Stellafly’s Top Twelve of Twenty-Twelve



2012 was a year of huge growth for Stellafly. Right out of the gate, we started the year with receiving media clearance to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show — a lifelong dream for me. As we packed up our bags and headed for the big city, I remember what an old dog friend had to say about winning ribbons at that show. She said, “If you can win there, you can win anywhere.” When I walk along the streets when I’m there, I still believe this is true of anything that you put your mind to while you’re in NYC.

In August, I returned to spend time with street photographer JD Urban who ended up becoming a wonderful friend and will be mentioned later in this post.

In 2012, we added photographer Ian Anderson from the Lansing area. We found Ian working as an assistant to local photographer Terry Johnston. Ian is also a full time student at Kendall College working toward an illustration major. I was thrilled to find that he’s  nothing short of amazing with his camera work as well. He also doesn’t seem to mind doing the late or inclement weather events which makes the other guys happy. In the Spring, Summer and Fall months, you’ll see him trekking around on his bike and hanging out in coffee shops. We love having him around and hope to support him all the way to his next stage, which appears to be graduation and then eventually Los Angeles.

Raeanna Anglen came to us through a recommendation from a long time friend, Daniel Estrada, who organized a meeting to tell us about a really cool band that had moved to Grand Rapids from Tennessee. We met for the first time in Olive’s in East Grand Rapids. Raeanna’s brother, Riley, his bandmate, Travis Bailey, is married to Daniel’s adorable sister, Frances. We learned that Riley had already landed a job at Founder’s. Raeanna was working at Best Buy and showed enormous potential as a photographer. I asked to see her work. The portfolio was strong and we added her to our creative team. It’s so refreshing to have a photographer that is seeing and experiencing Grand Rapids for the first time. As you see more of her work in 2013, keep that in mind. Her perspective is lovely.

We also had the privilege of working with photographers Robert Bowden from the Detroit area, local photographer T.J. Hamilton and Dave Johnson from the lakeshore.

When the Grand Rapids Press began laying off their creatives last winter, I sincerely felt sorry for those that had dedicated so much of their life work to the publication. As we all know, things change and businesses have to make tough decisions sometimes. We want to send out a sincere thanks to the GR Press for releasing this huge influx of talent into the creative gene pool. This year, we worked with and featured stories by talented writers such as Terri Finch Hamilton, Cami Reister, Heidi Stukkie and Brian VanOchten. We also picked up Alexandra Fluegal, Laura Bergells and Danielle DeWitt. Be sure to look for more from them in 2013!

Oh, and GF is still hanging around too. Every once in a blue moon, he sends me an obscure email that makes me laugh. He always has a profile he’s working on for us, one with an unknown deadline that will likely need to be updated before publishing. He and his lovely wife, Vicky, became grandparents for the first time this year. I know that these two are enjoying retirement more than most do.

Sadly, we also said farewell to some of our talent as well. Michael Cook, Katy Batdorff and Charlie Hoffman headed off in different directions to pursue their dreams. We gave them hugs, kissed their cheeks and wished them well as they ventured out into the big world.


New this year…

Back in the old GRSD days… wait… who? Anyway, our focus was primarily on covering local events in and around the Grand Rapids area. In 2012, we continued to promote and cover the interesting events in our area but also ventured outside our comfort zone and explored Detroit and New York City. We shifted some of our focus to helping businesses develop an online presence on their social media networks. We became their brand managers — administrators of their facebook pages and twitter accounts. We got to know their audience. We introduced their audience our other clients’ audiences. Throughout the entire year, we picked up a handful of fantastic clients and campaigns that we now consider family. It’s been an exciting year for growth for each of them and we’re looking forward to working with all of them again in 2013.

That said, we’d like to publicly thank these organizations for believing in our team:  Grand Rapids Public Schools, Grand Rapids Gallery Association, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Ramona’s Table, Ionia Free Fair, Brush Studio, Rock the Rapids, Broadway Grand Rapids, ArtPrize, City Lights Music Festival, Spoonlickers,TEDx Grand Rapids, Kantorwassink, Fashion Has Heart, A.K. Rikk’s, D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s, West Michigan Woman, GRadPics, Seyferth PR, Everyday People Project, UICA, Forest Hills Fine Arts Center, Hospice of Michigan, Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids Jazz Festival … Hoping we get them all.


Grand Rapids Community Foundation






We’re also continually encouraged & inspired by people who do great work. We’re honored to know: Roberta King, Diana Sieger, Jonathan Jelks, John Helmholdt, Johannah Jelks, Noddea Skidmore, Kaite Lyn Christoffersen, Shannon Williams, Jenny Disko, Todd Ernst, Ian Barrie, JD Urban, Jason Lawrence, Laura Bergells, Shelley Irwin, Jackie Siranni, Donna Bova, Mark Curtis, Diana Sikes, Tom Dowdall, Mark Curtis, Marcel Thibert, Audrey Sundstrom, Molly Klimas, Jim Murray, Patrick Plank, Nicole Cook, Maria Falice, Wendy Wassink, Scott Alfree, Teddy Drake, Heather Hinman, Calvin Webb, Jolon Hull, John VanderHaagen and so so many more that have helped us along the way. 











As we move toward our Top Twelve of Twenty-Twelve, we must take note that for obvious reasons every event that we attended could not make the short list nor can the fantastic events we attended but were unable to photograph. Instead of listing our Top Twelve  in order, we’ve put them into categories. Each of us submitted our favorite events with a brief explanation as to why it moved us.

Note: Add these to your ‘MUST ATTEND’ in 2013 calendars: Grand Rapids Antiques MarketButterflies Blooming at Frederik Meijer Gardens, 2013 Special Olympics Polar Plunge, Irish on IoniaTEDx Grand Rapids, Festival of the ArtsArts in Ada, Green Gala: Come Out and PlayFestival of the ArtsThe GRPS Turkey TrotGazelle Girl Half MarathonFashion’s Night Out 2013St. Mary’s Foundation’s Up on the RoofThe Sixth Annual Legacy Ball, and Literacy Center of West Michigan’s BeeDazzling Spellebration.

Without further ado, it’s time to reveal Stellafly’s Top Twelve events of Twenty-Twelve.

Best Concerts of 2012
Submitted by Tim Motley 

Screen Shot 2012-12-27 at 4.35.55 PM

When we heard that Jane’s Addition was coming to Grand Rapids, we didn’t hesitate to buy our tickets and begin our attempt to secure a photo pass. An exciting and edgy show coming to Grand Rapids is always welcome — particularly for people like Tim and me.

DeVos Performance Hall was the perfect venue for these guys — an intimate setting where any seat really is a great seat. At showtime, the lights dimmed and recognizable Pink Floyd tunes played in the darkness.

We cover a lot of music but this show stood out for me from all the rest. Maybe it’s because I’m in my 40s and it was a fun trip back in time with great memories of parties and youth. Maybe it’s because at the end of the show, each of the band members walked along the edge of the stage, touching the hands of the fans. I am not one to get starstruck but when Dave Navarro came by and held onto my outreached hands for several seemingly long seconds, I will never forget that show. Ever.

After Tim shot the first three songs, the awesome DeVos Stage Security let Tim stay (we had a ticket for him) and we got to watch the entire show together. My husband had snagged Dress Circle seats not knowing that we were in the first row. Right next to the photographer.

In my opinion, Jane’s Addiction has truly only gotten better with time and definitely naughtier. That and the fact that I truly appreciate them as artists so much more now. Surely because I’m old. Great time. Makes the list!

Many thanks to Bari Lieberman for securing Tim a great spot to shoot. Right next to our seats.





St. Cecilia Music Center held its Annual Great Artist Gala on November 1st. The Pizzarelli family was there with John Pizzarelli, the world-renowned jazz guitarist and singer. Pizzarelli has cultivated a winning international career by singing classic standards and late-night ballads, and by playing sublime and inventive guitar. Using greats like Nat “King” Cole and Frank Sinatra and the songs of writers like Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen as touchstones, Pizzarelli is among the prime revivalists of the great American songbook, bringing to his work the cool jazz flavor of his brilliant guitar playing.

