Reaching Out

September 22, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Figuring out where the art pieces should go in DeVos Place and how more minorities can be drawn to the convention center and Van Andel Arena will be the key agenda items for the Convention and Arena Authority this week.

Board members will hear from Skot Welch of Diversity Management Strategies and Joe Jones of Strategic Communications Group (formerly Jones, Gavan & Helmholdt) on what they think the CAA needs to do to develop a community outreach plan for minority races that will lead to a long-term revenue gain for the center and arena.

“The issue of diversity has been at the forefront of the CAA for the last several years,” said SMG General Manager Rich MacKeigan.

MacKeigan, who is also the executive director of the CAA, has been working on the diversity initiative with CAA Chairman Steven Heacock and Vice Chairman Clif Charles since Heacock made it a priority in early 2005. The goals of the initiative are to:

  • Identify programming for both buildings that would appeal to minorities.

  • Increase the diversity of the work force at both buildings.

  • Reach out to leaders in the various minority communities.

  • Track the effort’s progress on quantifiable basis.

“We are trying to identify performances that will appeal to them and make our staff more diverse,” said CAA board member Lew Chamberlin.

For now, the targets are expected to be African-Americans and Hispanics. Residents of Asian descent are likely be added to the effort later.

“We felt we can’t be all things to all people right away,” said MacKeigan.

SMG Marketing Director Lynn Ike said a few successful strides have already been taken in regard to events at the arena. Promoters have begun marketing events in Spanish on posters and flyers, and have distributed these in Hispanic districts.

“We continue to work with our promoters one on one and try to encourage them to translate,” said Ike. “It’s street marketing. Posters and flyers are important, but who are the right people [to get these to]?”

Welch and Jones will be expected to answer that question, and they will likely be given at least a year to do it. The contract that board members will have before them on Wednesday will probably be a one-year agreement with yearly options that will contain a not-to-exceed annual amount around $21,000.

The CAA has most of the funds for the effort in its professional services account.

DMS and JGH will bill the CAA on an hourly basis, and MacKeigan said both firms will donate two hours of time for every hour they work on the project. DMS specializes in creating diverse work forces, and JGH is a public affairs and relations counselor. Both are based in Grand Rapids.

“From an industry perspective, there aren’t too many doing this now, so this is sort of a groundbreaking move,” said MacKeigan.

More ground could be broken after members review a study done by Progressive AE that offers insight into where artwork should be located in DeVos Place. The report cites specific types of art, such as sculptures and three-dimensional wall pieces, for specific locations, and also suggests lighting and structural conditions for the main floor, the skyway level and the area that has the meeting rooms.

Progressive AE Senior Vice President Phillip Lundwall directed the study. But the report stops short of formally committing specific art forms to any location.

“We’ve begun to prioritize a few locations and have eliminated a few,” said Greg Sundstrom, an assistant city manager and member of the CAA Operations Committee.

Sundstrom is also serving on the committee that is looking to find the proper pieces for the building, a group headed by Arts Council of Grand Rapids Executive Director Illiana Ordaz-Jeffries.

“The logistics of how the building is used is an issue. It makes a rotating exhibit difficult,” she said. “The spaces at DeVos Place are huge; they’re not human size. You’re looking at a lot of artists.”

Sundstrom said the plan that will eventually emerge from the committee will suggest the types of art pieces that should be placed in certain locations, will likely include works created by local artists, and will contain some funding recommendations. The Frey Foundation has already committed an unspecified amount to the effort.

“We’re looking at ways to make spaces look more interesting,” said Sundstrom. “I think they’re [the committee] going to come back with a very complex plan.” 

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