plus dozens of food booths operated by area nonprofit organizations, and endless art and activities for all ages.