3 Ways to Experience Grand Rapids Art: Public Displays, Museums and Garden Parks

August 6, 2019

Set in southwest Michigan, Grand Rapids’ affinity for art creatives and admirers goes back to the 1800s when the city was known as "Furniture City" for its wood furniture production and growing furniture-making industry.

In the 20th century, the city debuted La Grande Vitesse, a sculpture by Alexander Calder, which was the first public project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Today, works of art fill the city, from public spaces to museums. Art from around the world even comes to Grand Rapids every other fall for ArtPrize when works of art are displayed across the city’s downtown for 19 days.

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Those meeting in Grand Rapids can get inspired by the creative energy coursing through the city via the art displays, from events on a rooftop sculpture garden to a walking public art tour.

To paint a picture, we hand-picked three ways for groups to experience some of this Midwestern metro’s most impressive works of art.

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park Unveils New Sculpture Garden and Event Space

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, a 158-acre facility that showcases internationally acclaimed sculptures and themed gardens, debuted the Stuart and Barbara Padnos Rooftop Sculpture Garden in May. This new space is located on top of the recently completed 22,000-square-foot Covenant Learning Center and is part of the Welcoming the World: Honoring a Legacy of Love expansion project.

“The Padnos Rooftop Sculpture Garden is a completely new garden experience. It will have an urban garden look and feel with stunning views of the wetlands,” said David Hooker, president and CEO of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. “They [the Padnos family] have supported a very broad range of cultural projects in west Michigan and beyond, and we are honored to have a signature sculpture garden named in their honor. Stuart Padnos was an accomplished sculptor and we are fortunate to have several pieces of his work in our permanent collection.”

The rooftop garden blends horticultural elements and sculpture, including four long-term loans from the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. Modern and contemporary sculptures from Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Marino Marini and David Smith are on view.

This new rooftop garden has been designed to be a space for events June through September. There is capacity for 100 people for a reception and 60 for a seated banquet. The area is visible from the interior sculpture gallery space and the sculptures displayed will rotate over time depending on the sculpture exhibitions occurring inside. The horticultural elements of the garden have been designed to provide four seasons of interest.

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park has additional indoor and outdoor spaces for events and meetings, including the Grand Room and adjacent Atrium, which features a Dale Chihuly chandelier. The entire grounds and facility can be rented in the evenings for up to 5,000 guests.

The $115 million Welcoming the World: Honoring a Legacy of Love expansion project underway at Meijer Gardens includes upgrades and additions to the campus that will allow the gardens to expand annual horticulture exhibitions, provide more galleries for sculpture exhibitions and art storage facilities, host more events and add educational offerings.

Public Art in Grand Rapids

Created by sculptor Alexander Calder and installed in 1969, La Grande Vitesse has become a symbol of Grand Rapids, according to Experience Grand Rapids, the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau. The 42-ton, 32-foot tall red work of art is commonly known as the Calder and sits in the pedestrian plaza outside City Hall.

The sculpture was designed specifically for this site and its name translates to "the great swiftness," referring to the Grand River that runs through the city.

Groups can view La Grande Vitesse as well as the city’s other public art, including murals, with a walking tour. Experience Grand Rapids can assist with suggested routes. Steps from the Calder is Motu Viget, a work from sculptor Mark di Suvero.

On an exterior wall of the Grand Rapids Children's Museum is Imagine That!, a  mosaic mural by artist Tracy Van Duinen and another large-scale Van Duinen work, Metaphorest, which can be viewed from outside of the Western Michigan Center for Arts and Technology building.

There are a number of sculptures along the banks of the Grand River, including River's Edge Environmental Sculpture by Michael Singer and a Fluoride Sculpture (Grand Rapids was the first city to add fluoride to its water supply) near the 340-room JW Marriott Grand Rapids.

At the south entrance of the multipurpose DeVos Place facility are facade reliefs created by artist Corrado Parducci that were part of a Depression-era public works project. These reliefs were saved when the original Civic Auditorium was converted to the existing performance hall and convention center.

Art Is the Event Backdrop at Grand Rapids Museums 

The Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) downtown features more than 5,000 works of art that includes American and European 19th- and 20th-century paintings and sculptures, as well as more modern works across 20,000 square feet of gallery and exhibit space.

There are several spaces available at the GRAM for private meetings and events of up to 250 guests, including outdoor options. The Wege Pavilion, the museum’s main lobby, features 30-foot ceilings and can be used for receptions or seated banquets. Other indoor venues are the Cook Auditorium and a boardroom with an adjacent lounge.

For outdoor events, groups can rent the Museum Pocket Park that features a water wall as the backdrop, or the Miller Veranda, an elevated space that overlooks a courtyard and city streets below.

Groups can also opt to have galleries remain open after-hours during private events and functions—a nice bonus for art-aficionados who want extra time to admire the art after busy work functions slow.

A few blocks from the GRAM is the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA). This facility showcases visual arts, music, film, literature, dance and performance art through exhibitions, events and community programs. Artwork at the museum includes works from regional, national and international artists.

UICA is also available for hosting private events with indoor and outdoor options. There are several galleries that can be rented on their own or in combination with other spaces. The first-floor gallery, theater and lobby can accommodate 300 people and gives guests the opportunity to view the current exhibit.

The fourth- and fifth-floor galleries and outdoor terrace can be used as separate venues, or together for larger events. This creates a multi-level experience with indoor and outdoor space and a chance for attendees to take in the artwork. The terrace offers views of the city and inside, the galleries boast large, light-filled windows.

Grand Rapids CVB Contact Information:

Experience Grand Rapids
(616) 258-7388; (877) VISIT GR

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About the author
Kate Cripe | Former Content Developer, Departments/Features

Kate Cripe worked with Meetings Today for over eight years as a Sales, Marketing and Content Coordinator. She then moved to the editorial team where she writes and edits feature, destination and news articles.