NEW YORK – Those who question the competitive nature, athleticism or brains of cheerleaders likely have never met Laura Lyn.
As a member of the Minnesota Vikings cheerleading squad, she’s on the sidelines trying to rile up fans, but she also performs complex dance routines, all the while trying to keep one eye on the action, lest she and her teammates find themselves in the path of an oncoming professional football player.
A lifetime fan of the Vikings, Laura knows football, and also knows what it takes to compete. The 28-year-old Minnesota native grew up with dance and gymnastics and played tennis in high school and college. She also rode horses – “I could ride a horse before I could walk” – and later showed them as well.
Her latest competitive venture? Showing dogs. So, it’s a natural that a woman who works for an NFL team ended up competing at the “Super Bowl of dog shows,” the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City.
Her stall in the WKC benching area was decked out in Vikings purple and gold – the same colors of the famed Westminster Kennel Club. The grooming table used to spruce up Laura’s 4-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog, Kendra, was covered with a Minnesota Vikings towel.
Kendra didn’t win the dog equivalent of the Super Bowl – and the Vikings have appeared in four Super Bowls but never won – but she was awarded “select bitch” during the breed competition. And while she didn’t win “best of breed” to qualify for the Working Group finals at Madison Square Garden, Laura said she was happy with Kendra’s performance during their brief time in the ring.
“I think it went well … everyone said she looked good,” Laura said. “I’m always my own worst critic, so little tiny things, like, ‘Oh, her foot moved here,’ bug me. But it was very surreal standing outside the ring waiting to go in. I was like, ‘I am at Westminster.’
“I’m happy she got pulled (from the lineup) and got her award. It would have been fun to get best of breed but she got a piece of it, and I’m happy. She showed well, she looked good, and I had fun with her.”
It was her first time at Westminster, and Laura vows she’ll be back. Clearly, the competitor in her doesn’t give up easily. She wasn’t selected for the Vikings cheerleading team her first time around, either, but Laura persisted. She was placed in a training program in 2006 and finally made the team in 2009.
“I’ve been on the team for four years, but I’ve been with the (Vikings) organization for seven,” Laura said. “I was in the training program, because I didn’t make the team my first time trying out. In the training program they spend a year with you and they have alumni that coach you. They take what you need to work on and help you perfect it so you can try out again the next year. So I was on the training program for a couple of years.”
The team holds open auditions for cheerleaders every April, with a couple hundred women trying out. The field is narrowed to 50 or 60 by the end of the day, and those women go through a few weeks of training camp. Finally, the team of 35 is selected by a panel of judges in a competition held at the Mall of America.
Laura is the oldest on the team – the minimum age is 18 and there is no maximum age.
“When I first started there were girls well into their 30s,” she said. “As the years go on, they kept leaving, and I’m still here. But even as a veteran, you have to try out again each year, so there is no guaranteed spot on the team. That makes you work that much more for it.”
Laura grew up loving sports – she was on her high school’s state championship tennis team in Edina, Minn. She also grew up loving the Vikings. Her parents, Leo and Sharon Fourre, have been Vikings season ticket holders for as long as she can remember.
“I remember growing up and watching the girls on the sidelines and thinking, ‘How fun would that be?’ and one thing led to another eventually,” Laura said. “I don’t just work for the team, I’ve been a fan of the Vikings my whole life.”
She’s heard plenty of stories of the days of outdoor football at frigid Metropolitan Stadium, and even had a taste of those cold-weather adventures as part of the cheerleading team in 2010. That was the year the roof of the Hubert H. Humprey Metrodome, where the Vikings play their home games, collapsed from the weight of snow after a particularly brutal storm.
“We had to get all of our warm-weather clothes at the last minute,” she said. “It was cold and snowy and we didn’t have warm-weather team gear. We wore big puffy white jackets and pants. It was a really fun game, but I don’t know about outdoor football in 30-below weather.”
The winters in Minnesota no doubt played a role in her decision to attend the University of San Diego after graduating from high school. But she missed the Midwest (“I take warm-weather vacations now”) and tennis, and transferred to St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minn., where she played tennis for a year.
“I got burned out on tennis but then not playing in college (in San Diego), of course, I wanted to play,” Laura said. “I started playing tennis because I thought it was a lifelong sport, but I went at it so heavy for such a long time that I needed a break.”
She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree at College of St. Benedict, in biochemistry, pre-med and mathematics. Her full-time job now is in medical sales.
All Vikings cheerleaders must be either a full-time student, full-time mother or have a full-time job. Needless to say, between her full-time job, part-time job with the Vikings and her “hobby” of showing dogs, Laura is constantly on the go. She arrived for the dog show in New York fresh off a military tour with the Vikings cheerleaders at a Naval base in Japan.