He came to Grand Rapids as part of the St. Cecilia Music Center’s Music Series NYC2GR.




Best Gallery Show of 2012
Submitted by Terry Johnston 

Screen Shot 2012-12-27 at 5.44.27 PM

New York City street photographer JD Urban captures the essence of the people he passes on the street every day – from the grandmother carrying her groceries, to the homeless drug addict shooting up on a park bench, to the street artist installing his latest creation in a lonely alley. Both gritty and beautiful, Urban’s work showcases all sides of the human experience, revealing the complexity of emotion that exists in each of us and drawing the viewer into his unique view of his surroundings while providing them with a deeper understanding of themselves.

Last September, Urban’s visit to Grand Rapids began with the debut of a short film from his groundbreaking and moving interview series, The Everyday People Project, at The Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts (UICA) on September 5th. The Project started as a way to help him understand himself through the stories of others and has become the new “reality” television, providing glimpses of hope through struggle, and victory after hardship, via moving and inspiring glimpses into the lives of its cast of “characters.”

The show was preceded by a performance from Grand Rapids’ own Casey Stratton, renowned singer/songwriter, whose powerful, angelic voice and insightful lyrics mirror Urban’s vision and are featured regularly on The Everyday People Project.

The next day, Urban’s photographic work debuted at The Richard App Gallery as part of Grand Rapids’ Fashion Night Out festivities. Showing with Urban was one of our own, photographer Terry Johnston, a practicing commercial photographer from Grand Rapids, whose work has been displayed across the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe and Japan. Johnston displayed his latest photos, including pieces that document the work of underground street artist eufoe.








Best Sporting Event of 2012
Submitted by Terry Johnston

“If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.” — Nora Roberts

On January 1st, 2012 I asked. I had done my research and couldn’t believe that I was going to be emailing David Frei a personal email. I admit I was a bit nervous, more star struck than anything else. David is the Director of Communciations and the television commentary for Westminster Kennel Club. He was my ticket in.

Hi David,

Happy New Year!

I am writing today from Grand Rapids, Michigan to see what the possibility might be of getting a photo pass.

We are an online magazine based out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. I have been in dogs for a long time. In fact, I had a Bernese Mountain Dog win Best of Breed in 2005. I hung up showing to pursue my interests in social media and marketing, started the magazine. Now we are branching out of Grand Rapids to other cities. New York is on our list for February.

We are mostly interested in shooting during the day, possibly at night. I have one professional photographer that will be traveling with me. We will also be trying to shoot some fashion while we are in the city.

This has been a life long dream of mine (to cover this properly.) I’m good friends with Clint Livingston, Jay Richardson and many other long time dog people. It would be fun to get some great pictures.

We will NOT be there shooting dogs for sale. This would be used ONLY for our facebook and website.

I really enjoy following you on facebook as well. We’re friends! :)

Let me know what you think. I’d also love to get some portraits of you (and a brief interview) if that might be possible.


His response: 

Hi Laura: Please complete and return the credential application form in the Media Center on our home page and we will get you a photo pass. We are very limited in our media capacity for a number of reasons – great media interest is a pleasant problem to have – but I am happy to find room for you. Thanks for your interest in Westminster, we look forward to having you with us.

— David

Upon our acceptance, Terry and I traveled to NYC and I experienced Westminster in a way I had never before. I’ve been to this dog show as an exhibitor, an assistant to a handler and a spectator. To experience it as media was by far my favorite. We interviewed David Frei. We hung out in the media center when they broke the news of big changes that would happen in 2013. We hung out with the USA Network cameramen and the major news stations. We were on the floor fighting for the perfect shot. We uploaded live pictures from the floor during the group competitions and our followers loved it.

We didn’t eat. We slept very little and worked our butts off. It was an exhilarating experience that we are looking forward to doing again in 2013!

This year’s Westminster Kennel Club 135th Annual Dog Show will be held on  on Monday and Tuesday, February 11-12, 2013 at Madison Square Garden. Be sure to check them out on FACEBOOK.















427248_389524907731438_1899577309_n horizbar1

Best Downtown Outdoor Festival of 2012
Submitted by Ian Anderson

Screen Shot 2012-12-28 at 11.44.22 AM

This year, City Lights Music Festival  expanded to a two-day event featuring more than 50 artists. A cross-section of West Michigan’s most popular DJs played in underground parking garages and open spaces surrounding the Calder Plaza. This year’s festival also brought in regional, national and international performers. Friday was headlined by Finnish trance producer Darude, and Florida-based progressive house/trance artist DJ Icey played on Saturday.

The event originated in 2009 as GREMN (Grand Rapids Electronic Music Night) a free event held downtown at Rosa Parks Circle organized by Grand Rapids creative Rob Bliss of Rob Bliss Creative. Due to its popularity, it relocated to Calder Plaza in 2010, and organizers brought in higher-end talent. In 2011, Shannon Williams, Bangin’ Promotions, got involved and the single-day festival renamed itself City Lights Music Festival. It also offered free admission in addition to paid tickets for VIP seating. The event drew between 8,000 and 12,000 people downtown.

In 2012, Williams went solo and brought a larger slate of artists and did away with free admission. The VIP seating area was designated for patrons 21 and older, and was the only place where attendees could have cocktails, prime-view seating and opportunities to meet the artists and private bathrooms.

This summer, due to an overwhelming number of requests, City Lights Music Festival will now be on July 19th and 20th and we will be there with furry boots on!











Best Downtown Race of 2012
Submitted by Ian Anderson

Screen Shot 2012-12-28 at 11.45.25 AM

The Color Run, otherwise known as the Happiest 5K on the planet, was called by local pro photographers, the most beautiful event to shoot. 

August 5th was an absolutely perfect summer morning. After weeks of supressing heat, we found a break and woke up to ideal racing conditions.

There were people of all ages in white shirts, sweatbands around their heads, and brightly colored wristbands on their arms. Some had tutus, many were wearing neon knee socks, and several were wearing protective eyewear. This was the scene of the inaugural Color Run Grand Rapids. There were over 10,000 excited runners, walkers, and riders (including little ones in strollers covered with plastic) who were very excited at the prospect of completing what is known as “The Happiest 5K on the Planet.”

The Color Run is focused much less on speed and much more on just having a good time, therefore it is not timed. Along the route, there are four color stations—yellow, orange, pink, and blue—that spray runners with powder as they pass through. It’s seems like a reverse laundry detergent ad where in the beginning everyone is dressed in clean white shirts, and as they cross the finish line they are covered in colored dust. Each participant is given a packet of color to use as they cross the finish line and at the end it’s a no-holds-barred color fest.

Before the run, however, there was a flurry of activity on Calder Plaza as those who were participating spent time getting psyched up and ready for the most fun they will ever have in a 5K. There was plenty of music and Color Run staff even led group warm-up exercises in front of the main stage. The Color Run Store was open for business, selling everything from tattoos to hoodies. Promptly at 8:30, the first wave of 1,000 started off and with each group, the excitement seemed to build. Soon you could see clouds of color throughout the race route.

Each Color Run event connects with a local nonprofit, who receives a portion of the registration costs from each participant. The Grand Rapids event partnered with theWest Michigan Sports Commission and the Van Andel Institute’s Purple Community. Because of the Van Andel Institute’s involvement in Sunday’s event, they added a special purple section to the race.

After crossing the finish line, the thousands of Color Runners (as they will now be able to call themselves) gathered at Calder Plaza and enjoyed a fantastic dance party and celebration. All of the fun clothes and accessories aside, it was clear that the most beloved souvenir of the day was the dusting of color. Stained clothing, skin, and colored hair seemed to be a badge of honor for everyone who took part.

