Les Misérables opens at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. To be safe: bring a hanky.


Grab a tissue. Or grab a box of tissues.

Les Misérables will open tonight at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. It runs through March 30. Get your tickets now, because the entire run is already over 45% sold.

There’s something for everyone in this wildly popular, tear-jerking operetta.

Les Miz fans will come to gorge themselves on the lush music and high drama. High school teachers love that the play is based on the nineteenth century French historical novel by Victor Hugo. Teenage girls often identify with trials of the young women on stage. Snarkers love to protect themselves emotionally by making snide remarks about the misery and misogyny. Sophisticated adults insist that the play is about the moral triumph of courage and hope. Others argue just as passionately that it’s about the hopelessness of social injustice.

See? Something for everyone to love…or even love to hate.

And until recently, Community Theatres have never been granted the rights to produce this extremely successful musical. That all changed in 2012, when Music Theatre International (MTI) made a call to the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre and School of Theatre Arts.

“The licensing company was interested in knowing if (community) theatres would want to produce this piece. Their first call was to our very own Civic Theatre,” said Executive and Artistic Director, Bruce E. Tinker. “Let me be clear, there was no hesitation in our saying yes.”

The Civic is working hard to live up to the exacting expectations of Les Miz superfans. I walked through the costume department, adrift in a sea of petticoats. Awash in underwear, I watched a costume frenzy taking place before my very eyes.

Civic costume head Robert Fowle estimated that they will make close to 200 costumes for this production. The play features nearly 50 cast members.

“Right now, I have about 17 people that have been in working on this one so far,” Fowle said, as one volunteer busily sewed a costume. “And they come in, day and night.”







With a plethora of quick changes, the show requires four dedicated dressers, two deck crew, and two more working backstage on hair, wigs, and makeup. Because this is a period piece, the costume department is striving to make the outfits as authentic as possible.

“In period shows, I dress the women from the underwear out, which means corsets and pantaloons and petticoats,” said Fowle. “We’re not going as far as corseting, because there’s so much costume changing.”

However, dresses will be boned “within an inch of their lives” for structure. And since the show is chiefly grey and brown and drab, many of the costumes will need to be made dirty and distressed to make sure they don’t look brand new.

“The only really pretty scene in the show is the wedding,” said Fowle. “Because that’s not dirty and raggy.”

And yet, the show is going to be quite beautiful, insists Tinker, the show’s artistic director.

“It’s a tremendous cast,” he said. “The sound is beautiful. It is sung very, very well. And there’s great heart and emotion throughout the show.”

Jeremiah Postma will play the lead, Jean Valjean. This marks the first time the powerfully built actor will appear on the Civic stage.

“You’re just talking to a country boy,” said Postma. “You know, I grew up on a farm. Interestingly enough, I never did theater until my very last opportunity in high school.”

A friend at Thornapple Kellogg High School heard Postma sing in an offhand way and encouraged him to audition for a high school play. After a 14 year hiatus, Postma is returning to the stage to play this enormously challenging role.

When Postma auditioned, he did not try out for Valjean. However, the director asked him to sing Valjean’s parts. Postma’s vocal coach told him that if he was offered the part, that they’d make it work.

“I cannot believe that this country boy has been given the opportunity to portray Jean Valjean. Blows my mind,” Postma said.

Conversely, Audrey Filson, who plays the grown-up Cosette, is no stranger to the Civic stage.

“My very first show (at the Civic) was in 1997,” said Filson.







She admitted that being cast in the Civic’s 1997 Children’s Theatre production changed her life. Bitten by the theater bug, Filson took drama classes, voice lessons, and attended summer theater camps. Ultimately, she decided to go to college for musical theater.

When she moved back to Grand Rapids in the fall to attend grad school, Filson heard about the auditions for Les Miz. She couldn’t resist. Filson felt thrilled to land the part of Cosette.

“I have a pretty easy job,” said Filson. “I just have to be an adoring daughter. You know? She just loves her dad. And that’s really fun for me to play, because I love my own real dad. I think it’s a really sweet relationship to play.”

Die hard Les Miz fans will be interested to learn that the directors are inserting little touches from the original book into the show.

“There are little moments, I keep calling them Easter eggs because I love movies,” said director Scott Mellema. “And in movies, especially with like comic movies that are out, fans look for Easter eggs, which are little bits and pieces that only fans would know. So there are moments.”

One superfan hint? Read the book before coming to the show to help find the Easter eggs. (Pay attention, for one example, to the scene with Eponine at the barricades.)

