The largest annual event in Grand Rapids is ArtPrize, a three-week-long public art competition that takes over the whole city. It has had a meteoric rise since it started in 2009 and was the most attended public art event in the world in 2014 and 2015. Its premise is simple: artists from all over the world show up, create new artworks in any medium and display them around the city, with over $500,000 in prizes given out by both public votes and expert judges. For an idea of the scale, in 2017, 1,346 works created by 1,512 artists from 42 states and 47 countries were exhibited in 175 venues.
Winter Beer Festival
Unsurprisingly, Beer City has some great beer festivals, and the Winter Beer Festival is perhaps the best. Held for the 13th time in March 2018 by the Michigan Brewers Guild, it featured more than 140 Michigan breweries and brewpubs, with over 1,000 different craft beers to sample. A day ticket is usually around $50 and comes with 15 tasting tokens. There are food trucks and live entertainment as well.
Festival of the Arts
One of the largest all-volunteer arts festivals in the U.S., Festival of the Arts has taken place annually since the installation of Alexander Calder’s iconic red sculpture La Grande Vitesse in Calder Plaza in 1969. The free, three-day community event includes a variety of performances, a juried art exhibition, opportunities for children and adults to get involved with art, and dozens of food booths to enjoy. All proceeds are reinvested in the West Michigan community.
What better way to spend a beautiful summer weekend than with some free live jazz? The seventh annual festival GRandJazzFest will take place in August 2018, with 10 acts playing across two days in Rosa Parks Circle in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids. Performers include nationally acclaimed acts and local favorites, and previous festivals have attracted over 10,000 people. Bring your picnic blankets, chairs, and snacks, and settle in for a chilled time.
Organized by the nonprofit cancer support organization Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids, LaughFest was launched in 2011 to celebrate “laughter for the health of it.” The 10-day festival features stand-up, improv, showcases and more at venues across the city and West Michigan. Previous performers have included Amy Schumer, Maria Bamford, and Kevin Hart. All proceeds support the organization’s free support programs.
For one day a year, Beer City’s most famous brewery takes over the streets around its Grandville Ave location with live music, local food trucks, and, of course, beer. Founders Fest 2018 will take place in June and feature six acts, including a musical collaboration of employees from Founders. Tickets are $40, and that includes two drinks. Keep an eye out for rare finds in the specialty beer tent.
GRAM on the Green
GRAM on the Green is an annual summer concert series hosted by the Grand Rapids Art Museum. For six weeks through July and August, free live music performances of all genres occur every Thursday evening, with dancing, food trucks, and a cash bar. The museum is also free on Thursday evenings, so don’t miss the chance for a look around before the show.