“Tryouts are in April, and then we’re in full swing,” Laura said. “We shoot a calendar, do photo shoots, have team shots for marketing and we practice three nights a week. We spend all summer memorizing and learning the routines.
“As a team, we do about 400 to 500 appearances a year. I did about 120 myself last year. So, we definitely keep busy in the community, even more than at games. We’re always doing a lot of charity work in communities. It’s such a big part of why I love doing it … we can have an impact on the people we get to meet, and it means a lot.”
Showing her Bernese Mountain Dogs is more a hobby than a line of work for Laura.
“This is so non-mainstream,” she said. “This is a more unique hobby, sports and competition wrapped in one. If I could make this my career, I’d be happy, but I probably wouldn’t like it as much because then it’s more of a job.”
For now, she plans to keep it her hobby. But that’s not to say she isn’t out to win. Her first taste of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show won’t be her last, she promised.
“I’ve watched the show for years, and going over to the Garden (Monday night) was like, ‘I can’t believe I’m here.’ It’s so big,” she said. “But I’m super competitive. After being at the Garden (to watch the Group competition), I said, ‘I’m not done here until I’m at the Garden (as best of breed winner).’
“I don’t know when, but I will be back there at some point in time.”
2012 was a year of huge growth for Stellafly. Right out of the gate, we started the year with receiving media clearance to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show — a lifelong dream for me. As we packed up our bags and headed for the big city, I remember what an old dog friend had to say about winning ribbons at that show. She said, “If you can win there, you can win anywhere.” When I walk along the streets when I’m there, I still believe this is true of anything that you put your mind to while you’re in NYC.
In August, I returned to spend time with street photographer JD Urban who ended up becoming a wonderful friend and will be mentioned later in this post.
In 2012, we added photographer Ian Anderson from the Lansing area. We found Ian working as an assistant to local photographer Terry Johnston. Ian is also a full time student at Kendall College working towardan illustration major. I was thrilled to find that he’s nothing short of amazing with his camera work as well. He also doesn’t seem to mind doing the late or inclement weather events which makes the other guys happy. In the Spring, Summer and Fall months, you’ll see him trekking around on his bike and hanging out in coffee shops. We love having him around and hope to support him all the way to his next stage, which appears to be graduation and then eventually Los Angeles.
Raeanna Anglen came to us through a recommendation from a long time friend, Daniel Estrada, who organized a meeting to tell us about a really cool band that had moved to Grand Rapids from Tennessee. We met for the first time in Olive’s in East Grand Rapids. Raeanna’s brother, Riley, his bandmate, Travis Bailey, is married to Daniel’s adorable sister, Frances. We learned that Riley had already landed a job at Founder’s. Raeanna was working at Best Buy and showed enormous potential as a photographer. I asked to see her work. The portfolio was strong and we added her to our creative team. It’s so refreshing to have a photographer that is seeing and experiencing Grand Rapids for the first time. As you see more of her work in 2013, keep that in mind. Her perspective is lovely.
We also had the privilege of working with photographers Robert Bowden from the Detroit area, local photographer T.J. Hamilton and Dave Johnson from the lakeshore.
When the Grand Rapids Press began laying off their creatives last winter, I sincerely felt sorry for those that had dedicated so much of their life work to the publication. As we all know, things change and businesses have to make tough decisions sometimes. We want to send out a sincere thanks to the GR Press for releasing this huge influx of talent into the creative gene pool. This year, we worked with and featured stories by talented writers such as Terri Finch Hamilton, Cami Reister, Heidi Stukkie and Brian VanOchten. We also picked up Alexandra Fluegal, Laura Bergells and Danielle DeWitt. Be sure to look for more from them in 2013!
Oh, and GF is still hanging around too. Every once in a blue moon, he sends me an obscure email that makes me laugh. He always has a profile he’s working on for us, one with an unknown deadline that will likely need to be updated before publishing. He and his lovely wife, Vicky, became grandparents for the first time this year. I know that these two are enjoying retirement more than most do.
Sadly, we also said farewell to some of our talent as well. Michael Cook, Katy Batdorff and Charlie Hoffman headed off in different directions to pursue their dreams. We gave them hugs, kissed their cheeks and wished them well as they ventured out into the big world.
New this year…
Back in the old GRSD days… wait… who? Anyway, our focus was primarily on covering local events in and around the Grand Rapids area. In 2012, we continued to promote and cover the interesting events in our area but also ventured outside our comfort zone and explored Detroit and New York City. We shifted some of our focus to helping businesses develop an online presence on their social media networks. We became their brand managers — administrators of their facebook pages and twitter accounts. We got to know their audience. We introduced their audience our other clients’ audiences. Throughout the entire year, we picked up a handful of fantastic clients and campaigns that we now consider family. It’s been an exciting year for growth for each of them and we’re looking forward to working with all of them again in 2013.