The Color Run will return to Grand Rapids on August 3rd, 2013. Be sure to LIKE them on Facebook!















Most Beautiful Event of 2012
Submitted by Raeanna Anglen 


Lights in the Night – ArtPrize 

If you were anywhere near downtown Grand Rapids on Friday night, chances are you looked up in the sky and saw thousands of twinkling lights. This was the all part of Lights in the Night—a truly unique ArtPrize exhibit. Mark Carpenter and Dan Johnson brought their idea to the community—and the community responded in a huge way.

This was the second attempt for the event, as it was rained out the first time. But on Friday night, Mother Nature cooperated and thousands of people came out to light a lantern and be part of history. The lines seemed endless and lanterns were being handed out fast and furiously by dozens of volunteers. Everyone was so excited—while the big launch was set for 8:00, the lanterns were starting to appear in the sky before then.

As the official launch time neared, the excitement level got higher and higher. At 8:00, the first horn sounded, signifying the time to light the lanterns and shortly after that another blast from the horn came, telling the crowd it was time to launch. The sky was filled with beautiful lights and they were reflected on the many downtown buildings including the JW Marriott and Amway Grand Plaza hotels. There were plenty of “ooohs” and “aaahs” throughout the crowd and many were capturing the moment with their cameras and cell phones.

Hope really did take flight in downtown Grand Rapids that night in our city, and it was truly a night to remember.











Most Fun Event of 2012
Submitted by Richard App

Screen Shot 2012-12-28 at 11.45.35 AM

The Reptile House – Revisited (Story: Diana Lamphiere)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” –Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

It started with a Facebook invite. A little red notification icon as I logged in. I clicked on it, and had a cartoonish jaw-drop of a moment. It was finally happening. Someone was finally doing it. The Reptile House was coming back, if just for one night.

I reached out to Mark Sellers, the owner of Stella’s Lounge, where the event would be held: “Just wanted to touch base with you about the Reptile Revisited event at Stella’s coming up. I was a dancer there in the early/mid 90s. Let me know if you need any help.” The response was almost immediate, asking me to dance for the event. And just like that, the past was back. I would be the girl in a cage again, at least for one evening.

I met with Mark and his right hand man Garry Boyd (himself a Reptile alum) to check out the cage, get a feel for the space, and get a clear picture of what they wanted, which was authenticity. Five other original Reptile House cage dancers signed on. And thus began endless messaging between the dancers about old times, what to wear, and who we might see.

I combed through my music collection to make a Reptile House playlist, messaging often with DJ Colin Clive (formerly of Reptile A-Go-Go, currently of Control at Rocky’s), who would naturally be in charge of the music for the event, and DJ Tim Pratt, who was flying to GR from San Francisco to spin. I remembered the good times and bad at The Reptile House, and reflected again on what I already knew:Reptile was a pivotal moment in my life, a place and time I could point back at and say, “There. Then. That’s where and when I started to truly become who I was going to be.”

It felt like a nostalgia bomb had gone off in the Grand Rapids area. Everyone from back in the day was buzzing about the event, talking about the old days, and going through their archives. I dug through my trunk of memories and found photos, flyers, and a copy of our old dancers rules (example: “You must dance your whole set, even if you do not dig the music. You may get another dancer to sub for you if the tunes truly make you want to die.”). I went through all of my black clothes for fishnet, lace, PVC and leather.

On the whole, though, the vibe was one of joy. People who hadn’t seen each other in years were catching up. People who do still see each other often, but who met in the Reptile days were feeling sentimental. Some people looked so different as to be unrecognizable and some looked exactly the same, some people joked about how late they were out (hardcore partiers from days of yore who rarely made it out past 11 these days), but they were all there and on the nostalgia trip with the rest of us.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Reptile House Revisited was all about the best of times. We rediscovered our people. Turns out you can go home again.













Most Intriguing Evenings of 2012
Submitted by Danielle DeWitt

Screen Shot 2012-12-28 at 11.45.53 AM

Couture for a Cure: Through a Creative’s Eyes (story: Danielle DeWitt)

In October, fashion took center stage on the Medical Mile, as over 400 people arrived at the Van Andel Institute for the seventh annual Couture for a Cure. The first floor of this world-class research facility was transformed into a scene from New York Fashion Week for this event, which raised thousands of dollars to support the life-changing scientific research that takes place in the floors above. After a reception that included a wide variety of hors d’ouevres and cocktails, the crowd moved to the seats along the runway for a fashion show put on by Leigh’s at Breton Village mall, and which featured the spring 2013 line by Daniel Vosovic, the NYC designer who was born and raised right here in West Michigan.

But this event did not just happen overnight. It was a year in the making. Planning began just days after the 2011 event, and a key player in the execution of the annual event since its inception in 2006 has been Patrick PlankCreative Director and Director of Visual Merchandising for Leigh’s. His position covers a wide scope of work, from creating window displays for the store to spending time inNew York City on buying trips for clients. He was the perfect person to talk to inWest Michigan about orchestrating a large fashion show, and I was grateful to have the opportunity to spend some time watching him in action and hearing about how he got to where he is today.

I arrived at Leigh’s on the eve of Couture for a Cure, and walked back to see Patrick, who was wrapping up a day of model fittings. He told me there would be 16 models, each showing four different looks—Bond Bombshells, a tribute to the 50th anniversary of James BondColorful Characters, because “color is big this year” according to PlankRock-Her, some rock-and-roll styles; and After Hours Diva, which would showcase this season’s evening wear looks. I watched as he put together just the right looks for each model and made sure that each look was complimented by the right shoes, bag, and accessories. There was energy in the fitting area that could not be missed, and Plank never slowed down. As I spoke with him I could see the wheels turning in his head, thinking about what else he could do to make the event even more special.

Born and raised in Grand RapidsPatrick Plank once had aspirations of becoming an elementary school teacher. While in high school, he had his first experiences in retail at North Kent Mall, which gave him the experience he needed to get a job atJacobson’s in 1992, while taking classes at Grand Rapids Community Collegeand Kendall College of Art and Design. For three years he worked in sales, starting in the boys clothing department, then men’s clothing, and then the women’s shoe department. It was around that time he began to use his art background and helped to create displays in the store, eventually earning him the title of Visual Merchandise Manager, a position he held until Jacobson’s closed its doors.

After Jacobson’s closed, Plank took initiative and the experience he had acquired and started his own company, P2 Merchandise Presentations. His clients included Leigh’s and Fitzgerald’s Men’s Store in Breton Village Mall, as well asWoodland Mall and Wolverine Worldwide. In 2005, Larry Leigh asked Patrick to come on board full-time. Seven years later, he still loves his work as much as he did when he began, and is very excited about the increased interest in fashion inWest MichiganCouture for a Cure began as a small fashion show in Leigh’s and last night filled the Van Andel Institute venue to its capacity. Plank said he sees that this area has, “an increased awareness of fashion” and that people are “treating the event like a fashion event and truly dressing for the event.”

Couture for a Cure has become just that—a fashion event. And much of that has to do with the vision of Patrick Plank. From creating a longer runway and having more models on that runway than ever before, to creating a truly theatrical experience with amazing lighting, music, and even props for the Bond Bombshell segment, the entire show was a work of art.

Thursday night, I arrived and was able to see in real-life what I had heard about the night before. But in real-life, it was so much better. I watched Patrick in action throughout the evening, before the show began, making sure that everything surrounding the show was picture perfect—looking through each look on the racks backstage, making sure the lighting was just right, and checking in on all of the models in hair and makeup. He not only selects the clothing, he manages the staff, works with the production company, and finalizes the music for the show. With all of these responsibilities, I was amazed at how calm and collected he seemed…ready for anything.

Watching a fashion show from alongside the runway is a completely different experience than what is seen backstage. Thursday night’s show required each girl to have four or five looks, depending on whether they were part of the Daniel Vosovic show. They had all of about 2 minutes in between each look to change into their next outfit, line up, and have Patrick take one last careful look at them before they start to walk the runway again. Last minute adjustments are made, such as adding a brooch, clipping a piece of clothing with a binder clip to make it tighter, or helping a model get into her impossibly high heels and ready to walk the runway.

