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Photo of dancers during Grand Rapids Festival
Pacific Island Dancers perform on the Calder Stage, 1999

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Festival of the Arts: The Nation's Largest All-Volunteer Arts Festival
A Local Legacy

How can a piece of art create a monster? Easy, it can inspire an entire city to hold a huge arts festival. It happened in Grand Rapids, Michigan, when a gigantic piece of sculpture was installed on a downtown plaza.

In 1969, a type of stationary abstract sculpture, called a stabile (pronounced stay-beal), was installed downtown in front of City Hall. Twentieth century American artist Alexander Calder created it. Calder's stabiles are constructed of flat curving shapes of metal welded together and usually painted red or black. His stabiles are playful, fanciful creations that look great in parks and plazas. Once the sculpture was in place, the people of Grand Rapids started thinking that they needed an arts festival to celebrate Calder's work. More important, they needed an arts festival to celebrate the arts in West Michigan.

So, in 1970, Festival was born. This three-day arts celebration, held the first full weekend in June in downtown Grand Rapids, attracts thousands of participating artists. Festival has grown from a few booths and food stalls into the nation's largest all-volunteer arts festival, with more than 20,000 volunteers and more than 500,000 people attending. It has grown so large that it is spread out over almost all of downtown - that's a monster of a festival!

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