And given that the play is going to sell out any second now, is there anyone who needs to be discouraged from getting tickets?

Civic Theatre’s Community Relations Director Nancy Brozek cautions people who don’t like musicals to stay away. There’s no spoken dialog in Les Misérables. It’s all singing, almost all of the time.

And remember, the word misérables is right in the title. Expect some tears to be jerked.

To be safe: bring a hanky.

For ticket information: https://www.grct.org/memberoptions.html


WISE women: Joining together for support, friendship, advice on the road to business success



Branding expert Connie Sweet has some business advice for you, woman to woman.

Steer clear of those business card companies that offer pre-made designs anyone can choose.

“You don’t want the same business card someone else is using,” Sweet says. “You could attend an event and discover three people have the same business card design as you do — a yoga instructor, a hair stylist and a dog groomer.

“If you don’t recognize the importance of your business image, how can I feel confident you will provide the individualized service I would appreciate?”

That’s one kind of insider tip you’ll find at a gathering of WISE women.

Sweet co-founded WISE — Women in Successful Enterprises — in 2009 with friend and fellow business owner Floriza Genautis.

Both are successful entrepreneurs with impressive resumes. They decided to round up some other successful women to see if they could bolster each other.




“There are a lot of organizations that serve start-up companies and offer classes, but once you get past that start-up phase, you no longer get that level of help or collaboration,” Sweet says.

WISE is designed for women who already have their business feet wet — but who want to continue to succeed and grow. It’s a “bridge organization,” Sweet says, that helps women business owners gain certification, corporate connections, government contracts and networking.

The group has worked with the Center for Empowerment & Economic Development and introduces members to the Women’s Business Enterprise Council, an initiative of CEED that provides opportunities for nationally recognized certification of businesses that are at least 51 percent owned, operated and controlled by a woman or women.

Women who own businesses have interests and needs that not all women share, Sweet says. “Women’s conversations often center around families and children,” Sweet says. “But for business owners, a good portion of our lives is about our businesses. When we meet people at PTA meetings, we’re often just not on the same page.”

WISE offers an opportunity for women in business to connect with each other.

“We can gain a lot of information from each other,” Sweet says. “We share resources, share tips. We gain so much from each other. That’s a powerful thing for women who often feel they’re out at sea, on their own.”

Maureen Fitzgerald Penn felt that way when she left her job as marketing and development director for Catholic Charities West Michigan in Muskegon to start her business, Penn & Ink Communications, in 2008.

“I thought, ‘How do I begin this? I’m hanging up my shingle but I don’t have any contacts in Grand Rapids,’” Penn says.

Joining WISE changed all that. Penn met other women business owners, made friends and acquired a few clients.

Now, years later, the group is still valuable, she says.

“Once you’ve been in business a few years, you need to grow,” Penn says. “You have to step out of your comfort zone and approach larger companies with bigger needs. WISE has helped me break down the barriers so I can do that.”

Penn is on the group’s advisory board — they call themselves “advocates” — and helps plan each year’s events.

“We decide on the speakers and events based on our own reality,” she says. “What are the issues we’re facing? What questions do we have? Then we find speakers to address those needs.”

Events set for this year:

  •  “Common Negotiation Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.” Speaker Penny Rosema, a professional buyer, shares negotiation tips March 12.
  •  “How to Get in with Community Media.” A panel of media experts shares tips at a gathering at the mlive hub May 7.
  •  “Building Success from Scratch,” a presentation by award-winning chef and restaurant owner Jenna Arcidiacono from Amore Trattoria Italiana Aug. 20.





Each year WISE also hosts an event designed to give back to the community.

This year they support the American Diabetes Association at a Nov. 5 event.

“We’re reminding other business women that a social conscience should be part of your business,” Penn says.

While there is a cost to attend WISE events (and non-members are welcome, too) it costs nothing to belong to WISE.

“We formed this group just as the Michigan economy was flailing,” Sweet says. “We decided we weren’t going to saddle people with an annual membership fee.”

Sweet and cofounder Genautis met through another organization, Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs.

Sweet is founder of Connection Graphics, LLC in Lansing. She creates distinctive brands that connect with her client’s philosophy and business strategy.

Her resume of graphic design jobs includes time at ad agencies, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, publishing houses and governmental offices.

Genautis is the principal founder of Management Business Solutions, a professional staffing firm specializing in placing candidates in the areas of accounting, finance, human resource, information technology, sales and marketing and engineering.