As the last girl came off the stage after the finale, I saw Patrick have a deep sigh of relief and a smile on his face, as I’m sure he knew that once again, he had just created something incredible. The applause and cheers from the audience was proof of that. He had created just the experience that he wanted it to be for everyone there.

When I asked Patrick what he would be doing after the night was over, he said he would relax, take some time for himself, and then begin preparing for the 2013 Couture for a Cure. 


















ArtPrize IV (story: Danielle DeWitt)

For the fourth year in a row, our city has become an art gallery.

For the fourth year in a row, hundreds of artists have come to Grand Rapids and put their work on display to be the topic of conversation for two and a half weeks.

And for the fourth year in a row, hundreds gathered for the ArtPrize Awards Event that took place on Friday night on the loading dock of the former Grand Rapids Press building, which had been transformed into a fantastic nightclub by Noddea Skidmore and her team. The event was graciously sponsored  by Stella Artoisand Haworth. Volunteers served up cocktails and checked out the venue. Our favorite hometown food trucks, What the Truck and The Silver Spork dished up delicious small plates while friends celebrated the culmination of  17 fantastic days in our community.

While this may have seemed like a peculiar place to many, ArtPrize Marketing Director Todd Herring said it best when he commented, “the history of this building and the future of ArtPrize are all part of one red line. One story. About a community open to change.”

Herring played the role of Master of Ceremonies on Friday night. He was joined on stage throughout the evening by the Grand Rapids Ballet Company, performing David Parson’s The Envelope, which was the perfect choice as the audience waited to find out what was in “the envelope.” The winner of ArtPrize IV. The ballet entertained the audience with moments of laughter amidst the moments of anticipation.

The first awards to be given out were the juried awards. There were five this year, each with their own sponsor and expert juror.

Time/Performance Based Art, sponsored by ITC Holdings: Three Phases by Complex Movements, selected by Juror Cathy Edwards.

Urban Space Award, sponsored by Spectrum Health: Flight by Dale Rogers, selected by Juror Susan Szenasy

Three Dimensional Work, sponsored by Haworth: More or Less by ABCD 83, selected by Juror Lisa Freiman

Two-Dimensional Work, sponsored by Varnum: Habitat by Alois Kronschlaeger, selected by Juror Tyler Green

Outstanding Venue Award, sponsored by Grand Valley State University: Site Lab, selected by Juror Tom Eccles

Next up was Darren Kuipers, Interim Executive Director of ArtPrize, who took a moment to thank the artists, venues, sponsors, volunteers, and staff who all worked tirelessly these past few weeks (well, the ArtPrize crew works all year) to make this event possible. (If you are out during ArtPrize these last couple of days, and you see someone with a volunteer shirt or a staff badge, make sure you tell them how much you appreciate all of their efforts to make this event happen for our city. Without them, this would not be possible!)

Then, the man of the hour, Rick DeVos, appeared on stage. He elaborated on Herring’s remarks about our community being “open to change.” He said, “Grand Rapids is emerging as a remarkable place where wild ideas can find an audience.” This year, that audience was made up of an estimated 400,000 people of all ages and backgrounds.

DeVos spoke about the importance of trying new things in order to, “make better things and make things better.” One of the new things ArtPrize tried this year was the Juried Grand Prize. To present that award, David Rosen, President of Kendall College of Art and Design at Ferris State University, joined DeVos on the stage.

Rosen told the audience that he came from Los Angeles to Grand Rapids, “not just for a job, but for life in a community filled with the traditions of art and design. A community driven by the engine of creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.” He spoke of the courage that ArtPrize celebrates—as well as the “capacity and accomplishments of those who create.”

He also made an announcement of their newly formed five-year partnership withArtPrizeKendall College has signed a commitment to be an Exhibition Center and Premier Leadership Sponsor and pledged to fund the $100,000 Juried Grand Prize Award for the next five years. He then announced this year’s Juried Grand PrizeDisplacement, by Design 99.

Rick DeVos then announced another partnership, this one with Meijer Corporation, who has pledged $650,000 over the next five years to support thepublic vote. It is wonderful to see the community coming together to sustain ArtPrize, and maintain the momentum for the foreseeable future.

Finally, the moment we had all been waiting for. Third Place in the ArtPrize IV public vote was given to Frits Hoendervanger, for his piece, Rebirth of Spring. Second Place went to Martijn van Wagtendonk for Song of Lift. And the winner of ArtPrize IV was … Adonna Khare and her piece, Elephants. Khare was rendered speechless but for two words: Thank You. Her reaction was priceless.

After the awards, guests enjoyed a beautiful celebratory after party.

There you have it. ArtPrize IV is a wrap. As Rick DeVos said Friday night, “this does not happen anywhere else in the world and it’s really cool.”

Yes, Rick. And the city is truly grateful to you for your leadership and for sustaining the growth of ArtPrize over the last four years. Our team at Stellafly Social Mediaare honored to have been a part of this fourth year of ArtPrize.

Looking forward to ArtPrize V!
















Most Memorable Event
Submitted by: Laura Caprara 

2012 ATHENA Nominee Reception
Lambert, Edwards & Associates

Authentic Self. Celebration & Joy. Collaboration. Courageous Acts. Fierce Advocacy. Giving Back. Learning. Relationships.

These are the eight tenets of the ATHENA Award, presented by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce (GRACC). This was the 23rd year this award has been given out, and each of the nominees in both the ATHENA and ATHENA Young Professional categories exemplify each of those eight principles.

On September 6th, 2011, the nominees were honored at a reception held on the rooftop of Lambert, Edwards & Associates in downtown Grand Rapids. Each individual was introduced to the group following remarks from Rick BakerPresident and CEO of the GRACC, and Heather Gluszewski of Huntington Bank. It was an opportunity for each of them to come together and congratulate one another before the annual ATHENA Award Luncheon that which was held on Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at the JW Marriott.

The ATHENA Award recipient this year went to Carol Valade of Gemini Publications. She was joined by eight other nominees, including:

Nancy BoeseMichigan Small Business & Technology Development Center

Laura CapraraStellafly Social Media

Gayle DavisGrand Valley State University

Meg Goebel, Paul Goebel Group

Laura KnappGrand Rapids Fire Department

Deidra McClellandDegage Ministries

Denise SherwoodGoodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids

Ten young professionals were also selected as finalists for the ATHENA Young Professional Award. The winner,  Milinda Ysasi Castanon, was announced at the September 18 luncheon, and these ten women are:

Ellie AndrusMake-a-Wish Michigan

Sara Binkley-TowMomsBloom Inc.

Bridget Clark WhitneyKids’ Food Basket

Amy Marshall, Management Business Solutions

Jennifer PascuaWZZM 13

Kristen RevereRevere Consulting LLC

Kasie SmithSerendipity Media LLC

Adrienne Wallace834 Design & Marketing

Lynee WellsWilliams and Works

Milinda Ysasi CastanonHerman Miller

I was and continue to be honored and humbled by the nomination. More importantly, I have worked with the ATHENA program since the nomination and love the work that they do and their recognition of women in the workplace.

Congratulations to each of these women who are making a difference in their professions and throughout the community.








Most Rewarding Event of 2012 — GRand Jazz Fest
Submitted by Laura Caprara

The best part of my role with Stellafly is meeting new people with big dreams. Dreams that are spilled out over coffee or beers. They tell me things that they want to make happen. They tell me because they believe that we can help them get there.

Picking the GRand Jazz Fest 2012  as one of my two picks of 2012 was easy. I watched (and helped) a dream come true.

Last winter, I met with Audrey Sundstrom and her friend and PR Maven, Molly Klimas. Audrey wanted to have a Jazz Festival downtown. She wanted it to be free to the community. She wanted it to be successful.