We’re also continually encouraged & inspired by people who do great work. We’re honored to know: Roberta King, Diana Sieger, Jonathan Jelks, John Helmholdt, Johannah Jelks, Noddea Skidmore, Kaite Lyn Christoffersen, Shannon Williams, Jenny Disko, Todd Ernst, Ian Barrie, JD Urban, Jason Lawrence, Laura Bergells, Shelley Irwin, Jackie Siranni, Donna Bova, Mark Curtis, Diana Sikes, Tom Dowdall, Mark Curtis, Marcel Thibert, Audrey Sundstrom, Molly Klimas, Jim Murray, Patrick Plank, Nicole Cook, Maria Falice, Wendy Wassink, Scott Alfree, Teddy Drake, Heather Hinman, Calvin Webb, Jolon Hull, John VanderHaagen and so so many more that have helped us along the way.
As we move toward our Top Twelve of Twenty-Twelve, we must take note that for obvious reasons every event that we attended could not make the short list nor can the fantastic events we attended but were unable to photograph. Instead of listing our Top Twelve in order, we’ve put them into categories. Each of us submitted our favorite events with a brief explanation as to why it moved us.
Note: Add these to your ‘MUST ATTEND’ in 2013 calendars: Grand Rapids Antiques Market, Butterflies Blooming at Frederik Meijer Gardens, 2013 Special Olympics Polar Plunge, Irish on Ionia, TEDx Grand Rapids, Festival of the Arts, Arts in Ada, Green Gala: Come Out and Play, Festival of the Arts, The GRPS Turkey Trot, Gazelle Girl Half Marathon, Fashion’s Night Out 2013, St. Mary’s Foundation’s Up on the Roof, The Sixth Annual Legacy Ball, and Literacy Center of West Michigan’s BeeDazzling Spellebration.
Without further ado, it’s time to reveal Stellafly’s Top Twelve events of Twenty-Twelve.
Best Concerts of 2012
Submitted by Tim Motley
When we heard that Jane’s Addition was coming to Grand Rapids, we didn’t hesitate to buy our tickets and begin our attempt to secure a photo pass. An exciting and edgy show coming to Grand Rapids is always welcome — particularly for people like Tim and me.
DeVos Performance Hall was the perfect venue for these guys — an intimate setting where any seat really is a great seat. At showtime, the lights dimmed and recognizable Pink Floyd tunes played in the darkness.
We cover a lot of music but this show stood out for me from all the rest. Maybe it’s because I’m in my 40s and it was a fun trip back in time with great memories of parties and youth. Maybe it’s because at the end of the show, each of the band members walked along the edge of the stage, touching the hands of the fans. I am not one to get starstruck but when Dave Navarro came by and held onto my outreached hands for several seemingly long seconds, I will never forget that show. Ever.
After Tim shot the first three songs, the awesome DeVos Stage Security let Tim stay (we had a ticket for him) and we got to watch the entire show together. My husband had snagged Dress Circle seats not knowing that we were in the first row. Right next to the photographer.
In my opinion, Jane’s Addiction has truly only gotten better with time and definitely naughtier. That and the fact that I truly appreciate them as artists so much more now. Surely because I’m old. Great time. Makes the list!
Many thanks to Bari Lieberman for securing Tim a great spot to shoot. Right next to our seats.
St. Cecilia Music Center held its AnnualGreat Artist Gala on November 1st. The Pizzarelli family was there with John Pizzarelli, the world-renowned jazz guitarist and singer. Pizzarelli has cultivated a winning international career by singing classic standards and late-night ballads, and by playing sublime and inventive guitar. Using greats like Nat “King” Cole and Frank Sinatra and the songs of writers like Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen as touchstones, Pizzarelli is among the prime revivalists of the great American songbook, bringing to his work the cool jazz flavor of his brilliant guitar playing.
Best Gallery Show of 2012
Submitted by Terry Johnston
New York City street photographer JD Urban captures the essence of the people he passes on the street every day – from the grandmother carrying her groceries, to the homeless drug addict shooting up on a park bench, to the street artist installing his latest creation in a lonely alley. Both gritty and beautiful, Urban’s work showcases all sides of the human experience, revealing the complexity of emotion that exists in each of us and drawing the viewer into his unique view of his surroundings while providing them with a deeper understanding of themselves.
Last September, Urban’s visit to Grand Rapids began with the debut of a short film from his groundbreaking and moving interview series, The Everyday People Project, at The Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts (UICA) on September 5th. The Project started as a way to help him understand himself through the stories of others and has become the new “reality” television, providing glimpses of hope through struggle, and victory after hardship, via moving and inspiring glimpses into the lives of its cast of “characters.”
The show was preceded by a performance from Grand Rapids’ own Casey Stratton, renowned singer/songwriter, whose powerful, angelic voice and insightful lyrics mirror Urban’s vision and are featured regularly on The Everyday People Project.
