On October 26th, I attended the “On the Road: Grand Rapids” event put on by CAL Excel Network. I had been to Grand Rapids before but had never fully explored the city.
The day started out with a bus tour of the city. I found out that the city has around 200,000 people which means it’s small compared to other metropolitan areas. Grand Rapids is steeped in history and is most evident in the Heritage Hill. There are laws in place to keep the exteriors of these houses in original condition and they cannot be torn down. There are also many new urban shops and restaurants which gives the city a modern and hipster feel.
The first company we stopped at was Public Thread. Founded by alum Janay Brower in 2014, they upcycle material from old furniture, cars, clothing, banners, and other items and create new products such as weekender bags or laptop cases. Janay had seen how much fabric scraps companies threw away and wanted to change that. They are in the process of expanding their workspace due to demand and a large supply of material.
We then traveled to the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts for a panel with 5 alumni: Briana McNamara, Audrey Ferris, Samara Napolitan, Natalie Hawkins, and Shannon Wilson. They talked about their experience as students, how they found their jobs, why they chose Grand Rapids, and advice about applying for jobs and ways to be noticed by employers. I benefited a lot from this since it gave me a better idea of how to approach my job search and the jobs I can look for in Grand Rapids.
Our last stop was the headquarters of ArtPrize. I had heard about ArtPrize and I was curious about the work that goes into the event. ArtPrize is a biannual event where artists from around the world submit their work to be showcased across the city for 19 days. The winner is awarded $200,000. We were able to talk to Katherine Hagman, who is the Volunteer and Visitor Engagement Manager, and Jaenell Woods, who is the Communications Manager. They explained to us what ArtPrize is and what their jobs entail. ArtPrize only employs 15 people full-time but brings in many more in the spring to get ready for the event. These positions also include internships for those interested in Design, Communications, and many others.
I had a great time exploring Grand Rapids and I thank CAL Excel Network for putting on such a great event. Professional development opportunities are great for PW people like me because they are a good way to network and figure out what jobs are available in certain cities and what living there might look like. I recommend starting early on events like this so you have a greater network when you graduate and you have a better understanding of where you might want to start your career.
Written and photos by Andrea Mackey