On an extremely limited budget she hired the Stellafly team for one month. We knew that this wasn’t going to get them much but we were in to help as much as we could. We helped get legs under their Facebook page. We covered their press conference, which was hit by an unexpected snow storm mid stream.

Audrey reminds me of the Little Engine that Could. She worked hard and diligent on limited resources. She made sure she was inclusive all the way down to the audience she hoped would attend. She kept her chin up when she realized that City Lights Music Festival would be taking place the same day, just blocks away.

Sundstrom and her husband, Greg, frequently attend jazz festivals around the state. After repeatedly telling her husband she wanted a festival here in Grand Rapids, he finally told her, “If you want it here, you might just have to start it yourself.”

With an overwhelmingly positive response from a crowd of thousands, the six musical acts and everyone else involved, the event was considered a huge success.

As West Michigan Jazz Society Board Member John Miller put it, “This could be the start of something big.”

Sundstrom originally approached the West Michigan Jazz Society (WMJS) and asked for suggestions on local jazz musicians. They became the nonprofit fiduciary for the event, which helped GRandJazzFest get off the ground.

The West Michigan Jazz Society played an important part by giving GRandJazzFest credibility as a jazz event,” Sundstrom says.

Early support by DTE, the presenting sponsor, and from the Downtown Development Authority kicked the event into further motion. Soon, Sundstromstarted her own nonprofit, GR and Jazz, with friends and fellow jazz aficionados,Desiree Foster and Patti Flood, and then asked Molly Klimas of IntentPR to come on board to help with publicity for the event. Before the event, many more sponsors and friends got involved to ensure its success.

Sundstrom’s vision for GRandJazzFest was modeled after the River Raisin Jazz Festival in Monroe. She wanted to offer a variety of jazz genres such as big band, contemporary, traditional and Latin jazz and make it free so anyone could attend.

The August 18 event at Rosa Parks Circle began shortly after noon with one of West Michigan’s premier jazz ensembles, The Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra, who has played traditional, swing and big band favorites for more than 35 years, including playing the first and third Sunday of each month at Founder’s Brewery. Dressed in matching blue shirts, the Orchestra kicked off the festival with upbeat big band music including a few sax solos. The entire day was filled with amazing regional talent.

Sundstrom was still smiling the next morning and thrilled with the festival’s results.

“It turned out to be everything I had hoped for,” she said. “I am grateful to all of the sponsors, the staff, the volunteers, the musicians and everyone who came out.”

Sundstrom had the vision for GRandJazzFest, but insists, “The event wouldn’t have been what it was without everyone’s help and so many people deserve a lot of credit.”

Thank you Audrey Sundstrom and your talented team for bringingGRandJazzFest to Grand Rapids. Please “wash away our dust” again next year.

And if the success of Grand Rapids’ first-ever jazz festival is the deciding factor on whether or not there will be a second GRandJazzFest, you might want to block out the third Saturday of August 2013 now.

To read Heidi Stukkie’s entire story:

To learn more about GRandJazzFest, visit their website:
LIKE them on Facebook:














Voices for the Voiceless: Bryce and Sue Beckett


Nestled on the end of a cul-de-sac not far outside of Grand Rapids is the home of Bryce and Sue Beckett. From the outside, it looks like any other home. Cars in the driveway, lawn decorations lining the walkway, perhaps now and then a few toys dotting the yard. However, stepping inside the home, you realize there is something different about the Beckett household.

Some of the sounds you hear are what you’d expect coming into a home with four young children – laughter, the clatter of dishes – but there are other sounds, the methodical beep of an oxygen monitor, the alert of a ventilator, that also ring out throughout the home.


Bryce and Sue Beckett are foster parents. Since 2005, the couple has been taking care of medically-fragile children through the foster care program at D.A. Blodgett/St. John’s. Their story is one of courage and faith, grief and love, and shows that in each stage of life, there is passion and purpose to be found.

The Becketts met in a church bible study group in 2003. Both had been previously married, each had children, and at first sight they seemed to be heading in two different directions. “I never really thought that I would marry again because I had children with disabilities and most people don’t understand that life,” Sue explained.

Sue had a long history of fostering children with her first husband, though they didn’t take care of medically-fragile children at first. “We had talked about adopting children someday. I was looking for something that I could do that would be fulfilling and meaningful that I could do while staying at home with our two children,” Sue explained.

They became what is known as an “emergency home.” They were contacted anytime, day or night, to take care of a child while the court decided whether it was fit for them to return to their biological family or whether they would enter the foster care system. Sue said over the years she saw many children go through the system and go right back to unstable homes without any counseling. “We talked about it and decided that maybe we could do more good by adopting children and rescuing them from the system,” she said.



After adopting their first child through the foster care program, they decided they would try to have one more biological child. Sue gave birth to a son with disabilities. “I grieved. I remember when my son was diagnosed and thinking to myself ‘what good could ever come out of this?’ I was heartbroken,” she said. “Now I look back on that and I realize that if I had never had him, I probably would have never opened my heart to kids with disabilities. God used that experience in our lives to open our hearts to other children with disabilities.”

When Sue met Bryce, she was not only caring for her own son but for another medically-fragile foster child as well. Bryce said he had never considered being a foster parent, his life was filled with job-related travel, coaching skiing, yet he said he accepted the change of lifestyle because he knew it would make Sue happy and successful. “It was hard. I wanted to travel and do things, but knowing in the long run that this would serve better.” he said. However, Bryce quickly embraced the new direction and the two made the decision to take in more medically-fragile children.

“We had to decide what we wanted to be about in this marriage, what was really important in our lives. What do we value? And that’s when we really started examining what was important to God, what gives us the most fulfillment, what do we really want to be about in these last 30 years of our lives,” Sue said.


The first call they received was to take in a little girl who had been in and out of hospitals her entire life; she was five months old. “I fell in love with her,” Bryce said. Six months later, the little girl unexpectedly passed away. “Being medically-fragile, you know that can affect the children’s lives, sometimes tragically,” Sue said.

The child Sue was fostering when she met Bryce had also passed away. “Every time we’ve lost a child, our hearts have truly been broken,” she said. Yet the couple agrees that even the children that are only with them a short period of time have had major effects on everyone they’ve encountered. “It’s amazing how God has used them in the lives of people that come in contact with them,” she continued.

From nurses to neighbors, Bryce agreed that the ripple effect is amazing. “These kids teach people how to look at themselves and say ‘wow, these kids are out here doing it. They live on machines but they’re out here doing it. It’s our goal to give them the best life we can for as long as they’re here.”

After Sue’s son was diagnosed with disabilities she began learning the things she would need to know in order to take care of him. From tube feedings to monitoring ventilators, she became well-versed in the careful art of taking care of a medically-fragile child. Eventually, she went on to receive training as a RN and now, with the aid of other in-home aides, is responsible for the daily medical care of the children the couple takes care of.


“There is a lot involved, keeping things organized, making sure things get done,” she explained. Making sure the children’s medication is correctly distributed and ensuring the aides are giving the proper care. Yet, Sue is fast to point out that caring for the children’s physical well-being is only a part of their role as parents. “We often have to be a voice for the voiceless,” she said.

That’s where Bryce comes in. “He’s great at being a voice for our kids. He’s not afraid to make sure that their rights are observed and protected. He’s not afraid to speak up for them when things aren’t quite right,” Sue said. When Bryce talks about being an advocate for his children, the passion is hard to ignore. “Sometimes you have to challenge the status quo, I need them to show me why something is the best for my child,” he said.

Amidst all the noise and despite the grief that comes with caring for the fragile children, it is obvious the couple wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. They are champions of their choice and advocates for others, especially those who may be done raising children of their own, to consider becoming foster parents.

