GROld Ways Crippling The New Economy

April 28, 2003
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The New York Times last week featured an article on the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Van Andel Museum Center entitled “Midwest Miracle.” After tracing the security and liability issues that made Grand Rapids the only venue for the exhibit and complaining of “it being an object lesson is how disorganized the museum world is,” the Times reporter wrote, “The Dead Seas Scrolls show means that museum professionals will probably never again think of Grand Rapids as having no more significant cultural destination than the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.”

Recall that this is the same “class” of people who referred to Frederik Meijer’s “imitation horse” at a “Midwest garden” after Meijer donated the money to have Leonardo da Vinci’s design sculpted and then gave the masterpiece to Italy. The da Vinci sculpture at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is the largest equine bronze sculpture in the Western Hemisphere. (Not to mention that one of the largest, most elaborate botanical gardens — and now elaborate outdoor sculpture park — includes works by Auguste Rodin, Arnaldo Pomodoro, Aristide Maillol, Jacques Lipchitz, Henry Moore, Louise Nevelson, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Mark di Suvero, Richard Hunt and Marshall Fredericks, to name a few of the world-renowned artists and sculptors represented in the 125-acre park.)

People also need to know of Kent County’s dedication to preserve public land, and that Millennium Park is vastly bigger than Central Park. One might consider how, in the whole world, a research institute the caliber of Van Andel Institute could be built in Grand Rapids. Never mind that Grand Rapids is ensconced in the Smithsonian and the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art for its historic and unmistakable design work and furniture craftsmanship. Or even that Oliver Products gave New Yorkers a true mark of the civilized world: the world’s first sliced bread (invented at Oliver Products).

The New York Times would not know of the renowned artists and designers working from this city today, nor of the national accolades bestowed upon members of this community, so numerous they would fill this page (in six-point type).

But even Grand Rapidians do not know.

So perhaps Grand Rapids deserves such continued slaps in the face.

Last week in this space the Business Journal lauded the foresight of the foundation of work provided by John Wheeler and Dan and Dick DeVos in retaining and attracting the “urban professionals” upon which this region’s continued economic growth hinges.

How will they succeed unless this community of business leaders leaves the old “Grand Rapids way” to the history books and opens to the world of getting the word out and marketing this community?

Unless the emerging leadership “gets it” and steps forward there will be no such rebirth or regeneration. Grand Rapids Business Journal suggests that even the new DeVos Place Convention Center would do well in marketing these varied accolades, accomplishments and community prize pieces, without having to worry about the sentiments of less diverse Lakeshore communities.

Philanthropy is necessary. It is a true mark of this community.

So what. No one knows. Continuing the closed circle of influence and ignorance in telling the story of this region cuts this place off and makes congratulatory parties small — small minded.           

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