The tips and resources WISE members share are valuable, Sweet says, but the laughter is pretty great, too.

“What I’ve gained most is friendships,” Sweet says. “This is an open, diverse and welcoming group. And I want women to know that having a successful business is within reach for all of us.”

For more about WISE, including upcoming events, visit wiseconnections.org.


Clybourne Park: Let’s make fun of the way we talk about race


Talking frankly and publicly about race in a public forum will probably get you in trouble. No matter what you say, someone is going to take offense — even when none is intended.

And what about listening to someone else? Can you really do it without judging? Or will you be just as quick to take offense, too?

The provocative comedy Clybourne Park doesn’t try to solve tough issues like racism and gentrification. It will, however, aim to make you laugh while you think. The way we discuss race in America serves as the basis for this Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning comedy. Written by Bruce Norris, the play is coming to the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre from January 17 – February 2, 2014.

If you loved the play Raisin in the Sun, seeing Clybourne Park is a must. In its first act, the play takes place in 1959 — in the same fictional South Side Chicago home that the Younger family bought in Raisin in the Sun. Instead of focusing on the trials of the Younger family, though — you see what is happening as the white couple prepares to sell their home to the Youngers. In the second and final act, we fast-forward 50 years: it’s 2009, and a young white couple wants to buy the same house in what has become a predominantly African American neighborhood. 

As Chris Arnold, Director of the Diversity Learning Center at Grand Rapids Community College said at the Theatre’s Inside Dish program, “We’re a very segregated community.”






And as a Clybourne Park audience member, you’re a huge part of the play. Will you laugh at what might be perceived as a racist joke in a public theater? Will you feel indignant when someone says something you feel is offensive? Will you cringe with embarrassment when you hear snippets of your own inept dialog being paraphrased on stage?

Bruce Tinker, the play’s director, shared his own take at the Inside Dish.

“What I love about this play is that it says a lot of the things that we should be saying,” he said. “Certainly a lot of the things that we’re thinking and rarely ever take the opportunity to just put out on the table.”

Tinker says the play isn’t just about segregation in terms of housing and community and work arrangements. It’s not just about gentrification, either.

“It has a lot to do with just as individuals, how we’re living and seeing the world, and how little we share about that,” said Tinker. “This playwright (Bruce Norris) has elected to do that in some very confrontational ways, but also some very humorous ways. There’s a lot of humor in this play. And there’s a lot of moments where you think, ‘Oh! Did he just say that? I laughed. Maybe I shouldn’t have…'”

Tinker also cautions us that playwright Bruce Norris uses language like an Eastern European.

“This is going to be a push for our typical audience because there’s a lot of coarse language used in the play,” said Tinker. “The playwright uses it as a whip. ‘Did you hear that? Did you catch that? Are you paying attention? Yes, that person just said that. Yes. That just happened right in front of you.'”

Um, wait. Back up.

Did Bruce Tinker actually say that Eastern Europeans use language coarsely, as a weapon to inflict violence? And that the typical audience can’t handle the way Eastern Europeans communicate?




No. No, he didn’t. This is what he actually said:

“And so in a way, it’s a little Eastern European in terms of dramatic, thematic drama. You know the Eastern European tradition does a lot of that, where it really slaps the audience a little bit. And Bruce Norris does this just like little jabs. Sometimes they’re playful. And sometimes you think they maybe hurt a little. And sometimes they’re all in fun.”

When it comes to race and ethnicity, I can easily manufacture a distortion between what is being said…and what is being heard. Anyone can. Clybourne Park attempts to poke fun at our collective communication breakdown.

And that’s why the Production Sponsor (Warner, Norcross, and Judd) is spending its diversity dollars to underwrite Clybourne Park: to help spark a dialog. The idea is not to just show something on stage, but to have it resonate in the community afterwards with discussions.

You’ll find many opportunities for open community discussion on the topic of race this January. On January 20: GRCC, GVSU, and Davenport University are all holding marches and programs in honor of MLK day (you can find details at grcc.edu/mlk and gvsu.edu/mlk). And on January 21, Public Enemy Star Chuck D will be speaking at 10:00 a.m. at Davenport University’s Sneden Auditorium. Further, WGVU Newsmakers with Patrick Center will air Gentrification: Stories from a Community in Transition on the Create Channel on January 17. The program will re-broadcast on January 19 at 10:30 am on WGVU.

But aside from a handful of events in January, let’s keep the open and frank conversations going forward, shall we?

