When the curtains open on Opera Grand Rapids’ May 1 and May 2 performances of Turandot – the company’s largest production in more than a decade – nearly 20 percent of the audience will be seeing the art form for the first time – and for free.
Opera Grand Rapids has committed $40,000 to its Community Tickets Program, which will distribute 900 tickets, 450 for each of the two shows at DeVos Performance Hall, to community organizations for distribution to people who are interested in the opera but have been priced out of access.
“This is an investment that creates an avenue for people and eliminates the barriers to seeing Opera in Grand Rapids,” said Emilee Syrewicze, the opera’s executive director. “These are prime seats that we are keeping open for people to experience this classic artform.”
“We want to approach diversity, equity and inclusion with intention. We hope the result is easier access to the performing arts. We’re excited, and we think this is an important step for our community.”
The new outreach partners Opera Grand Rapids with local arts and service organizations including:
Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities
Grand Rapids Public Library
Salvation Army of Kent County
Woodlands/Suburban Library Cooperative
Grand Rapids Urban League
Community Food Club
Patrons of the community partners can request tickets through the groups and must not be prior ticket purchasers. Syrewicze said more community associations can partner with Opera Grand Rapids by calling 451-2741.
“We are providing an opportunity to see Turandot, and at the same time, we’re helping elevate the profile of other community cultural groups,” Syrewicze said.
Turandot, from composer Giacomo Puccini, will be a stunning experience, and it is described as a visual, dramatic and musical feast for the senses. The production will feature the full Grand Rapids Symphony and a large chorus in addition to the talents of top opera performers. It features opera’s most iconic aria “Nessun dorma,” which was most famously performed by Luciano Pavarotti.
The opera’s investment is made possible by its supporters, who have generously donated because they understand the importance of being inclusive.
Opera Grand Rapids is in its 52nd year and is the longest continuously operating opera company in Michigan. It is also recognized as one of the premier mid-size operas in North America.
“The arts can change lives,” said Syrewicze, “and we want to be a part of that.”
Walking across the city’s iconic Blue Bridge, the sounds jumping from the speakers installed by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer are mind-bending at first. Mixed messages looping as visitors traverse the Grand River are intensified by more than 400 flashing lights that overload the senses.
Slow down and the realization comes that the Voice Bridge installation at Project 1 by ArtPrize is simply bringing part of the cacophony, and also the fleeting nature, of urban life to the forefront.
Lozano-Hemmer invites visitors to record a short voice message into intercoms at either end of the bridge and then follow it down the path. The messages weave and bump into earlier voices until they disappear and are replaced by others.
Is it a metaphor for life’s ephemeral nature? Or something else?
The evolution of ArtPrize to Project 1: Crossed Lines has allowed organizers to deepen the significance of art by creating a theme that serves as an inspiration for the pieces while also examining critical issues. Crossed Lines looks at how boundaries, both visible and invisible, affect a sense of belonging that can unite or divide the city.
Kevin Buist, artistic director of ArtPrize, says the lines contribute to or detract from people’s sense of belonging.
“Some of these lines are clear: neighborhoods, wards, roads, and rivers,” Buist wrote in his essay launching Project 1. “Other lines are harder to see: the legacy of redlining and other discriminatory housing practices; the way perceptions of safety map onto city space; the limitations imposed by the built environment on persons with disabilities; the shifting implicit borders that come with cycles of urban decay, development, and gentrification; and more.”
With time running out to experience the first-ever Project 1 – the public art exhibition ends Oct. 27 – it’s time to take stock of the installations that are available and how to explore the public art that has transformed Grand Rapids, and potentially the people who experience it.
Lozano-Hemmer’s use of the bridge provides the first opportunity at introspection. Bridges by their nature create connections and cross lines, in this case from the downtown to the west side of Grand Rapids. He uses proprietary interactive technology to create harmony but also what could be viewed as a disconnect because there is not a cohesive message.
Project 1’s questions to consider as you examine Voice Bridge:
Why does the invitation to participate generate belonging, community and ownership?
Why do you think the artist chose this location for his work?
What is the bridge connecting and what does it represent?
How does Voice Bridge address ideas about physical access, power and belonging in the city?
Amanda Browder’s textile installations are the only element featured at all three of theProject 1 locations, downtown over skywalks, draping the community center at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, and at the Tanglefoot building.
She engages the community by wrapping areas where people move through daily life and where they congregate. Volunteers sewed donated fabric for weeks to create the intricate, colorful designs that change the appearance of otherwise drab cityscapes. From different angles – consider walking through the skywalk links and then observe them from the outside – the installations have varying perspectives.
Project 1’s questions to consider as you examine Kaleidoscopic:
Do you think the colors and variety of the fabric are important in the artwork?
Do you have clothes, flags or fabric that represents a community you belong to? How would you feel if that fabric was in the installation?
How has this work transformed the building it occupies?
The Oracle of the Soulmates
Heather Hart created submerged rooftops, complete with shingles and dormer windows, that look like they were dropped from the sky. The rooftops refer to home, stability or shelter. Hart speaks about the rooftops as thresholds between public and private space. Combined with family and oral histories, and activated by performance, her work explores the power these thresholds have in our lives.
