The Rapidian

Celebrate! Community Day at the Grand Rapids Ballet revitalizes art and culture

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How a celebration of art bridged communities in the Grand Rapids area.
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About the alliance between ACT, GCA, CAC, and GRB

This group joined together to create this day-long, free community event using the arts to raise awareness, collaboration and understanding in two traditionally underserved communities: the Hispanic/ Latino/a community and the Disability community.  The collaboration of each program provides an opportunity for people of all ages and backgrounds to experience dance, music, and visual art in a unique learning environment.

Last month, the Grand Rapids Ballet was filled with a diverse group of artists and a wide variety of art. Celebrate! is a community event hosted annually by Artists Creating Together, Girls Choral Academy, Cook Arts Center (through Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities), and the Grand Rapids Ballet. The event is intended to bring together underserved communities and celebrate their passion and art.  Each community brought excitingly unique passions and perspectives to the event.

“Celebrate was successful before it even started,” shared Glenn Del Vecchio, Executive Director of the Grand Rapids Ballet, after the performances settled down. “The fact that there is a group of individuals who are dedicated to making sure that art and culture can be part of our kids’ lives—kids with disabilities, kids in at-risk neighborhoods, kids of all ages—means that this community is vibrant and strong.

Performances ranged from breakdancing, drumming, collaborative choral performances, hip-hop, folklorico, rock music, pom dance, music trio with guitar, piano, and violin, sewing showcases, and ballet. Even then, these are just performances on the main stage. The communities took their individual passions a step further and collaborated with one another, creating a truly unique and inclusive celebration. Celebrate! also provided craft opportunities, art and performance workshops, a gallery of student artwork, and facepainting.

Steffanie Rosalez of the Cook Arts Center explained why Celebrate! is an important event for their students: “We really love bringing all different groups together so people from the community get to interact and collaborate.”

The Cook Arts Center, which put on performances ranging from breakdancing to Mexican Folkloric dance to a pom dance, focuses on bringing art to youth residents of Grandville Avenue through diverse programs. Their programs aim to celebrate inclusivity and culture in a safe space celebrating passion in art. “Celebrate! is not only an opportunity for art students to perform; it is also an opportunity for them to support art in the community,” Rosalez shared.

The Girls Choral Academy (GCA) strives to give girls a voice and encourage them to gain self-confidence and leadership skills, making Celebrate! the perfect opportunity to empower their role in the community. Katelyn Lyon and Jeanette Doehring noticed the impact this event had on the students. They shared, “It’s always nice for them to get out in the community and see other people performing. It helps broaden their musical experience.”

Artists Creating Together’s ACTion Drummers and ACTion Choir also made appearances, each doing individual performances on stage and collaborative performances with other groups. ACT’s involvement in Celebrate! ensured that people with disabilities were empowered in the community as well, and people with disabilities that intersect with the other two organizations would also be represented and celebrated.

“This event is an incredible event focused on arts and inclusion,” shared Melissa Wassenaar, the program coordinator at ACT who focused on bridging the communities. “We are honored to have our students be performing side by side with other students of different abilities, ages and ethnicity from our community.”

Since the Grand Rapids Ballet is central to the culture of Grand Rapids, it is the perfect venue for bringing several communities together. Glenn Del Vecchio, Executive Director, stressed the importance of having a celebration of arts in the Grand Rapids community. According to Del Vecchio, “It’s important to use the Ballet facility to keep art in the community alive. It is meant to be an art and cultural center for our community.”

Close to 300 people from the Grand Rapids community filled the various areas of the Ballet, showing support for art and the underserved communities Celebrate! represents.  Performers and guests left exhausted from the high level of energy and excitement, and yet all were smiling.

Melissa Wassenaar reflected: “We are so thankful to be partnering with other organizations who are like-minded and encourage growth and community through the arts."

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