By Amalia P. Spagnolo
Another long winter comes to a close. According to the calendar, spring has sprung. You really want to get out of the house and do something different. Kathy Dodge of Grand Rapids Arts suggests you go for a walk. The First Friday Art Walk, to be specific.
First Friday Art Walk is the monthly Arts and Culture event held the First Friday of each month in downtown Grand Rapids. The public community event is a free, self-guided, self-paced tour of downtown arts displays and performances. Local businesses invite area artists and musicians into their stores and restaurants to exhibit their work or to sing or play.
Kathy Dodge chairs Grand Rapids Arts and serves on the Grand Rapids Arts and Cultural Commission. She encourages area residents to join in the monthly celebration of art and community in downtown Grand Rapids. “Go from one place to another and discover things you never knew about,” Dodge said.
An educator and community volunteer, Dodge recently retired from serving as the executive director of the Itasca Orchestra and Strings Program. She has served on the boards of Arrowhead Regional Arts Council and Reif Arts Council and is a co-founder of Grand Rapids Arts. She was instrumental in establishing the Grand Rapids Arts and Culture Commission and had advocated for the state of Minnesota Legacy Amendment.
Dodge explained the origins of the Grand Rapids Art Walk, which began in October 2011: It all started with the Minnesota Orchestra, which wanted to become better acquainted with rural Minnesota communities. With grant support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Orchestra could engage in weeklong residencies to live and to perform in smaller cities in Minnesota.
“We in Grand Rapids were very, very fortunate to be the first city to be chosen to be part of the Minnesota Orchestra’s ‘Common Chords’ residency project,” said Dodge. She and others on the steering committee wanted to commemorate the visit of one of the world’s premier symphony orchestras to Grand Rapids.
During the stay in Grand Rapids, the orchestra played at the library, area schools, in local businesses, and side-by-side with the Itasca Symphony Orchestra.
“But we wanted to have the orchestra leave a lasting legacy,” Dodge recalled. “We thought about sculpture and works of art, but that would have required a whole new level of funding.”
Another volunteer mentioned cities around the United States hosting a regularly occurring event called First Friday Art Walk.
“And so the Friday before the Minnesota Orchestra came to town, we held our first First Friday Art Walk,” Dodge said.
“We’ve had tremendous support from local businesses and local arts organizations,” Dodge said. “It started out very small, but as time has gone on, a lot of people have coordinated events with First Friday.”
Through art, music and community, the Grand Rapids Art Walk became a celebration of downtown Grand Rapids.
Crediting local stores and restaurants for their coordinated First Friday Art Walk efforts, Dodge noted how they have “worked hard to bring the musicians, the performers and the artists to their businesses.”
She added, “I have really enjoyed the fact that artists have brought me into a place I’ve never been before. It really brings together two different kinds of populations.”
Encouragement also has come from the Grand Rapids City Council, Dodge said, “Our government really has been very supportive.” A large area in the Old Central School was made available by the city to host an artist-in-residence. “We’ll have different artists every three months in residence in this wonderful space on the third floor.”
To those who consider arts and culture to be superfluous and expendable, Dodge asked that they consider this: “Arts just aren’t an addition—they are important to communities.” Being able to see art or to hear music at the end of the day is “a really healthy thing to engage in,” she added. Dodge described having choices of art and music to see and places for learning to create or to perform as “great assets to a community.”
For those who are unfamiliar with the First Friday Art Walk or who are out of the habit of attending, Dodge has nothing but encouragement. “Just start the Walk,” she said. “Start with some food because of all of the places generally serve some snacks. Go around and talk to artists and see what the businesses are offering.”
First Friday visitors can even close their Art Walk with a bit of jazz. “End the evening at the VFW Club to hear some jazz by Sam Miltich and Friends,” said Dodge, adding, “Quite often he’ll have guest artists, musicians from the Twin Cities who’ll join him.”
For more information about First Friday or Grand Rapids Arts, visit: http://bit.ly/1gnvz0c, GrandRapidsArts.org or www.facebook.com/grandrapidsarts.