“This is a topic that is timely, it’s relevant, it’s current, and it’s happening. West Michigan is in the thick of it. And it’s something we all need to talk about,” said Nancy Brozek, the Theatre’s Director of Development and Community Relations.

“As a theatre, we always hope you like the play,” said Brozek. “But even if you don’t, we want you leaving talking about it. Whatever side or whatever position you have on the topic, we want the discussion taking place.”

Tanglefoot 22



I do not think that when the original founding artists of the Tanglefoot building on the city’s southwest side held its first open studio public event any of them really expected that 22 events later and in 2013 they would still be celebrating this phenomena.

What is a constant in this event is the reality that no matter who is involved whether it be any of the remaining founding members like Elaine Dalcher, who has exhibited all 22 times, or its newest member Jason Villareal, the Tanglefoot Building open artists studio event is the unofficial kick off to the holiday season.

Each year people line the hallways and venture to the many studios contained within meeting the artists or navigating the new displays of art in the hopes of securing an original piece for their home or as a gift.







As one of the organizers of this event over the last decade, I have come to think on this once a year special event as a sort of homecoming for our clients and friends (and sometimes the embodiment of both) as we open our doors but also our lives to an ever eager public hoping to explore this celebration of our local art culture.

But as I surveyed the faces this year, something remarkable has emerged as I noticed more fresh faces than familiar. Over the years I have come to recognize that this steady growth in our population numbers is a good indication that the city is changing as we hear folks sharing all the time that someone new has moved into their neighborhood or have just “joined our firm.”

As the artists of Tanglefoot dined at Grand Rapids Brewing Company Sunday night after their event and as they compared notes, this observation was repeated by all. It made me smile for a host of reasons.






One, it is always good to see new faces at a legacy event such as Tanglefoot entering its third decade. It points to the fact that folks whether brand new or unfamiliar with what we have created over the years collectively are feeling confident in their own skin veering off the well-worn path to embark on whole new adventures in our city.

But with the increase in numbers comes an opportunity to share the personal stories of our local artists with a much wider audience.  And this is the power of art that finds that audience as Tanglefoot has done for decades. Finding that commonality of shared experience is what makes art so important in many of our lives.

Folks who have visited Tanglefoot over the years know very well from engaging in our space that these places are not just where art is created but place-making can take hold.




Through these connections we find those items that bind us together as a community but also a reason to feel more at home at the city we are all a part of now and through the years.  Sometimes a gallery opening is a time to discover new art and sometimes it is a place where community connections to last decades lone are unearthed making all of us feel a bit more at home with each other.

Note: Tanglefoot 22 is an annual open studio holiday event. For the 2013 event,  more than 20 artists were represented including founding artists Elaine Dalcher and Nikki Wall along with Tommy Allen, Jeff Condon, Alynn Guerra, Carlos Aceves, Jason Villareal, Steff Condon, and Gretchen Deems.

Also on display this year were visiting artists from the Dinderbeck Collective and The Happi Ness Project by Mark Rumsey (2013-14 Guest Fellow of the Allen + Pfleghaar Studio at Tanglefoot.)


Veteran on a mission: Peter Meijer on advocacy and disaster relief in a post-war world



Peter Meijer stepped out of the command center at a Hurricane Sandy disaster relief site and immediately knew why he was there.

Another volunteer, a war veteran, came up to him, tears welling up in his eyes.

“He said, ‘Man, I’ve done three tours. But this past week, I made the most impact.’

“Ten minutes later, this older lady came up to me crying,” Meijer recalls. “I asked her what was wrong. She said, ‘Thank you. Until you came, I didn’t have any hope.’ Then she gave me a hug.”

Meijer’s quiet for a minute.

His time in the U.S. Army Reserves and embedded with the Iraqi Army as a combat advisor prepared him well for the physical rigors of disaster relief.

But the tears and hugs?

“I have no script for that,” Meijer says. “You realize, everybody’s winning. It’s 100 percent good, with a capital G.”

Meijer, 25, grandson of the late Frederik Meijer, grew up with plenty of lessons about making a difference in the world.

Now he’s doing his part through two organizations, both connected to his role as a military veteran.

IMG_0099 copy

Meijer is a volunteer for Team Rubicon, a nonprofit disaster response and humanitarian aid organization that organizes military veterans to respond to crises.

And he’s on the board of directors for Student Veterans of America, an advocacy and support group that eases vets from combat life to college life.