The next day, Urban’s photographic work debuted at The Richard App Gallery as part of Grand Rapids’ Fashion Night Out festivities. Showing with Urban was one of our own, photographer Terry Johnston, a practicing commercial photographer from Grand Rapids, whose work has been displayed across the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe and Japan. Johnston displayed his latest photos, including pieces that document the work of underground street artist eufoe.
Best Sporting Event of 2012 Submitted by Terry Johnston
“If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.” — Nora Roberts
On January 1st, 2012 I asked. I had done my research and couldn’t believe that I was going to be emailing David Frei a personal email. I admit I was a bit nervous, more star struck than anything else. David is the Director of Communciations and the television commentary for Westminster Kennel Club. He was my ticket in.
Happy New Year!
I am writing today from Grand Rapids, Michigan to see what the possibility might be of getting a photo pass.
We are an online magazine based out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. I have been in dogs for a long time. In fact, I had a Bernese Mountain Dog win Best of Breed in 2005. I hung up showing to pursue my interests in social media and marketing, started the magazine. Now we are branching out of Grand Rapids to other cities. New York is on our list for February.
We are mostly interested in shooting during the day, possibly at night. I have one professional photographer that will be traveling with me. We will also be trying to shoot some fashion while we are in the city.
This has been a life long dream of mine (to cover this properly.) I’m good friends with Clint Livingston, Jay Richardson and many other long time dog people. It would be fun to get some great pictures.
We will NOT be there shooting dogs for sale. This would be used ONLY for our facebook and website.
I really enjoy following you on facebook as well. We’re friends! 🙂
Let me know what you think. I’d also love to get some portraits of you (and a brief interview) if that might be possible.
Hi Laura: Please complete and return the credential application form in the Media Center on our home page and we will get you a photo pass. We are very limited in our media capacity for a number of reasons – great media interest is a pleasant problem to have – but I am happy to find room for you. Thanks for your interest in Westminster, we look forward to having you with us.
Upon our acceptance, Terry and I traveled to NYC and I experienced Westminster in a way I had never before. I’ve been to this dog show as an exhibitor, an assistant to a handler and a spectator. To experience it as media was by far my favorite. We interviewed David Frei. We hung out in the media center when they broke the news of big changes that would happen in 2013. We hung out with the USA Network cameramen and the major news stations. We were on the floor fighting for the perfect shot. We uploaded live pictures from the floor during the group competitions and our followers loved it.
We didn’t eat. We slept very little and worked our butts off. It was an exhilarating experience that we are looking forward to doing again in 2013!
This year’s Westminster Kennel Club 135th Annual Dog Show will be held on on Monday and Tuesday, February 11-12, 2013 at Madison Square Garden. Be sure to check them out on FACEBOOK.
Best Downtown Outdoor Festival of 2012
Submitted by Ian Anderson
This year, City Lights Music Festival expanded to a two-day event featuring more than 50 artists. A cross-section of West Michigan’s most popular DJs played in underground parking garages and open spaces surrounding the Calder Plaza. This year’s festival also brought in regional, national and international performers. Friday was headlined by Finnish trance producer Darude, and Florida-based progressive house/trance artist DJ Icey played on Saturday.
The event originated in 2009 as GREMN (Grand Rapids Electronic Music Night) a free event held downtown at Rosa Parks Circle organized by Grand Rapids creative Rob Bliss of Rob Bliss Creative. Due to its popularity, it relocated to Calder Plaza in 2010, and organizers brought in higher-end talent. In 2011, Shannon Williams, Bangin’ Promotions, got involved and the single-day festival renamed itself City Lights Music Festival. It also offered free admission in addition to paid tickets for VIP seating. The event drew between 8,000 and 12,000 people downtown.
In 2012, Williams went solo and brought a larger slate of artists and did away with free admission. The VIP seating area was designated for patrons 21 and older, and was the only place where attendees could have cocktails, prime-view seating and opportunities to meet the artists and private bathrooms.
This summer, due to an overwhelming number of requests, City Lights Music Festival will now be on July 19th and 20th and we will be there with furry boots on!
Best Downtown Race of 2012
Submitted by Ian Anderson
The Color Run, otherwise known as the Happiest 5K on the planet, was called by local pro photographers, the most beautiful event to shoot.
August 5th was an absolutely perfect summer morning. After weeks of supressing heat, we found a break and woke up to ideal racing conditions.
There were people of all ages in white shirts, sweatbands around their heads, and brightly colored wristbands on their arms. Some had tutus, many were wearing neon knee socks, and several were wearing protective eyewear. This was the scene of the inaugural Color Run Grand Rapids. There were over 10,000 excited runners, walkers, and riders (including little ones in strollers covered with plastic) who were very excited at the prospect of completing what is known as “The Happiest 5K on the Planet.”
