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Meet civic investor Steffanie Rosalez: Investing in the arts

Civic investor Steffanie Rosalez shares how after-school programming in the arts helps shape our community's youth.
Steffanie Rosalez

Steffanie Rosalez /Eric Tank

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“If you don’t want to be a teacher, but you want to work with art and kids, you should look into after-school programming,” says Steffanie Rosalez, Cook Arts Center Program Director.

After hearing this many times from family and friends, Rosalez decided to make the transition from artist to programmer, all with the same mission in mind: to invest in kids in the arts.

“I actually thought I just wanted to be an artist,” says Rosalez. “When I moved to Grand Rapids after college I had paying gigs and was making money as an artist.” Shortly after her move to Grand Rapids, Rosalez felt quite differently about her aspired profession.

“I hated it because it was so lonely,” says Rosalez. “When I was in college I had studio mates and constant critiques of my work so I was never alone. There was a whole social world behind my art-making.” Knowing she didn’t want to teach, Rosalez took some time to discover her niche and go to India.

“There was the art program, Holland Friends of Art, that was going there to work with children,” says Rosalez. “They wanted to bring art to kids who don’t get chances to get creative.” It was there Rosalez discovered her love for children matched her love for art.

“After I returned, I remember talking with friends and them asking me, ‘Why don’t you combine the two and work in after-school programming?’” says Rosalez. “So I did, and I remember this moment of ‘Ah, this is what I like to do.’”

Rosalez then began working part-time for the City of Grand Rapids’ Recreation Reaps Rewards (RRR) Program. After moving up quickly in the ranks, she left RRR to manage after-school programming for the Cook Arts Center.

“At the Cooks Arts Center, I coordinate schedules and organize programs to make things happen for kids,” says Rosalez. “Anything from buying art supplies for the kids to giving them a ride so they can perform at an event. I wear a lot of hats.”

Throughout the course of a year, close to 450 children and families make their way through the Cooks Arts Center, making every day an adventure.

“Another hat I wear is being a principle figure for the kids that come in and out of the center,” says Rosalez. “It’s one of my favorite things to do because I get to meet so many of the kids and their families and work with them. It truly is the reason I get up in the morning.”

The Cooks Arts Center has a partnership with The Rapidian and has created an after-school program called Press Club. This program allows kids to get involved in writing and sharing their voice through The Rapidian while being mentored by the staff at the Cook Arts Center.

“The Rapidian is the only media outlet where we can write about things ourselves,” says Rosalez. “For the Cook Arts Center, that’s a huge opportunity for the families and kids to share what’s going on.” Rosalez believes it is important for mainstream media to exist, but more importantly, for The Rapidian to exist.

“I think it’s important for people to know about the car crashes and unfortunate things brought to us by mainstream media,” says Rosalez. “But is that what we really want to be reading about everyday? Or do we want to know about new local businesses and the news brought to us by nonprofits? The Rapidian just brings the news we actually want to know about to light.”

Rosalez’s investment in The Rapidian is one that goes beyond a dollar amount. Her investment in her community and the children in our community has created The Rapidian to be the diverse, local media we know today.

“I would highly recommend that someone should invest in The Rapidian, if not with time, definitely monetarily,” says Rosalez. “I think a lot of time what happens is people don’t think about the time and investment the staff puts into something like The Rapidian and just look at it as being a website that already exists. There’s so much more involved than that.”

It’s because of Rosalez’s investment in the arts that The Rapidian can continue to, as Rosalez says, “bring the news we actually want to know about.”

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