A U.S. Army veteran, joined the Army in 2006 while in college at West Point. In 2010, while a student at Columbia University, he was deployed to Baghdad where he served as a combat adviser to the Iraqi military for a year.

When deadly Hurricane Sandy hit shore in New Jersey in October 2012, Meijer and other Team Rubicon volunteers jumped in to assist.

He prepared evacuation shelters, helped with search and rescue efforts and cleaned up debris in the battered Rockaway neighborhood in Queens.

The combination of military veterans and disaster relief makes perfect sense, Meijer says.

“When a vet comes back, he loses a sense of camaraderie,” says Meijer, who lives in Manhattan. “You have a profound emotional connection with the others you serve with. Suddenly, that’s gone, along with your sense of purpose.

“How can you find a new community to be part of that gives you a sense of purpose and community?”

Many find it through Team Rubicon.

“Your main mission is to help people — restore a sense of normalcy,” he says. “But there’s this beautiful silver lining. It also helps the vets, who often struggle with suicide, mental health issues, PTSD, issues of unemployment, how to integrate. All these difficult issues. When you try to work on them directly, you don’t make much progress. But when you’re working with other vets at a disaster, all those really difficult emotional bridges to get across fall away on their own.

“It’s the most gratifying thing.”

Meijer was in Moore, Oklahoma in May right after a deadly tornado struck, killing 23 people and injuring 377 others. Eight children died in the Plaza Towers Elementary School there.

IMG_0090 copy

As he worked on cleanup, Meijer watched as one little girl collected loose roof shingles and drew rainbows on them with crayons. She gave them out to volunteers as thank yous.

Meijer found out later she had been pulled from the rubble earlier at the elementary school.

“That kind of thing,” he says, “sticks with you.”

Meijer grew up in East Grand Rapids as part of the Meijer family. His dad is Hank Meijer, co-chairman of the food retailer.

Growing up, Meijer says, “there was a very high bar.

“We learned it was good to want to do good, but that there’s a lot of goodwill out there that’s never translated into action,” he says. “What change can you actually affect?”

Some of his core beliefs come from his grandfather, Fred, he says.

“It doesn’t cost anything to care and to be a good person,” Meijer says. “And, life is too short not to have relationships with people and work together.”

There must be something to those Fred-isms, Meijer says, because he sure touched a lot of people. “The outpouring after he died was such a touching symbol of the impact you can have,” he says.

Jennifer Clipp has known Meijer since he was a freshman in high school. For 20 years she was the secretary in the guidance office at East Grand Rapids High School. The two remain good friends, and Meijer often checks in with Clipp, now retired, from his adventures.

Peter wasn’t a typical high school kid,” Clipp says. “Everybody liked him, but he wasn’t hanging out at the mall. Other things interested him. He’s an avid learner, and he wants to experience everything he’s interested in.”

And he was interested in the military.

“We had many conversations and disagreements about him going into the service,” Clipp says. “I didn’t want him to be in danger. I said, ‘Peter — why would you do this? You have your whole life to explore.’ He wanted to experience what it was about.

“Now, when you hear him speak about veterans, it’s truly heartfelt,” she says.

Meijer spelled his last name differently during high school, Clipp says, so as not to be recognized for his high profile family.

“He could easily be a very entitled young man, but he isn’t,” she says. “He’s never wanted anything given to him because of who he is. One of the reasons he chose to go to West Point was because he got in on his own, not because his father could afford to send him.

“I can’t wait to see what he does next.”

IMG_0096 copy

IMG_0098 copy

Meanwhile, Meijer is a passionate spokesman for Student Veterans of America, a go-between, he explains, “between the college bureaucracy and the Veteran’s Administration bureaucracy.”

They help with paperwork, internships, employment opportunities and other nuts and bolts of transition.

“But there are social and emotional issues, too,” Meijer says. “These students are older than their peers, they’ve had different experiences.”

Peer support is huge, he says.

“Guys who have been there can show others what hurdles they’ve faced, so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

Meijer was a student at Columbia University when he was deployed to Baghdad. When he returned, “I should have been as well prepared as anyone to make the transition,” he says. “I had already been in school. Yet it was still really difficult to adjust.

“You don’t want to be that guy in class who says, ‘Let me tell you how the world works,’” he says. “You don’t want to play the veteran card. But the reality is there’s a deep divide between the military and college campus atmosphere.

“A kid who’s just out of high school is living away from home for the first time, learning how to do his own laundry,” he says. “I’ve been shot at.”