The Color Run is focused much less on speed and much more on just having a good time, therefore it is not timed. Along the route, there are four color stations—yellow, orange, pink, and blue—that spray runners with powder as they pass through. It’s seems like a reverse laundry detergent ad where in the beginning everyone is dressed in clean white shirts, and as they cross the finish line they are covered in colored dust. Each participant is given a packet of color to use as they cross the finish line and at the end it’s a no-holds-barred color fest.
Before the run, however, there was a flurry of activity on Calder Plaza as those who were participating spent time getting psyched up and ready for the most fun they will ever have in a 5K. There was plenty of music and Color Run staff even led group warm-up exercises in front of the main stage. The Color Run Store was open for business, selling everything from tattoos to hoodies. Promptly at 8:30, the first wave of 1,000 started off and with each group, the excitement seemed to build. Soon you could see clouds of color throughout the race route.
Each Color Run event connects with a local nonprofit, who receives a portion of the registration costs from each participant. The Grand Rapids event partnered with theWest Michigan Sports Commission and the Van Andel Institute’s Purple Community. Because of the Van Andel Institute’s involvement in Sunday’s event, they added a special purple section to the race.
After crossing the finish line, the thousands of Color Runners (as they will now be able to call themselves) gathered at Calder Plaza and enjoyed a fantastic dance party and celebration. All of the fun clothes and accessories aside, it was clear that the most beloved souvenir of the day was the dusting of color. Stained clothing, skin, and colored hair seemed to be a badge of honor for everyone who took part.
Most Beautiful Event of 2012
Submitted by Raeanna Anglen
Lights in the Night – ArtPrize
If you were anywhere near downtown Grand Rapids on Friday night, chances are you looked up in the sky and saw thousands of twinkling lights. This was the all part of Lights in the Night—a truly unique ArtPrize exhibit. Mark Carpenter and Dan Johnson brought their idea to the community—and the community responded in a huge way.
This was the second attempt for the event, as it was rained out the first time. But on Friday night, Mother Nature cooperated and thousands of people came out to light a lantern and be part of history. The lines seemed endless and lanterns were being handed out fast and furiously by dozens of volunteers. Everyone was so excited—while the big launch was set for 8:00, the lanterns were starting to appear in the sky before then.
As the official launch time neared, the excitement level got higher and higher. At 8:00, the first horn sounded, signifying the time to light the lanterns and shortly after that another blast from the horn came, telling the crowd it was time to launch. The sky was filled with beautiful lights and they were reflected on the many downtown buildings including the JW Marriott and Amway Grand Plaza hotels. There were plenty of “ooohs” and “aaahs” throughout the crowd and many were capturing the moment with their cameras and cell phones.
Hope really did take flight in downtown Grand Rapids that night in our city, and it was truly a night to remember.
Most Fun Event of 2012
Submitted by Richard App
The Reptile House – Revisited (Story: Diana Lamphiere)
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” –Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
It started with a Facebook invite. A little red notification icon as I logged in. I clicked on it, and had a cartoonish jaw-drop of a moment. It was finally happening. Someone was finally doing it. The Reptile House was coming back, if just for one night.
I reached out to Mark Sellers, the owner of Stella’s Lounge, where the event would be held: “Just wanted to touch base with you about the Reptile Revisited event at Stella’s coming up. I was a dancer there in the early/mid 90s. Let me know if you need any help.” The response was almost immediate, asking me to dance for the event. And just like that, the past was back. I would be the girl in a cage again, at least for one evening.
I met with Mark and his right hand man Garry Boyd (himself a Reptile alum) to check out the cage, get a feel for the space, and get a clear picture of what they wanted, which was authenticity. Five other original Reptile House cage dancers signed on. And thus began endless messaging between the dancers about old times, what to wear, and who we might see.
I combed through my music collection to make a Reptile House playlist, messaging often with DJ Colin Clive (formerly of Reptile A-Go-Go, currently of Control at Rocky’s), who would naturally be in charge of the music for the event, and DJ Tim Pratt, who was flying to GR from San Francisco to spin. I remembered the good times and bad at The Reptile House, and reflected again on what I already knew:Reptile was a pivotal moment in my life, a place and time I could point back at and say, “There. Then. That’s where and when I started to truly become who I was going to be.”
It felt like a nostalgia bomb had gone off in the Grand Rapids area. Everyone from back in the day was buzzing about the event, talking about the old days, and going through their archives. I dug through my trunk of memories and found photos, flyers, and a copy of our old dancers rules (example: “You must dance your whole set, even if you do not dig the music. You may get another dancer to sub for you if the tunes truly make you want to die.”). I went through all of my black clothes for fishnet, lace, PVC and leather.
