Tag: Featured

Free ticket program shows arts group’s commitment to first-time experiences

Opera GR presents Turandot

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.

Opera GR, Turandot production“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
  • Dwelling Place
  • Gilda’s Club

Patrons of the community partners can request tickets through the groups Opera GR, Turandotand 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.”

Turandot, from composer Giacomo Puccini, at Opera Grand Rapids May 1 and 2

World’s second-largest castle ‘has everything you could want in an apartment’

The Grand Castle

Anyone driving by The Grand Castle gets a sense of the building’s momentous size. Construction materials for the 522-unit apartment community off I-196 west of Grand Rapids included 200 million pounds of concrete, 900 tons of steel and 320,000 kilograms of granite.

The Grand Castle is indeed grand. In fact, at 1.2 million square-feet, it’s the second largest castle in the world!

But you have to tour The Grand Castle to get a full appreciation of how grand it really is.

The Grand Castle in Wyoming, MI

The Grand Castle is a pet-friendly apartment community featuring an outdoor dog park with two separate fenced-in areas and several play elements. Taryn Willett visits the dog park with her shepherd mix ‘every day, multiple times. There’s always a dog to play with,’ she said.

How each apartment has brand-new stainless-steel appliances, granite countertops, full washer and dryer and its own water heater, plus high nine-and-a-half-foot ceilings.

How there’s a variety of floor plans that fit a variety of living situations and budgets, and more than 90 percent them get at least one covered parking space.

How the extraordinary architecture is complemented by unparalleled amenities:

  • Outdoor swimming pool and clubhouse
  • Castle-themed playground for kids
  • Two-story library with a “Beauty and the Beast”-style twin staircase
  • On-site gym with cardio and weight training equipment
  • Game room with ping pong, shuffleboard and arcade games
  • Spacious outdoor terraces and sun decks
  • 23-acre lake for fishing and kayaking, with a waterside walking trail
  • Covered loading docks for easy move in
  • Expansive courtyard with outdoor seating and water fountain
  • Fenced-in dog park
  • Fitness classes, watch parties and other organized social events
  • Conference rooms for personal parties
The Grand Castle, Library

A two-story library at The Grand Castle features a twin staircase, a la ‘Beauty and the Beast.’

“It has everything you could want in an apartment,” said Taryn Willett, 27, who lives on the sixth floor with her fiancée, dog and cat. “We like it for a lot of reasons.

“It’s newer, cleaner. It has a fresh feel. And it’s actually a really good price for the area considering it’s very close to downtown. We’re actually paying less money (than we were at our previous apartment) for a new building, and it’s closer to the highway. That’s a really huge plus because you can get anywhere in 10 minutes.”

Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany is the inspiration for both Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland and The Grand Castle outside Grand Rapids. The 19th-century palace includes a copper lion standing guard atop its turreted roof, just like The Grand Castle.

There are a lot of apartments in West Michigan, but there’s only one castle. The Grand Castle was inspired by a similar marvel in southern Germany.

The Neuschwanstein Castle itself was a monumental feat of construction for its time, requiring more than 500 tons of marble, over 1,700 tons of sandstone and some 400,000 bricks. It also featured then-innovative amenities including central heating, running water and toilets with automatic flushing.

The Neuschwanstein Castle attracts upwards of 1 million visitors per year. Yet, only 522 tenants get to call The Grand Castle home.

“I teach dance at night and once my little dancers found out I lived at The Grand Castle they were like ‘Are you a princess?’” said Brooke Hanges, who lives in a 2-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor with her puppy.

“My nephew is 3 and he thought that was the coolest thing to have Aunt Brooke live in The Grand Castle. He even put together a Lego structure of the Castle for me.”

Apartment in the Grand Castle in Wyoming, MI

‘It’s all updated and new,’ said Brooke Hanges, who moved into The Grand Castle last year. ‘Everything is open, and the high ceiling is huge. I don’t feel like I’m in an apartment. I feel like I’m in a home.’

A year after opening, The Grand Castle is more than 70-percent occupied. Studio apartments rent for as little as $730 per month, while three-story penthouse suites have more than 4,000 square-feet. One-, two- and three-bedroom floor plans also are available ranging in size from 712 square-feet to 1,500 square-feet, with rents from $930 to $1,770 per month. The apartment community also includes several accessible units with barrier-free features.