While Meijer’s most dramatic stories of aid come from his experiences hundreds or thousands of miles away, he still has a soft spot for his own back yard.

His family has a long relationship with the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. His grandfather created a donor advised fund for his grandchildren to be part of, Meijer says, and he continues to have a say in the projects it funds.

It funds restoration of a WW II glider at the Greenville Military Museum, he says, as well as restoration of the veterans memorial in downtown Grand Rapids.

The veteran experience is part of him, he says.

“You know when you’re in a foreign country at a restaurant and you realize there’s somebody else there from the same place you are?” he says. “Even if you don’t know each other, you have this immediate camaraderie.”

Same thing with veterans, he says.

“You share a lot of things that you can’t explain.”




2nd Annual Alternatives In Motion High Endurance Awards event



In October 2013, Alternatives in Motion announced the winners of the 2013 A.I.M. High Endurance Awards, recognizing the efforts of local race directors, volunteers, endurance sport clubs, sponsors and participants who set out to accomplish their goals no matter how long it takes or how far they have to go. Last week, the winners were presented with awards.

In addition to recognizing the A.I.M. High Endurance Award winners, the program featured Tom Grilk, Executive Director of the Boston Athletic Association, as the guest speaker. Grilk discussed how the endurance community has supported the Boston Marathon since its inception in 1897, and particularly in the wake of the events of April 15 as both the B.A.A. and the how the running community is looking forward to the 2014 Boston Marathon.






AIM High Endurance Award winners are as follows:

• Individual Accomplishment Award: Libby Jennings

• Inspiration Award: Rick VanBeek (Team Maddy)

• Corporate Dedication Award: Metro Health Sports Medicine

• Moving People Forward Award: Johnny Agar (Team Agar)

Award recipients were nominated by their peers and selected by the A.I.M. High Endurance Awards committee.




In addition, 55 individuals who completed the Fifth Third River Bank Run 25K, half-iron or full-iron at the Grand Rapids Triathlon or the MiTitanium, and the Metro Health Grand Rapids Marathon in 2013 will be recognized with the West Michigan Endurance Award.

“In 2012, we presented 20 people with West Michigan Endurance Awards at the inaugural A.I.M. High Endurance Awards event,” explains Matt Chapman, Interim Executive Director, Alternatives in Motion. “To see 55 athletes achieve the award this year speaks volumes about the endurance community here in West Michigan. We are honored to recognize this amazing group of individuals next Thursday.”



West Michigan Endurance Award winners are as follows:


Proceeds from the event went to Alternatives in Motion. Alternatives in Motion is a privately funded, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to provide quality used wheelchairs, and routine wheelchair repair services, to individuals and families demonstrating financial need in order to promote healthy, independent and active lifestyles. To date, Alternatives in Motion has assisted over 1,250 people from Michigan and 21 other states. Proceeds will help provide mobility and independence to individuals and families in need by giving Alternatives in Motion the precious financial resources required to continue an unwavering commitment to keeping people mobile.

Four Colleges Commit to Grand Rapids Community College’s Challenge Scholars Program



November 8, 2013 — Aquinas College, Ferris State University, Grand Rapids Community College and Grand Valley State University have each created special scholarship packages to support Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s Challenge Scholars program. The Challenge Scholars program, which begins with sixth grade students at Harrison Park School and Westwood Middle School, is designed to help students succeed in school, maintain good grades and behavior and to eventually be accepted to college. Students that complete program requirements and graduate from Union High School will receive a last dollars scholarship from the Community Foundation. The value of the scholarship depends on which college the student chooses to attend and family income.

The scholarship packages that each of the colleges have created are set aside for Challenge Scholars students specifically and each differ slightly in their requirements and what is provided. “When Challenge Scholars launched two years ago, these four colleges became some of our strongest champions. The scholarship commitments we announce today add another element to the partnerships that are already bringing additional resources to students, parents and faculty at our three Challenge Scholars schools. Together, with Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) we are ensuring students on the West Side have the opportunity to reach their full potential as students and citizens. I’m grateful to our partners for their caring and generosity,” Diana Sieger, president of Grand Rapids Community Foundation said.

“This community is truly blessed to have well engaged, community-oriented higher education institutions like Aquinas College, Ferris State University, Grand Rapids Community College and Grand Valley State University. They have been major partners with GRPS for decades, and once again, they have stepped to the plate to support our students.






Challenge Scholars is a game changer and the momentum continues to grow thanks to partnerships like these,” Teresa Weatherall Neal, superintendent of GRPS said.

