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Community updates: Friday, Feb. 26

Festival of the Arts hosting ‘Plein Air’ event in June in downtown social zones; city commissioners approve adoption of LED lights for all streetlights; LaughFest announces 2021 festival headliners; and more.
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Squirrel in tree in Grand Rapids.

Squirrel in tree in Grand Rapids. /John Winkelman

Festival of the Arts hosting ‘Plein Air’ event in June in downtown social zones

Festival of the Arts, Grand Rapids’ annual summer celebration of art, music, and culture, will be hosting a modified version of its event this June, event organizers announced last week. It also plans to host more performances in Sept. in a setting more similar to years past.

Called “Plein Air” – French for “outdoors” – the June event will take place within downtown Grand Rapids’ designated social zones as a pandemic-related precaution. Its dates are set for June 4-6, with the first weekend of June traditionally being the weekend set for Festival’s annual celebration.

Last year’s Festival celebration was cancelled for the first time in its over 50-year history in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Many of the traditional Festival activities have been put on hold this year due to the pandemic,” said David Abbott, Festival of the Arts’ Executive Director, in a statement. “We hope that Plein Air will give the community a chance to see musicians playing and artists working to capture the urban landscape – all while maintaining a safe social distance.”

Within the city’s outdoor social zones, people can enjoy takeout meals, as well as alcoholic drinks purchased from nearby restaurants. During Plein Air weekend, festival goers will be able to enjoy the live art-making and musical performances happening within and around them in addition.

Individual musicians will be hired to perform throughout the Plein Air event. Applications for artists, musicians, and the virtual 2021 Regional Arts Exhibition will open in March. This year’s exhibition will be coordinated virtually and available to view on Festival’s website. More than $10,000 will be awarded to artists, selected by its group of local jurors.

Festival’s Calder Plaza performance stage and artisan village – traditional staples for the annual celebration – will return for its second event planned later in the year, from Sept. 17-19. This weekend will also be the opening weekend of ArtPrize’s 2021 return.

The safety of our valued volunteers, artists, performers, contributors, and the gathered audience remains the center of every decision we’ve made regarding Festival of the Arts providing a live, ‘in-person’ event,” Abbott said. “We certainly expect there to still be COVID-19 safety precautions in place this September.”

The arts leadership in Grand Rapids has learned a great deal on how to mitigate risk and still celebrate the awesome arts of the community,” he added.

More details about Festival of the Arts’ 2021 celebrations are available on its website. A list of Grand Rapids social zones are available on Experience Grand Rapids’ own.


City commissioners approve adoption of LED lights for all streetlights

Grand Rapids city commissioners approved on Tuesday for all of the city’s streetlights to be converted to LED lights, the City of Grand Rapids announced.

The city commission’s approval awards a $6.2 million contract to company Strain Electric to replace 16,000 streetlights in the city with the LED lights. The city has 18,000 total streetlights, with 2,000 already replaced with LEDs during previous piloting projects.

City officials cited the economic, safety, and environmental benefits for the adoption in a Wednesday statement. Its contract with Strain Electric stipulates a total amount not to exceed $9.46 million when automated system controls are added.

After all remaining streetlights are converted to LED lights, the city expects to save around $350,000 per year. Based on its contract, it will take around 18-27 to see a full return on investment.

Our primary goal in arriving at this decision was the safety of our residents and neighborhoods, which is a critical objective in the City’s strategic plan,” said James Hurt, Managing Director of Public Services. “We know that most accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists happen at night, and many of those are the result of poor visibility.”

Additionally, better lighting will make residents feel safer in their own neighborhoods,” he added. “Cities like Detroit have seen great results when they transitioned to this LED temperature for their street lighting.”

In transitioning to all LED streetlights in Grand Rapids, the city joins 314 of the country’s largest cities who have adopted the same temperature color of LED lighting for all of their street lighting, according to the city’s Utility Systems Manager, Bruce Sweeris.

The LED project is expected by city officials to last around two years. Residents may begin seeing the changes in their neighborhoods starting this summer.

More details about the city’s LED project is available on its website.


LaughFest announces 2021 festival headliners

Gilda’s LaughFest on Thursday announced the headlining acts for its virtual festival happening in March.

This year’s festival will feature 30 events, with headliners including comedians Ron Funches, Michelle Wolf, Justin Willman, and Tom Papa. Rounding out the headling acts will be The Comedy Project’s “3 Mics & a Movie!” and live stage play “Bad Bunny: Gilda Radner.”

LaughFest 2021 runs from March 11-14, and marks the festival’s 11th year. All proceeds will again benefit the cancer, grief, and support programs offered through Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids.

All virtual shows other than the headliners are free, with access to the headlining shows only being available through an all-access Premium Pass for $40. All shows will be live-streaming through Zoom or Remo.

LaughFest will also be hosting a virtual Kids Joke Time virtual showcase on the festival’s last day. Parents with children ages 1-12 who are interested in participating may submit their child’s clip through LaughFest’s website. Submissions will be accepted through March 4 at 5pm.

More details about LaughFest 2021, as well as its Kids Joke Time showcase, are available on its website.


Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s scholarship applications for 2021-22 academic year due March 1

The Grand Rapids Community Foundation (GRCF) is still accepting applications for over 500 need-based scholarships for the 2021-22 academic year – open until its March 1 deadline.

The scholarships are available for Kent County students pursuing college or trade school, with more than $1 million to be awarded. Funding comes through the GRCF and its donor partners.

Financial need for the scholarships is being determined through students completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form before applying.

Students applying for the GRCF’s funds through its General Application are automatically considered for the more than 80 scholarships funds encompassing the various scholarships. Most awards range from $1,000-$5,000.

This year in particular, students are facing the unique challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the GRCF acknowledged in a post on its website.

The GRCF cites a December 2020 report by the National Student Clearinghouse that found a 21.7 percent decline in year-of high school graduates enrolling in college in 2020, compared to the year prior. The decline of enrollees overall, and not just year-of high school graduates, was 3.6 percent.

“Despite these challenges, the Community Foundation remains diligent in its efforts to support students as they pursue their career and education dreams,” its post continues.

Information about the GRCF’s applications process is available on the Apply for Scholarships page on its website.


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