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Festival of the Arts kicks off the three-day event on Friday in Grand Rapids

A saxophone player performs at the 2018 Festival of the Arts on Fri., June 1, 2018 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Karl Blessing/The Collegiate)

The 49th annual Festival of the Arts got underway this afternoon following the opening ceremony at Calder Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids.

To inaugurate the festival, Joseph D. Jones, second ward commissioner of the city of Grand Rapids, read a proclamation recognizing the festival from Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, who could not attend the opening ceremony.

“The Calder, as it is affectionately known among Grand Rapidians, was one of the first national art-in-public-places installations, setting Grand Rapids apart from most cities its size,” Jones read. “The Calder inspired a three-day community art celebration to be held annually each year in June and where as what started as an event with only two stages and few food booths on Calder Plaza has grown into a festival that encompases most of downtown Grand Rapids, attracts nearly half a million visitors each year and it is among the largest all-volunteer artisan events in the nation.”

The opening ceremony continued with a combined performance by Circle Theatre, Grand Rapids Ballet School and Jenison Public Schools.

Amber Sherwood, one of the performer’s mother from Jenison Public Schools was thrilled to see her daughter perform on stage.

“I’ve been watching them practice all this morning and I’m really excited to see it all come together,” Sherwood said. “They’ve been practicing yesterday and all this morning, but it’s already amazing how much they’ve come along in such a short period of time.”

Festival organizers expect the festival to attract approximately 300,000 community members throughout the three-day event. Festival of the Arts features nearly 20 food booths hosted by local churches and nonprofit organizations, over 100 performers to entertain and art displayed across downtown Grand Rapids.

Missy Bush, one of the co-chairs of this year’s Festival of the Arts, was delighted by the performances during the opening ceremony.

“I feel really good about it,” Bush said. “You couldn’t ask for better weather, and the opening ceremony that Mary (from Circle Theatre) put together was fantastic. She said she was going to bring the poster to life, and she really did.”

Those who made it to the opening ceremony were glad to participate in today’s events. Jenna Balczak, 24, of Grand Rapids, attended the festival with her mother Sheila Balczak, 55, of Grand Rapids, and her daughter.

“We always come out here,” Jenna said. “I remember coming here as a kid, my mom brought me.”

Sheila added, “Yeah, it’s my granddaughter’s first time. We always come the first full weekend in June.”

The two plan on introducing the next generation of Balczak children to the Festival of the Arts.

Bobbie Aakson, a former Grand Rapidian who now lives in Florida, is visiting Michigan just in time for the festival.

“I always come back this time of the year,” Aakson said.

Aakson says her favorite part of the festival is “everything. The atmosphere, the weather this time of year. I used to take off a day of work, I’d ask for paid vacation just to go to it (the festival). It was about all I did during the summer.”

Grand Rapids Community College was also represented by a former student eager to partake in the day’s activities. Mike Milanowski, 68, of Grand Rapids attended GRCC in the early 1970s and then again in 2005 to participate in the culinary program. His favorite part of the festival, he says, is “just that it exists.”

Milanowski added, “This really says what Grand Rapids is all about. Celebrating the arts, what could be better? And this beautiful weather? And the Calder?”

The festival wraps up on Sun., June 3, but will be broadcasted live on LiveWire and Comcast channel 24. For a full program of the festival’s events, click here.

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