Installed in Rosa Park Circle downtown and in Martin Luther King Jr. Park on the city’s Southeast Side, the pieces can foster conversations about housing, hopes and dreams and the often unequal playing fields various socio-economic and demographic groups experience while trying to achieve stability.
Project 1’s questions to consider as you examine The Oracle of the Soulmates:
How does this work showcase the community it is in?
How does it create a space for storytelling?
What space do you experience storytelling in your community?
If this sculpture was in your neighborhood, what stories, songs or performances do you think would be shared from the rooftops?
The Boom and the Bust
The 25-foot sculpture created by Olalekan Jeyifous rises from the ground at the corner of Louis Street and Monroe Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids. The installation
referencing the balance of urban life, growth sought for vibrant cityscapes but an economic boom that often leads to individual displacement. Jeyifous researched the recent history of housing in Grand Rapids. By combining references to skyscrapers and single-family houses, he shows how the energy that continues to transform Grand Rapids has far-reaching impact and implications.
The piece is comprised of three sections, a base resembling a single home, a middle that features a steel lattice supporting an array of small homes, and a top that resembles a skyscraper.
Project 1’s questions to consider as you examine The Boom and the Bust:
How does this sculpture reflect the Grand Rapids community and families that live here?
Why do you think the artist chose the city’s downtown for this work?
If it was hard for you to find a place to live in a community, would you still feel welcomed?
With the site-specific architectural installation at the landmark Tanglefoot Building, a former industrial flypaper manufacturing site now repurposed to house artists’ studios, Paul Amenta and Ted Lott transform a private space into a fully accessible public space through a series of ramps and landings. In collaboration with DisArt, an arts and culture organization that focuses on creating public art events that cultivate and communicate a disabled culture, the environment addresses accessibility in both form and function. The work creates a stage for action and expression.
Project 1’s questions to consider as you examine Critical Infrastructure:
How has this installation transformed the space it occupies?
How does the piece advocate for the disabled community?
Why are performance, storytelling and community engagement important elements to this work?
As Buist sums up in his essay defining Project 1, the art is organized around the idea of belonging and how individuals react or interpret that feeling.
“Belonging is a state of being, so these artworks are places to be, not just things to look at and think about,” he wrote. “It’s our hope that Project 1 does much more than communicate an idea; we hope it can alter and reorganize the city, breach borders, cross paths, blur boundaries, and point toward a future city where we all belong.”
Ask Christos Moisides about what the Greektown neighborhood means to Detroit, and he’s quick to respond:
“It’s been one of the heartbeats of Detroit for many, many decades,” said Moisides, whose family has owned businesses in the district on the city’s near Northeast side for years. “It means a lot to continue the tradition of what Greektown was and then be a part of transition it into what Greektown will continue to be.”
That’s the same assessment offered up by Tasso Teftsis, the owner of the legendary Astoria Bakery.
“(Greektown) is special to Detroit because it’s the last ethnic neighborhood that is still living and vibrant,” he said. “It’s special to Greeks around here, they feel ownership of Greektown, and we have a responsibility to keep it going.”
Greektown was established in the 1880s as a residential district where immigrants could hold on to their culture as they adapted to a new way of life. It morphed to a commercial streetscape led by family-owned businesses and marked by historic properties and Victorian era architecture.
The event served as a reminder of the Hellenic influence in the neighborhood, but it was also an introduction to one of the city’s prime entertainment district and diverse shopping experiences.
Residents and visitors strolled through the neighborhood watching lamb being traditionally roasted on a spit over open flames, Greek entertainers singing and dancing and a children’s area with balloon artists and inflatable playhouses.
The day-long festival is led by the Greektown Preservation Society with sponsorship by the Greektown Casino-Hotel, which opened in 2007 and has helped the area evolve while staying true to its roots.
“Greektown Casino-Hotel are awesome neighbors,” Teftsis said. “They are a big part of the festival, but they’re also a big part of the community, a part of our Greektown neighborhood partnership…it’s really an exciting time for Greektown.”
While Greektown’s history is evident in its name, the district has also served as a melting pot of cultures, one of which is shown through mutual support to and from The Old Shillelagh, an iconic Irish bar at the corner of Brush and Monroe streets. Owner Shellie Lewis said the festival is a chance to learn more about neighbors who share the goals of keeping Greektown strong.
“There’s a lot of new businesses coming in, and it is making this an even better place to be,” Lewis said. “If it wasn’t for Greektown Casino and Hotel, we wouldn’t be able to pull off the event. They are pillars of the community.”
Moisides, meanwhile, said as other areas of Detroit attract attention for their rebirth, it’s important to remember that Greektown never went away. It’s part of the pulse of Detroit, Moisides said.
“For the longest time, Greektown was everything,” Moisides said. “It’s still such a vital part of the community, where you have vibrant businesses and a great pulse of the area. It’s a place where everyone’s coming to see what’s happening and (wants to be) a part of the community.
“It’s still a safe family environment during the daytime and turns into a great entertaining, kind of nightlife hospitality enhanced area in the evenings.”