On the whole, though, the vibe was one of joy. People who hadn’t seen each other in years were catching up. People who do still see each other often, but who met in the Reptile days were feeling sentimental. Some people looked so different as to be unrecognizable and some looked exactly the same, some people joked about how late they were out (hardcore partiers from days of yore who rarely made it out past 11 these days), but they were all there and on the nostalgia trip with the rest of us.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Reptile House Revisited was all about the best of times. We rediscovered our people. Turns out you can go home again.
Most Intriguing Evenings of 2012
Submitted by Danielle DeWitt
Couture for a Cure: Through a Creative’s Eyes (story: Danielle DeWitt)
In October, fashion took center stage on the Medical Mile, as over 400 people arrived at the Van Andel Institute for the seventh annual Couture for a Cure. The first floor of this world-class research facility was transformed into a scene from New York Fashion Week for this event, which raised thousands of dollars to support the life-changing scientific research that takes place in the floors above. After a reception that included a wide variety of hors d’ouevres and cocktails, the crowd moved to the seats along the runway for a fashion show put on by Leigh’s at Breton Village mall, and which featured the spring 2013 line by Daniel Vosovic, the NYC designer who was born and raised right here in West Michigan.
But this event did not just happen overnight. It was a year in the making. Planning began just days after the 2011 event, and a key player in the execution of the annual event since its inception in 2006 has been Patrick Plank, Creative Director and Director of Visual Merchandising for Leigh’s. His position covers a wide scope of work, from creating window displays for the store to spending time inNew York City on buying trips for clients. He was the perfect person to talk to inWest Michigan about orchestrating a large fashion show, and I was grateful to have the opportunity to spend some time watching him in action and hearing about how he got to where he is today.
I arrived at Leigh’s on the eve of Couture for a Cure, and walked back to see Patrick, who was wrapping up a day of model fittings. He told me there would be 16 models, each showing four different looks—Bond Bombshells, a tribute to the 50th anniversary of James Bond; Colorful Characters, because “color is big this year” according to Plank; Rock-Her, some rock-and-roll styles; and After Hours Diva, which would showcase this season’s evening wear looks. I watched as he put together just the right looks for each model and made sure that each look was complimented by the right shoes, bag, and accessories. There was energy in the fitting area that could not be missed, and Plank never slowed down. As I spoke with him I could see the wheels turning in his head, thinking about what else he could do to make the event even more special.
Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Patrick Plank once had aspirations of becoming an elementary school teacher. While in high school, he had his first experiences in retail at North Kent Mall, which gave him the experience he needed to get a job atJacobson’s in 1992, while taking classes at Grand Rapids Community Collegeand Kendall College of Art and Design. For three years he worked in sales, starting in the boys clothing department, then men’s clothing, and then the women’s shoe department. It was around that time he began to use his art background and helped to create displays in the store, eventually earning him the title of Visual Merchandise Manager, a position he held until Jacobson’s closed its doors.
After Jacobson’s closed, Plank took initiative and the experience he had acquired and started his own company, P2 Merchandise Presentations. His clients included Leigh’s and Fitzgerald’s Men’s Store in Breton Village Mall, as well asWoodland Mall and Wolverine Worldwide. In 2005, Larry Leigh asked Patrick to come on board full-time. Seven years later, he still loves his work as much as he did when he began, and is very excited about the increased interest in fashion inWest Michigan. Couture for a Cure began as a small fashion show in Leigh’s and last night filled the Van Andel Institute venue to its capacity. Plank said he sees that this area has, “an increased awareness of fashion” and that people are “treating the event like a fashion event and truly dressing for the event.”
Couture for a Cure has become just that—a fashion event. And much of that has to do with the vision of Patrick Plank. From creating a longer runway and having more models on that runway than ever before, to creating a truly theatrical experience with amazing lighting, music, and even props for the Bond Bombshell segment, the entire show was a work of art.
Thursday night, I arrived and was able to see in real-life what I had heard about the night before. But in real-life, it was so much better. I watched Patrick in action throughout the evening, before the show began, making sure that everything surrounding the show was picture perfect—looking through each look on the racks backstage, making sure the lighting was just right, and checking in on all of the models in hair and makeup. He not only selects the clothing, he manages the staff, works with the production company, and finalizes the music for the show. With all of these responsibilities, I was amazed at how calm and collected he seemed…ready for anything.
Watching a fashion show from alongside the runway is a completely different experience than what is seen backstage. Thursday night’s show required each girl to have four or five looks, depending on whether they were part of the Daniel Vosovic show. They had all of about 2 minutes in between each look to change into their next outfit, line up, and have Patrick take one last careful look at them before they start to walk the runway again. Last minute adjustments are made, such as adding a brooch, clipping a piece of clothing with a binder clip to make it tighter, or helping a model get into her impossibly high heels and ready to walk the runway.