The local college presidents, whose schools are committing these scholarship packages provided these comments.

Ferris State University has been an active partner with the Grand Rapids Community Foundation in its efforts to encourage students to attend college. We are pleased to support the efforts of the Challenge Scholars program and look forward to encouraging these students not only to attend college, but to graduate,” Dr. David Eisler, president, Ferris State University said.

Dr. Steven C. Ender, president, Grand Rapids Community College said, “We know it takes a village to raise a child. The Challenge Scholars program provides the foundation for our community to work together to offer the guidance and support necessary for students to learn and grow, follow their dreams, and achieve success. Providing educational opportunities for West Michigan residents for nearly a century has given us, at GRCC, the first-hand knowledge that expanding access and support for education empowers our community’s most precious resource—its citizens.”






“I believe strongly in providing educational opportunities to our community’s young people,” Grand Valley State President Thomas J. Haas said. “The Challenge Scholars program fits in perfectly with Grand Valley’s mission to provide access to a college degree and increased opportunities. I have visited Harrison Park and sat and talked with the children. They’re remarkable, and show such promise. This program absolutely will make a difference in their lives and in the future of our community. I can’t wait to welcome some of these students to our campus.”

Dr. Juan Olivarez, president, Aquinas College said, “Aquinas College is proud to invest in the future by investing in students enrolled in the Challenge Scholars program. The families I have met at Harrison Park School are committed to their children’s education and are willing to make the necessary sacrifice to see their dream realized. Aquinas College is honored to partner with them in this dream.”

Why is the Sound of Music still so darn popular?



You’ve seen the Sound of Music a zillion times on TV. You know the story. You love the music, the characters, and the scenery. And the play was a sensation at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre in 2007.

And now – it’s back. The Sound of Music will be playing yet again at the Civic from November 15-December 15, 2013. Book your tickets now — the Civic’s Community Relations Director Nancy Brozek told me that the show is selling out fast.





Indeed, I had to bust my way past a short line at the box office to get into the theatre’s green room on October 30 to attend the Civic’s Inside Dish event. Almost 50 years after its 1965 Academy Award win for Best Picture, the Sound of Music still seems wildly popular in Grand Rapids.

But why? What is it about this play that makes it so enduringly popular and socially relevant?

As I see it, the story centers on an artistic free spirit who saves a stuffy military widower and his seven weirdly obedient children from getting swept up in the popular social and political conventions of pre-World War II Austria. Without Maria’s intervention, the Von Trapp family was on a path to heiling Hitler until hell freezes over. Feminists will love that the hero of this story is a young woman who infiltrates a family and saves them from their overly disciplined extremism with her creative, compassionate, and loving leadership.

The director of the Civic’s upcoming production shares a different vision for the play.

“The message to take away from the show is that I hope people would value family, courage and sticking together,” said Penelope Notter, director of The Sound of Music, “This is a brave family, who would not tolerate evil and instead risked their lives to get away. It’s a pretty compelling story. And it is true.”

You can interpret this crowd-pleasing play any number of ways. The Sound of Music is a romantic love story with adorable children like Puff the Magic Dragon is a song about a cute sea-dwelling creature. You can thoroughly enjoy a family-friendly, adventurous, and musical surface. You can delight in exploring a countercultural subtext that ignores strict historical accuracy in favor of promoting liberal feminist themes.

You can even do both.

The Sound of Music is as relevant as ever in these turbulent times. Two blocks from the Civic, I walked past two young men dressed as skinheads. Dressed in black and wearing jack boots, they were talking to each other with bitter frowns on their angry faces.

As I passed, one of the young men suddenly smiled warmly and said “hello” to me. I nodded curtly and kept moving.

Maybe the Michigan Militia was out recruiting for Devil’s Night. Or maybe two clueless young men were posing for a Halloween lark. Most of the successful extremists in our midst have learned to be more covert, but these two were as big and bold as life.

I find it alarming when even faux-Nazis are courteous to me. As a child, the Illinois Nazis were almost always present in our south Chicago neighborhoods in the mid to late 1960’s. They seemed angry and hostile, until I walked by and they were all sweetness and smiles: gentlemanly, polite, and charming.

Same deal here in Michigan: early on, I met a local lady who seemed very nice and knowledgeable about the area. She invited me into her rural home. After enjoying coffee and cookies, she felt I was the kind of person who might want to see her private room that served as a shrine to Hitler.