“You have tons of wisdom, more patience, and often times, the empty nest and you’re looking for how your life can impact someone at this stage,” Sue said. “There’s kids that need people to love them. These kids need someone to give and older people often actually have the resources to do it,” Bryce added. “Kids just want to be loved and they just want a permanent place to be.”

For more information, please contact Lisa Puente at D.A. Blodgett/ St. John’s at 616.451.2021 or visit

Gandalf’s Gala: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey



Gandalf’s Gala was a lovely event benefitting Spectrum Health Hospice and Palliative Care.  This event trilogy was presented by Celebration! Cinema North.

The evening began at 6:00 p.m on Thursday, December 13, 2012 featuring a strolling dinner by Panera, Sheshco, Buffalo Wild Wings, Afternoon Delight Catering, Melting Pot, Coldstone Creamery, Starbucks and Noodles and Company.






Through the Hobbit doorway, guests were greeted by live Celtic-inspired music by “Peat in the Creel”.  After dinner folks spent their time petting John Ball Traveling Zoo’s “mystical creatures” and getting their photo taken in front of a green screen photographs.  Attendees were able to see the long awaited film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey before anyone else.  The live auction included a VIP Film package from Celebration and a Safari Trip to South Africa.

D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s Profile: The Love behind the KidsFirst shelter



More than 9,000 cases of child abuse or neglect are reported in Kent County each year. What’s even more disturbing is that the confirmed cases of child abuse have increased nearly 100 percent since 2000.

In the worst situations, police or protective service workers will remove the child from the home, taking him or her away from a life that is familiar. These children are often frightened and confused, and frequently hungry and dirty as well.

Many of these abused and neglected children in Kent County are taken to the KidsFirst emergency shelter where they are immediately greeted with a warm smile and then given unconditional love, comfort, and a safe place to stay.

The KidsFirst shelter consists of two residential homes located on the 25-acre D.A. Blodgett–St. John’s property on Knapp Street. Within each home are multiple bedrooms containing a bed, dresser, and desk. The main living area features a great room with couches, chairs, and an entertainment center and the nearby oversized kitchen and dining room offers a place for kids to eat and help prepare meals. There’s also a game room downstairs with a pool table, foosball table, video games, an art and education area, and more.

The shelter, which opened in 1998, provides temporary housing to abused and neglected children in Kent County until a more permanent foster home can be found.

Last year, 488 children were admitted to KidsFirst. Of these children, 302 were under the age of 11, 82 were between 12 and 14, and the rest were 15-17 years old.

Children arrive at the shelter one of three ways:

– The Michigan Department of Human Services’ Protective Services department gets involved after getting information about possible abuse and neglect from the child’s school, neighbors, friends, or family members. They usually try to work with the parents or caregivers first to keep the child in the home, but if that can’t happen, the child is then removed and brought to KidsFirst.

– If police or other public safety workers respond to an incident and find a child in an unsafe or dangerous situation, they will remove the child from that environment immediately.

– In some cases, a foster family cannot handle a child so they are brought to back to KidsFirst until another suitable home can be found. Or a child will run away from where they are staying and the court decides the caretaker cannot take care of them.

Of the 488 children admitted to KidsFirst last year, 290 suffered from physical neglect, meaning that the home was not a safe environment, they didn’t get enough food, or other needs were not being met. Actual physical abuse occurred in the homes of 80 kids and 21 were sexually abused.

Another 60 children returned from a broken foster care placement and 35 of the 488 kids were runaways.

On an average day, there are 16-18 children living at KidsFirst. Last Friday, 10 kids were admitted within hours, making it somewhat stressful for the staff on duty.

Both of the KidsFirst houses are staffed around the clock with 24 people who rotate shifts. One of those people is known as Aunt Bee. She’s like a mother to the children and handles many of the domestic tasks. The staff tries to keep her in a comfort role and out of any disciplinary action.
There are also several direct care counselors, two master’s degree level social workers, a school advocate, and the house managers.

The children and teenagers entering KidsFirst are all ages and come from a variety of backgrounds and environments. Many have behavioral or developmental issues. Some are aggressive or assaultive and others are withdrawn or nonverbal. A few of the kids are physically or emotionally disabled.

“It’s chaotic here sometimes,” admits House Manager Larry Smith.

When children arrive at KidsFirst, they are greeted warmly with a big smile and offered food and a bath right away. Clothing and shoes in all sizes are on hand for the children to wear after they get clean. Everyone gets a tour of the shelter when they arrive and introduced to the other kids staying there. Younger kids are often given a teddy bear for comfort and the older kids are shown the game room to entertain them. The staff does whatever possible to meet the child’s needs.

While one person is busy making the child feel welcome, another staff member meets with the person who brought them in to gather as much information as possible. This is information is later shared with a foster care agency to help find an appropriate home.

Shortly after arrival, a health inspection takes place. The staff looks for bruises, cuts, health issues, and makes sure they have any medication the child is on. A medical professional is called in if necessary.

After that, a routine begins. Kids often go back to their current school the next day or they get enrolled in a new one, if that’s not possible. Meals happen at a certain time and a predictable schedule of homework and play time occurs.

KidsFirst Program Manager Kelly Koeze says that the unknown is traumatic for some of these kids so having a schedule and structure is helpful in adding stability to their lives.

“We shower them with unconditional love and structure,” she says.

The staff also exposes the children to new experiences, too. Sometimes, they’ll go ice-skating, on bike rides or for a walk in the park. They have cookouts around the campfire pit behind the houses, or stay inside and create art. Tickets are often donated to sporting events, plays and other cultural events, and the children go together as a group. Teaching the kids how to behave in a community is important, especially since many don’t know appropriate boundaries.

Koeze says the goal is always to “open their eyes” and show them what is possible.

“We try to use this time with the kids to show them there is life outside of what they have experienced and that every relationship isn’t scary, neglectful or abusive,” she says.

At the same time, Smith says they teach the kids “every choice has consequences.” When a child misbehaves, certain privileges may be taken away.

Ultimately, the staff at KidsFirst tries to get the children into a foster home as soon as possible after they arrive. If they know a child will be admitted to the shelter ahead of time, they will start the process before they even get there.

KidsFirst works with foster care agencies such as D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s, Bethany Christian Services, Catholic Charities of West Michigan, Lutheran Child and Family Services, Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, and the Family Outreach Center.

Each week, they rotate who gets contacted first. If that agency cannot help, the staff will contact the next agency on the list.

Typically, teenagers take the longest to place, as there are more homes willing to accept younger children.

The majority of the children (65 percent) brought to KidsFirst only stay there for 1-3 days. Almost 12 percent stay 4-20 days and another 21 percent of the children stay more than 20 days. This last group is comprised of teenagers and kids with behavior issues who need a more specialized foster home.

No matter how long a child stays at KidsFirst, many call later to thank the staff for caring about them. Often times, the kids will continue to be involved with the case workers for a long time after they leave and sometimes the staff will rally together to help a young adult furnish his or her first apartment.

No child deserves to be abused or neglected, but if they are and removed from their home, the staff at KidsFirst will be ready to receive the child with open arms and offer unconditional love, comfort and support.

D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s is a 125-year-old accredited agency that works in partnership with the community providing comprehensive services to children and families, including Big Brothers Big Sisters, foster care, adoption, and family support, as well as, residential treatment and emergency shelter care at St. John’s Home.

To learn more, visit their website:

LIKE them on Facebook:


Second Annual Brookby Christmas Ball


Last weekend, we attended a very special Christmas party that has now become  as the event of the Holiday Season. A party designed to celebrate the history of Brookby and its future with Aquinas College.

In October of 2011, Sam and Janene Cummings gave Aquinas College a generous gift. They donated a large portion of their home, the Brookby Estate to the College to be used to enhance the academics, fundraising and visibility of the School. The property was donated after residing there for 14 years. They now co-chair a committee at the college that overlooks Brookby and all the historical sites on campus.