As the last girl came off the stage after the finale, I saw Patrick have a deep sigh of relief and a smile on his face, as I’m sure he knew that once again, he had just created something incredible. The applause and cheers from the audience was proof of that. He had created just the experience that he wanted it to be for everyone there.
When I asked Patrick what he would be doing after the night was over, he said he would relax, take some time for himself, and then begin preparing for the 2013 Couture for a Cure.
ArtPrize IV (story: Danielle DeWitt)
For the fourth year in a row, our city has become an art gallery.
For the fourth year in a row, hundreds of artists have come to Grand Rapids and put their work on display to be the topic of conversation for two and a half weeks.
And for the fourth year in a row, hundreds gathered for the ArtPrize Awards Event that took place on Friday night on the loading dock of the former Grand Rapids Press building, which had been transformed into a fantastic nightclub by Noddea Skidmore and her team. The event was graciously sponsored by Stella Artoisand Haworth. Volunteers served up cocktails and checked out the venue. Our favorite hometown food trucks, What the Truck and The Silver Spork dished up delicious small plates while friends celebrated the culmination of 17 fantastic days in our community.
While this may have seemed like a peculiar place to many, ArtPrize Marketing Director Todd Herring said it best when he commented, “the history of this building and the future of ArtPrize are all part of one red line. One story. About a community open to change.”
Herring played the role of Master of Ceremonies on Friday night. He was joined on stage throughout the evening by the Grand Rapids Ballet Company, performing David Parson’s The Envelope, which was the perfect choice as the audience waited to find out what was in “the envelope.” The winner of ArtPrize IV. The ballet entertained the audience with moments of laughter amidst the moments of anticipation.
The first awards to be given out were the juried awards. There were five this year, each with their own sponsor and expert juror.
Time/Performance Based Art, sponsored by ITC Holdings:Three Phases by Complex Movements, selected by Juror Cathy Edwards.
Urban Space Award, sponsored by Spectrum Health:Flight by Dale Rogers, selected by Juror Susan Szenasy
Three Dimensional Work, sponsored by Haworth:More or Less by ABCD 83, selected by Juror Lisa Freiman
Two-Dimensional Work, sponsored by Varnum:Habitat by Alois Kronschlaeger, selected by Juror Tyler Green
Outstanding Venue Award, sponsored by Grand Valley State University:Site Lab, selected by Juror Tom Eccles
Next up was Darren Kuipers, Interim Executive Director of ArtPrize, who took a moment to thank the artists, venues, sponsors, volunteers, and staff who all worked tirelessly these past few weeks (well, the ArtPrize crew works all year) to make this event possible. (If you are out during ArtPrize these last couple of days, and you see someone with a volunteer shirt or a staff badge, make sure you tell them how much you appreciate all of their efforts to make this event happen for our city. Without them, this would not be possible!)
Then, the man of the hour, Rick DeVos, appeared on stage. He elaborated on Herring’s remarks about our community being “open to change.” He said, “Grand Rapids is emerging as a remarkable place where wild ideas can find an audience.” This year, that audience was made up of an estimated 400,000 people of all ages and backgrounds.
DeVos spoke about the importance of trying new things in order to, “make better things and make things better.” One of the new things ArtPrize tried this year was the Juried Grand Prize. To present that award, David Rosen, President of Kendall College of Art and Design at Ferris State University, joined DeVos on the stage.
Rosen told the audience that he came from Los Angeles to Grand Rapids, “not just for a job, but for life in a community filled with the traditions of art and design. A community driven by the engine of creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.” He spoke of the courage that ArtPrize celebrates—as well as the “capacity and accomplishments of those who create.”
He also made an announcement of their newly formed five-year partnership withArtPrize. Kendall College has signed a commitment to be an Exhibition Center and Premier Leadership Sponsor and pledged to fund the $100,000 Juried Grand Prize Award for the next five years. He then announced this year’s Juried Grand Prize, Displacement, by Design 99.
Rick DeVos then announced another partnership, this one with Meijer Corporation, who has pledged $650,000 over the next five years to support thepublic vote. It is wonderful to see the community coming together to sustain ArtPrize, and maintain the momentum for the foreseeable future.
Finally, the moment we had all been waiting for. Third Place in the ArtPrize IV public vote was given to Frits Hoendervanger, for his piece, Rebirth of Spring. Second Place went to Martijn van Wagtendonk for Song of Lift. And the winner of ArtPrize IV was … Adonna Khare and her piece, Elephants. Khare was rendered speechless but for two words: Thank You. Her reaction was priceless.
After the awards, guests enjoyed a beautiful celebratory after party.
There you have it. ArtPrize IV is a wrap. As Rick DeVos said Friday night, “this does not happen anywhere else in the world and it’s really cool.”