Preferred employer discounts of 5 percent or more are available to employees of many of the Grand Rapids-area’s largest employers.

The Grand Castle is proving to be a great fit for people of all ages. In addition to 20-somethings just starting out and mid-career professionals, many residents age 55 and up are finding a home at The Grand Castle, too.

“It’s no maintenance,” said John Green, 72, who moved into a two-bedroom apartment with his wife after downsizing from a 4,900-square-foot home on 18 acres. “We love it here. It has so many things that make it worthwhile as far as things to do.”

As for The Grand Castle’s distinctive architecture, Green loves it.

“Whenever we have somebody come to visit, we never get the excuse that they couldn’t find it.”

‘Most sensory-friendly city in Michigan’ continues opening activities to families

Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, MI

Cathy Blatnik felt isolated, like a prisoner in her home, after her youngest son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and epilepsy before he turned three.

A bright or flashing light, a loud noise, any unexpected turn of events of the day could trigger an outburst, and then a life-threatening seizure.

Going to the movies as a family? That was not an option.

Heading to a ballpark for a game? Couldn’t do that, too many external stimuli existed.

How about a visit to a museum? Again, the unknown lurked around every corner.

“It was very lonely. We did absolutely nothing,” said Blatnik, of Okemos. “We couldn’t even take him to the grocery store because it was so exhausting.”

Wharton Center for Performing Arts in Lansing, MI

The Wharton Center for Performing Arts helped lead the Lansing-area’s dedication to sensory-friendly events when it brought a production of “The Lion King” to the stage in 2018. In April, “Junie B. Jones” will also have a performance that caters to those on the autism spectrum.

Today, the options for the Blatnik family and others living with sensory issues have opened up. The Lansing region has embraced and become a statewide leader as a sensory-friendly center for people with autism and other disabilities.

In less than two years, Lansing has transformed into what Blatnik calls the “most sensory-friendly city in Michigan.” Leaders at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts, the Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Mid Michigan Autism Association have trained more than 1000 people across regional attractions, restaurants and hotels on how to create supportive and welcoming environments.

April’s designation as Autism Awareness Month serves as a point of pride for those who have taken the lead on meeting the needs of neuro-diverse guests. “The collaboration between private and public entities has created a jammed calendar of sensory-friendly events for the month and the rest of the year,” said Julie Pingston, executive vice president of the visitors bureau.

Here is a sampling of experiences from 2019, available to families with a member on the autism spectrum, or with developmental disabilities, sensory processing disorder, and other conditions:

  • Sensory Friendly Show of Dumbo at both NCG Cinema or Celebration Cinema
  • Autism Friendly event at Jumpin’ Jax hosted by Comprehensive Early Autism Services
    Lions at Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, MI

    Potter Park Zoo recently became certified as the only AZA certified sensory-inclusive zoo in Michigan, and the center holds monthly events that are focused on serving neuro-diverse guests.

  • Sensory-Friendly evening hours at Impression 5 Science Center
  • Sensory-Friendly show at Abrams Planetarium
  • FALCONERS program at Potter Park Zoo
  • Junie B. Jones at Wharton Center for Performing Arts

The Lansing region has a full calendar of neuro-sensitive events for April 2020 and beyond, found by clicking here, and the area was recently recognized with the Governor’s Award for Innovative Tourism Collaboration at the 2019 Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism.

“No one put this on a to-do list, but it has become a cornerstone of our community to make all of our attractions sensory-friendly,” said Pingston. “We want to elevate our community so that there’s more awareness, more understanding and more ability to serve and welcome families.

Impression 5 Museum in Lansing, MI

The Impression 5 Science Center is a fun hands-on experience for family members of all ages.

“Our message is that Lansing is open to you and we will continue to work to make this the best experience visitors to our community can have.”

Blatnik said her advocacy began with her family – Dominic is now 14 – and continues because she doesn’t want others to go through what she did when her son was young. Studies show 1 in every 59 children are diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

“The satisfaction comes from seeing a family smile, from seeing the relief on their faces that they can live and that people care about them,” she said. “Recently, a family was looking for help after their 2-year-old was diagnosed with autism. They were looking for resources, and I was able to hand them a whole book of things to do and where to go.