I am not a person who appreciates swastika shrines, Illinois Nazis, or the Michigan Militia. After all, the Nazis set fire to the lawn of my convent in 1968, so my parents would not let me attend school there, as planned.

Maybe I identify a little too closely with the Maria von Trapp character. But when it’s the late 1960’s, you’re a little girl, and Nazis set fire to the lawn of your convent — you see Maria as the hero of the story.





At the Inside Dish, I was excited to learn that director Penelope Notter made subtle yet dramatic changes to the play. After all, it’s not the 1960’s anymore. The 21st century extremists among us have learned subtler and more effective approaches to spreading hate-filled ideology. You may be sitting next to one right now, and not even know it.

“I have definitely up-played the Nazis,” said Notter. “They’ll be in the audience with you. The tension and fear of that time, I don’t want that to be missed. Because I realized years ago that 80% of the audience, that World War II is little — a couple of pages in their history book that they studied.”

According to Notter, the exceptional young cast of the play has a solid understanding of the period’s history. They watched old newsreels of the invasion of Austria. They’ve done their homework and researched the family.

The Civic, after all, isn’t merely a theatre. It’s a School of Theatre Arts that aims to educate not only its cast and volunteers, but also the community it serves. Over a hundred people — cast, orchestra, backstage staff and community volunteers — will be working every night to bring the Sound of Music to Grand Rapids.

“When we go to the concert in the show, YOU become the audience for the concert,” said Notter. “And I shouldn’t tell you all the surprises, but the Nazi flags will drop. They will march down the aisles. They will stand and watch you, to make sure you don’t do anything wrong. There’s two snipers in the bays. They will watch you, OK? Yeah. They’re there.”

Yes. Yes, they certainly are…

That’s the Sound of Music for you: bright and shiny; yet dark and disturbing. Get your tickets now, while they’re still available.

Pulso: Opening Reception



Spanning between KCAD and the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA), Pulso is rooted in an exploration of the ways in which regional boundaries affect the perception of art. While the artists involved all have ties to Latin America, this collaborative exhibition frees itself from the confines of such labels by allowing the diversity of medium and subject matter to challenge cultural preconceptions of contemporary art and strengthen the dialogue among artists, both locally and globally.

The show features 28 national and international artists. “Pulso” is an exploration of the way which regional boundaries affect the perception of art.

Artists include Sergio Gomez, of Chicago, a participant in ArtPrize 2013 at Fountain Street Church, who contributed a large-scale drawing of a U.S. $1 bill, only with the word “dollar” replaced by the Spanish word “Dolor,” which means “pain.”

Local artists include Gretchen Minnhaar, a native of Argentina, and an architect who helped design the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel; and Mandy Cano Villalobos, an assistant professor of art at Calvin College.

All of the artists have ties to Latin America. Artist Juan Angel Chavez is a native of Mexico. Artist Gabriel Villa grew up in the United States on the border between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez.

The collaborative exhibition was organized to allow the diversity of medium and subject matter to challenge cultural preconceptions of contemporary art and strengthen the dialogue among artists, locally and globally.








The exhibition is evenly divided between Kendall College’s Woodbridge Ferris Building and the UICA‘s Gallery on Fulton.

Work by 14 artists will be on display in the Fed Galleries in the Ferris Building, the 1910 Beaux Arts building at 17 Pearl St., that originally was the U.S. Federal Courthouse and U.S. Post Office in downtown Grand Rapids.

Artist Esteban de Valle, originally from Chicago, now based in Brooklyn; and Edith García, from Los Angeles, now living in Minneapolis, will be in Grand Rapids for an Artist Talk at 7 p.m. on Nov. 20 at KCAD’s Fed Galleries.

Work by another 14 artists will be shown at Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts which opened at the corner of Fulton Street and Division Avenue in 2011.

Artist Hugo Claudin, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico, now living in Grand Rapids, will give a second Artist Talk at 7 p.m. on Nov. 27 at UICA.

For further information on lectures, workshops, demos, and other events, please visit our websites at kcad.edu/galleries and uica.org




For more information on Pulso, check out KCAD and UICA’s Pulso pages.

The Fed Gallery Hours:

Tuesday – Saturday: 10:00am – 5:00pm

Special Extended Pulso/Pulse exhibition hours:

Thursdays: 10:00am – 9:00 pm


UICA Gallery Hours:

Tuesday -Thursday: 5:00pm – 9:00pm

Friday – Saturday: 12:00pm – 9:00 pm

Sunday: 12:00pm – 7:00pm