Yes, Rick. And the city is truly grateful to you for your leadership and for sustaining the growth of ArtPrize over the last four years. Our team at Stellafly Social Mediaare honored to have been a part of this fourth year of ArtPrize.
These are the eight tenets of the ATHENA Award, presented by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce (GRACC). This was the 23rd year this award has been given out, and each of the nominees in both the ATHENA and ATHENA Young Professional categories exemplify each of those eight principles.
On September 6th, 2011, the nominees were honored at a reception held on the rooftop of Lambert, Edwards & Associates in downtown Grand Rapids. Each individual was introduced to the group following remarks from Rick Baker, President and CEO of the GRACC, and Heather Gluszewski of Huntington Bank. It was an opportunity for each of them to come together and congratulate one another before the annual ATHENA Award Luncheon that which was held on Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at the JW Marriott.
The ATHENA Award recipient this year went to Carol Valade of Gemini Publications. She was joined by eight other nominees, including:
Ten young professionals were also selected as finalists for the ATHENA Young Professional Award. The winner, Milinda Ysasi Castanon, was announced at the September 18 luncheon, and these ten women are:
I was and continue to be honored and humbled by the nomination. More importantly, I have worked with the ATHENA program since the nomination and love the work that they do and their recognition of women in the workplace.
Congratulations to each of these women who are making a difference in their professions and throughout the community.
Most Rewarding Event of 2012 — GRand Jazz Fest Submitted by Laura Caprara
The best part of my role with Stellafly is meeting new people with big dreams. Dreams that are spilled out over coffee or beers. They tell me things that they want to make happen. They tell me because they believe that we can help them get there.
Picking the GRand Jazz Fest 2012 as one of my two picks of 2012 was easy. I watched (and helped) a dream come true.
Last winter, I met with Audrey Sundstrom and her friend and PR Maven, Molly Klimas. Audrey wanted to have a Jazz Festival downtown. She wanted it to be free to the community. She wanted it to be successful.
On an extremely limited budget she hired the Stellafly team for one month. We knew that this wasn’t going to get them much but we were in to help as much as we could. We helped get legs under their Facebook page. We covered their press conference, which was hit by an unexpected snow storm mid stream.
Audrey reminds me of the Little Engine that Could. She worked hard and diligent on limited resources. She made sure she was inclusive all the way down to the audience she hoped would attend. She kept her chin up when she realized that City Lights Music Festival would be taking place the same day, just blocks away.
Sundstrom and her husband, Greg, frequently attend jazz festivals around the state. After repeatedly telling her husband she wanted a festival here in Grand Rapids, he finally told her, “If you want it here, you might just have to start it yourself.”
With an overwhelmingly positive response from a crowd of thousands, the six musical acts and everyone else involved, the event was considered a huge success.
As West Michigan Jazz Society Board Member John Miller put it, “This could be the start of something big.”
Sundstrom originally approached the West Michigan Jazz Society (WMJS) and asked for suggestions on local jazz musicians. They became the nonprofit fiduciary for the event, which helped GRandJazzFest get off the ground.
“The West Michigan Jazz Society played an important part by giving GRandJazzFest credibility as a jazz event,” Sundstrom says.
Early support by DTE, the presenting sponsor, and from the Downtown Development Authority kicked the event into further motion. Soon, Sundstromstarted her own nonprofit, GR and Jazz, with friends and fellow jazz aficionados,Desiree Foster and Patti Flood, and then asked Molly Klimas of IntentPR to come on board to help with publicity for the event. Before the event, many more sponsors and friends got involved to ensure its success.
Sundstrom’s vision for GRandJazzFest was modeled after the River Raisin Jazz Festival in Monroe. She wanted to offer a variety of jazz genres such as big band, contemporary, traditional and Latin jazz and make it free so anyone could attend.
The August 18 event at Rosa Parks Circle began shortly after noon with one of West Michigan’s premier jazz ensembles, The Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra, who has played traditional, swing and big band favorites for more than 35 years, including playing the first and third Sunday of each month at Founder’s Brewery. Dressed in matching blue shirts, the Orchestra kicked off the festival with upbeat big band music including a few sax solos. The entire day was filled with amazing regional talent.
Sundstrom was still smiling the next morning and thrilled with the festival’s results.
“It turned out to be everything I had hoped for,” she said. “I am grateful to all of the sponsors, the staff, the volunteers, the musicians and everyone who came out.”
Sundstrom had the vision for GRandJazzFest, but insists, “The event wouldn’t have been what it was without everyone’s help and so many people deserve a lot of credit.”
Thank you Audrey Sundstrom and your talented team for bringingGRandJazzFest to Grand Rapids. Please “wash away our dust” again next year.
And if the success of Grand Rapids’ first-ever jazz festival is the deciding factor on whether or not there will be a second GRandJazzFest, you might want to block out the third Saturday of August 2013 now.