Brookby, which is located on Plymouth Avenue at the Southeast corner of Plymouth and Robinson Road, has close ties to Aquinas. The home, designed by New York architects Walker and Gillette with grounds by famed landscape architects Olmsted Brothers of Brookline, Massachusetts, was built between 1926 and 1927 by early Grand Rapids philanthropist, John W. Blodgett, Sr.

The Brookby House is now the personal home of Dr. Juan R. Olivarez, Aquinas College president. The home is also used for college-related functions.

This was the formal affair’s 2nd year and was hosted by Sam and Janene CummingsDan and Pam DeVos and Juan and Mary Olivarez. Amont the guests were Governor Rick Synder, his wife Sue, Steve Heacock, wife Brenda, Mimi Cummings, Phil and Mary Ann Weaver, Maureen and Don Burns, Mimi Amash, Mike and Sue Jandernoa, Bob Delamar, Matt Sova, John O’Neill. Attendance was by invitation only and was limited to 100 guests.

The home was its most elegant, spectacularly adorned with holiday decorations in the spirit of the season. The beautiful Black Tie event included cocktails and appetizers and dancing in the ballroom to the Thristy Perch Blues Band. A special performance by The Choir of Men and Boys brought seasonal favorites to the guests opening the event. Tickets were appropriately priced as an effort to raise money for the ongoing maintenance and support of Brookby and its important part of Grand Rapids history.

Many thanks to our friends Sam and Janene Cummings for inviting Stellafly to capture this special historical event. It remains to be such a treasure to our city.

Read about the history of the Brookby House on the Aquinas College:

More interesting history:


Downtown Dreamer: Kristopher Larson brings energy, ideas and a love of beer as new director of the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority



When Kristopher Larson was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Raleigh, N.C., he loved going to his best friend Andrew’s house downtown.

Sure, in the suburbs there was a stream to explore and his mom and dad let him stay out and play all day.

But downtown, he says, “There were 50 different ways I could spend my allowance. We could walk to the comic book store, or buy an icee or get a hot donut at Krispy Kreme.”

Downtown was exciting.

That was a defining experience for Larson, the new executive director of the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority.

The kid who loved downtown grew up to be a guy who loves downtown. He wants everybody to feel the same thrill about the city as he does.

Larson, 34, took on the job three months ago, taking over for Jay Fowler, who announced his retirement last fall after nine years at the helm of the DDA.

He knows a lot of people have no idea what the Downtown Development Authority is. But most everybody has seen the results of its work.

The development agency is responsible for a host of improvements in the downtown area. Using incremental property taxes collected from downtown properties, the DDA has invested about $120 million in cool projects since 1980.

That’s leveraged more than $2 billion in private and institutional investment in the downtown area.

The Van Andel Arena. Expansion of the DeVos Place convention center. The Rapid’s Transit Center. Reconstruction of Monroe Center and Rosa Parks Circle. The Grand Rapids Art Museum.

When Larson interviewed for the post with the DDA board and Grand Rapids city commissioners last spring, he was up against a more seasoned candidate with more leadership experience.

But Larson won the board over with his passion and enthusiasm. He exudes confidence. His gaze can be unnervingly direct.

He’s the kind of guy who would work until midnight every night if his girlfriend let him. He wins “Employee of the Year” awards. He worked on an archeological dig in Jordan and learned conversational Arabic. He studied Shakespeare at Oxford University.

Larson’s last job was as vice president of the Downtown Long Beach Association in Long Beach, Calif. Before that he worked as deputy director of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance in Raleigh, N.C.

He likes job titles with the word “downtown.”

Earlier this month, Larson was one of four panelists on a Rapid Growth-sponsored speaker series about “placemaking” — creating a vision for a place based on the desires of the people who live and work there.

He sipped a beer and talked about making downtown Grand Rapids more vibrant, walkable, attractive.

(An aside about beer: Beer-lover Larson has a good-natured rivalry between his brothers in Asheville, N.C. and Portland, Oregon. Seems all three brothers claim to live in America’s best beer town.

Larson occasionally mails his brothers a Founders Brewing Co. cap or a sticker proclaiming GR as Beer City, USA. Just to get a dig in.)

The great thing about this speaker series, he says, is that it was standing room only. These Rapid Growth events usually attract about 50 people. So they set up 50 chairs.

But more than 100 showed up, eager to hear experts talk about the future of downtown.

“What we need to do is attract great jobs,” Larson tells the audience. “That’s what people move for. If you don’t have education and jobs down, you’ll struggle — no matter how many arts organizations you have.”

The talk turns to parking lots. The experts on this panel say the city has too many.

Larson has about the same interest in parking lots as he did as a kid. Parking lot? Pffftttttt. That’s no fun. Let’s build cool stuff on ‘em, he says, places where you can go spend your allowance.

“You have to find new and innovative was to engage people,” he tells the crowd. “That’s how you build civic pride. And civic pride is one of the most valuable types of currency we have.”

The next day, back at his office on the ninth floor of City Hall, Larson tells about a cool idea he thinks will engage people.

It involves an extensive restoration of the “Blue Bridge” linking Grand Valley State University’s downtown campus and downtown Grand Rapids.

The 120-year-old former railroad bridge will soon get a $1.4 million makeover, funded mostly by the DDA.

“That bridge is iconic,” Larson says. “It’s the most requested spot in town for brides. People identify with it. So, what color should it be?”

Soon, you’ll get a say — with a new app on your smart phone that will let you envision the bridge wearing any color you like.

“Yellow, green, pink,” Larson says.

He loves this idea.

“It’s much better than coming down at 7 p.m. to some dank elementary school auditorium to have grape juice and listen to some boring talk about what color the blue bridge should be,” he says.

“People love to pick up their phone and mess with an app. If I can get 10,000 people to do that, it’s much more telling than 20 people at a meeting.”

Larson came to Grand Rapids with “fresh eyes,” he says, and liked what he saw: a river rife with opportunity, generous and visionary philanthropists, residents he calls “West Michigan nice.”

His wish list for this place: more people on the streets. More residential units downtown. More retail — we need a grocery store, he says.

“People on the streets add vitality,” he says. “People out walking their dogs creates a safe-feeling urban environment.”

City building is about more than bricks and mortar, Larson says. Anybody can help — just by coming to an event downtown and adding energy to the place.

Larson grew up in Raleigh, N.C., the middle kid of three boys.

“I was always a pleaser, a negotiator,” he says. He smoothed things out between squabbling brothers, always wanted to make his parents happy.

Colleagues at his last job in Long Beach called him “The Translator,” praising his way of connecting the public and private sectors.

Part of his job, he says, is getting the public on board with innovative ideas, so when the DDA goes to the elected officials, they don’t have to worry about risking their positions.

Even though there were good schools in the suburbs, his parents sent him to a magnet school for gifted and talented kids in the core of the city. Theater, art and music were part of the curriculum. He got to play his clarinet with the big city symphonies as a middle schooler.

It meant a 60 to 90 minute bus ride to school every day.

“I always wondered why we passed four other schools on my way to school,” he says. “All my other friends in the neighborhood went to the neighborhood school.”

Raleigh had a historic neighborhood of old homes much like Heritage Hill, he says. Lots of city teachers lived there, including the family of his best friend, Andrew.

“That exposed me to downtown,” he says. “I learned that it was such a different kind of place. Back home in my neighborhood, there was no commercial use. I couldn’t buy a stick of gum. If you wanted to go anywhere, you had to get your mom to drive you.”

Andrew’s family let a homeless man live in their basement for a couple days until they could help get him housing.

“It was the first time I saw a homeless person,” Larson says. “And nobody was freaking out about it. It was just a person who needed help.”

That stuck with him. Today, he gripes about public benches that include a divider, designed so nobody can sleep on them.

“I despise those things,” he says. “That’s not dealing with the problem. That’s dealing with a side effect.”

Some people struggle with substance abuse and mental illness, he says, and that leads to homelessness.

“We shouldn’t be ashamed of it,” he says. “The job of a community is to help lift the whole — not just the self.