“That didn’t exist when we were starting out. We didn’t want to keep Dominic in a bubble, but at the same time, we had to know what we’re walking into and what the risk was. It was and still is really a matter of his health and his life.”

Laura Zeller, the director of communications for Impression 5 Science Center, said the facility has worked with experts from Michigan State University and the autism association to conduct two audits to understand how to be a more welcoming venue.

Impression 5 Museum activities, Lansing, MI

The Impression 5 Science Center is a fun hands-on experience for family members of all ages.

Changes have included developing a special sensory-friendly night once per month and implementing tools to help prepare families for a visit during regular hours. There are social stories, which vividly describe and guide guests around the museum before their visit, as well as new signage indicating potential sensitivities at exhibits. The center has also created sensory backpacks equipped with fidget spinners, headphones and other methods of assisting neuro-diverse families through the hands-on experience.

“We want people to feel that we are open and accessible,” Zeller said. “What we’ve seen from families is just a huge sense of gratitude and appreciation. They just want to be able to participate and have an entertainment and learning option that is welcoming.“Families can be themselves and be comfortable here and across Lansing now, and we think that’s a great feeling to provide as a community.”

Pingston agrees: “There’s nothing better than doing something that helps others,” she said.

Learn more about the Lansing area’s sensory-friendly commitment here.

Why relationships are the backbone of this 57-year-old Flint jewelry business

Gaines Jewelry Building

David Gaines probably assesses his life’s work differently than many people would assume after learning that he’s spent 34 years working at Gaines Jewelry, the Flint-based store founded by his father in 1963.

“My dad’s philosophy wasn’t to just wow anyone with inventory or to simply sell them a product,” said Gaines. “He taught me early on that we are here to form relationships, to get to know people and build the trust that creates a customer for life.” Gaines Jewelry original location

“I’m in the jewelry industry, but it’s really about the people that I meet and then get to be a part of their lives. That’s what hooked me. We get to touch people at a time in their lives that they’re happy and a moment that they will remember forever, whether that’s engagements, birthdays or other special occasions. I fell in love with being a part of that feeling.”

As the Gaines family celebrates 57 years in business in 2020, David, along with his daughter, Selina, and son, Wesley, look back with pride at how the Flint community has embraced them. The family business mirrors the community, with the third generation of Gaines involved in finding precious gems and accessories for its third generation of clients.

David recalls his father selling pieces to customers whose children and grandchildren now allow David to meet their jewelry needs

“It’s these long-standing relationships that are so important because it shows we have created a tradition and that we continue living up to the expectations,” David said. “At the same time, we love meeting new people and starting out with them from square one. That’s an exciting process for us.”

As the region’s oldest independent jewelry store, Gaines Jewelry found a balance in having the latest designs and popular brands like Pandora and Kabana alongside original, unique pieces. The family also finds satisfaction in carrying such a wide inventory that they can meet price points of customers at any stage in life.

The full-service nature of the business also allows Gaines to collaborate with clients on repairs, jewelry redesigns and custom designs. Many processes once done by hand are now done using a computer-aided design process to create timeless and poignant pieces. Customizing jewelry has become more efficient and customer-friendly in recent years because of technology, which Gaines Jewelry has invested in to be at the cutting-edge of the industry.

“If you can dream it, we can build it,” David says, noting designs can be conceptualized and completed in as little as three to four weeks.

Gaines Jewelry Gallery location

While the jeweler’s primary operations are based at the Beecher Road location, the Gaines’ are also eagerly anticipating what the future brings with the addition of The Gallery by Gaines pop-up shop in the Shops on Saginaw in downtown Flint. Daughter Selina manages the new location that opened in December. The shop has a curated selection of affordable and fashionable jewelry, and the opening was a sign of how the family feels about Flint.

“Flint is my town, it’s where I went to school, went to college and raised my family,” David said. “The community has invested in us, and we have invested in the community that we love. There’s a lot of momentum downtown and we want to support and be a part of that activity.

“The Gallery is a sampling of what we have done and what people can expect when they visit (the Beecher Road store). We hope it introduces us to new people or makes it more convenient for them to visit our store and learn about us.”

Visit Gaines Jewelry’s website or Facebook page to learn more about Flint’s independent jeweler.