50 years later: How Calder, ‘Festival’ transformed GR

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids tradition and landmark are celebrating a half century this year.

Festival of the Arts kicked off its 50th event Friday afternoon. On June 14, La Grande Vitesse, also known as the Calder sculpture, marks 50 years in downtown Grand Rapids.

When both came onto the scene, downtown Grand Rapids looked a lot different. Many of the stores had moved out to the malls and the only visitors to downtown were the people who worked there. The addition of the Calder and Festival of the Arts transformed the city.

Nancy Mulnix Tweddale knows Grand Rapids’ iconic sculpture from top to bottom, including how many bolts it has.

“1,591 (bolts) And they all have a ‘C’ stamped on them,” she said.

Mulnix Tweddale was the one who petitioned the federal government for a grant to bring commissioned artwork to the once barren plaza in downtown Grand Rapids.

“We wrote the history of monumental civic sculpture in America. We really did,” she said.

The addition piqued curiousity, bringing people back downtown. It set the stage for the first Festival of the Arts a year later in 1970 — an event that boasts “Art for All.”

“People came together and that is what it was all about. This is the gathering place of GR,” said Mulnix Tweddale.

Furthering the relationship between the Calder and Festival, artist Alexander Calder also created the signature festival logo known as “Sunny.” 

Below the Calder Plaza where it’s never sunny, Mulnix Tweddale points out another little known fact about La Grande Vitesse: the bolts that hold the sculpture on the plaza connect to bolts underground.

“My God, it’s not going anyplace, let me tell you,” she said.

The bolts aren’t the only thing keeping the Calder in Grand Rapids. It’s on streets signs, in the ArtPrize logo and the city’s seal. It’s like an old friend with a nickname because people don’t even call it by its fancy real name.

“They never said La Grande Vitesse. It was the Calder. ‘I’ll see you at the Calder, I’ll meet you at the Calder, it’s happening at the Calder.’ And that’s (why) I love it,” said Mulnix Tweddale.

At 50 years old, It is time for the Calder to get a facelift. This fall, it will be stripped of its signature red paint and repainted.



Experience GR: La Grande Vitesse

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