“So much of peoples’ perception of cities is based on fear,” he says, shaking his head. “I try to deconstruct that.”

He’s always been a guy of action, he says.

He started working at age 13, washing dishes at a catering company. By 15 he was the manager of the country club snack bar.

He grew up planning to be a doctor, even ending up president of the pre-med honor society in college.

Then, volunteering at a doctor’s office, he was put off by how much the physicians had to cater not to their patients’ needs, but to the rules of the insurance providers.

“It blew my mind,” he says. “It flipped me upside down. So I went from being Mr. Pre-med to… not. What the heck do I do now?”

He joined AmeriCorps, the federal program whose members offer service to a community for a year. Larson ended up in Moreno Valley, Calif., a poor, sun-baked town, where he worked with school kids in programs “designed to help them develop a passion for something besides basketball and video games.”

“That’s where I began to understand the importance of civic pride,” he says. “That community had no heart. It was just a grid. There was no central gathering place, no defining character, nothing to tie a person to the city they came from.”

He became intrigued with architecture, design and planning. He went back to school and earned a master’s degree in public administration, specializing in urban management, planning and economic development from North Carolina State University.

The bottom line of all that, he says: “How can I help people have more love for their community?”

He talks a lot about civic pride. Grand Rapids has it, he says. He looks forward to building on it.

“It builds a sense of responsibility, of taking care of your neighbor,” Larson says. “It’s how we meld together to make something bigger than all of us.”

Santa Claus visits A.K. Rikk’s


December 8th, 2012


Throwing swanky parties and doing things top shelf is no surprise when it comes to A.K. Rikk’s. In fact, with their bigger space they’re finding that they can even host parties for the little ones… which is exactly what they did this past weekend.

The high end retailer held a special, FREE holiday event for everyone of all ages. Friends and family stopped by to enjoy hot cocoa, adult beverages, Christmas cookies and treats. Santa was also on hand for free pictures and a store. Santa’s reindeer and sleigh were also there!

A.K.Rikk’s is a contemporary fashion boutique that specializes in every aspect of a man and woman’s wardrobe and lifestyle. From a board meeting to a night out with friends to a week in the tropics; our goal is to have you looking your best in every situation.

The retail clothing store wanted to find use an existing building that  could be transformed into a dream store for their clients. The building has total of 28,000 square feet with many special touches. The new space gives homage to where A.K. Rikk’s started by having a haberdashery-styled suit room, private personal shopping areas, a gift/lifestyle area and both men’s and women’s shoe salons. They are located at 6303 28th Street in CascadeMichigan.


Be sure to check them out on Facebook:

Stellafly’s Sneak Peek – Grand Rapids Brewing Company



In December 1892, six Grand Rapids breweries consolidated their individual operations to form the Grand Rapids Brewing Company. 119 years later on this day, December 5th, GRBC finally returns home to downtown Grand Rapids.

The Grand Rapids Brewing Company (GRBC) will be open to the public on Wednesday, but a few lucky folks had a chance to try it out a day early at a private event hosted by owners Mark and Michele Sellers. The Sellers’ company, BarFly Adventures, also owns several other restaurants in Grand Rapids, including HopCat, Stella’s Lounge and McFadden’s. This bar is a nod to the original GRBC, which closed on April 26, 1918 due to the Prohibition Act.

Walking into the GRBC on Tuesday night was a bit like taking a trip back in time. The designer, David Dodde, calls the newest addition to downtown, “an homage to Grand Rapids…a factory in the front, and a barn in the back.”

Dodde was just one of the many invited guests who came to Tuesday night’s celebration. Other guests included Mayor George HeartwellGrand Rapids City Commissioners Rosalynn Bliss and Ruth Kelly, Rapid Growth’s Jeff Hill, Benjamin Hunter, Ralston Bowles, The Winchester’s Paul Lee, DDA Executive Director Kris Larson and Dave Engbers and Jeremy Kosmicki and other locals.

There is even a Grand Rapids theme to the beer names—you can try The Fishladder, John Ball Brown, The Senator Lyons Stout, and there’s even a Rosalynn Bliss Blonde. The Silver Foam is their marquis beer, and is a reformulated version of the original GRBC’s famous brew.

There are several distinctive features throughout the restaurant. Much of the wood is reclaimed, there is recycled brick on the bar, and the hostess stand was at one point the foreman’s station at the Chris-Craft factory. The bar dons two bar areas including a copper-plated draft box and bar top. The back bar was built by Marc Wiegers from Greenwood Studio. Their sign was designed by local artisan, Dan Carlson of Carlson Design. The venue also offers up a beautiful private room available for parties of 50 or more. The private area can accommodate up to 90 people seated or 150 people standing. The GRBC is also the Midwest’s first all-organic brewery.

The GRBC officially opens its doors to the public at 3:00 on Wednesday afternoon, and they will literally be “rolling out the barrel” to kick things off, complete with an accordion player. That is also when the official Mug Club will be opening up for membership. For an annual fee of $65, you will receive a mug inscribed with your name and $1 off beers all the time, $2 off beers on Mondays (Mug Club Night), discount tickets to special events, and first chance at any special release bottles.

It’s not all about the beer, either. The menu is full of unique appetizers, main dishes, and even some sweet treats to wrap up your visit. Start off with the Pork Belly Lollipop or the Fried Pickles, then move on to a Cauliflower “Steak” Sandwich, and finish off your meal with a Drunken Elvis Cupcake. The menu was designed by Michigan native, Adam Watts. Adam moved to Grand Rapids from Boulder, CO in early November to join GRBC. Adam was born and raised in West Michigan. He graduated at the top of the class from the GRCC Secchia Institute of Culinary Arts. He set out to learn from the best chefs he could in order to expand his culinary palette. Since graduating from Secchia, he has cooked at Northern Michigan’s iconic Tapawingo, Edinburgh, Scotland’s Rhubarb at the Prestonfield Hotel, California’s Chateau du Sureau, Kalamazoo, MI’s Rustica, and Boulder, CO’s The Kitchen Cafe. Most recently, Adam was chef of Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar in Boulder.

Make it a priority to check out the Sellers‘ latest venture. As usual, you will not be disappointed!

Check out their website for more information: and, of course, LIKE them on Facebook:


The Grand Rapids Red Project presents World AIDS Day GR featuring Jake Mossop


Wealthy Theater
December 1, 2012


Last weekend in celebration of WORLD AIDS DAY, The Grand Rapids Red Project brought Jake Mossop, from television’s “1 girl 5 gays,” to engage the Grand Rapids community in an interactive discussion on the state of HIV/AIDS in the world today.

Mossop, also known as “Nurse Jake,” is a cast member of MTV Canada/LogoTV’s “1 girl 5 gays.” Jake considers himself “first and foremost” a nurse and is currently working toward his Masters of Nursing Degree. Jake says he joined the 1G5G show to “to bring some balance to the panel and do my best to bring a health and safety perspective when possible to the gamet of topics covered by the show.”

“Healthy You” host, Valerie Lego, and local representatives from Red Project, GRAAHI, and other partner organizations joined Mossop in presenting information regarding HIV locally in Kent County. The event included an Question and Answer discussion.

The event was free. Kent County Health Department was on-site doing rapid HIV testing for anyone interested in updating their status or getting tested.

The Grand Rapids Red Project is a local organization whose mission is preventing HIV, reducing risk, and improving health in the city of Grand Rapids. Each year the Grand Rapids Red Project reaches thousands of people with the message of HIV/AIDS prevention and provides education about the need for HIV testing.

Partners and Sponsors included: Simplicity by LoriBeth, The Sharpe Collection, Rapid Growth Media, Until Love Is Equal, GRAAHI, GVSU LGBT Resource Center, West Michigan Pride, Stellafly Social Media, and 834 Design & Marketing.

Learn more about The Grand Rapids Red Project by visiting their website:
LIKE them on Facebook: