Arts & Entertainment, Economic Development, and Nonprofits

Downtown Development Authority backs LaughFest

January 18, 2016
TAGS DDA / LaughFest
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Gilda's LaughFest stage and microphone
Gilda's LaughFest is a 10-day comedy festival across the Grand Rapids area produced by the nonprofit Gilda's Club Grand Rapids, which offers free emotional health care programs to those dealing with cancer or grief. Photo via

Funding from the Downtown Development Authority will be used to enhance diversity and expand outdoor programming at this year’s LaughFest.

The board of the Grand Rapids agency last week approved a request for $15,000 to support the 10-day festival of laughter created by the nonprofit Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids.

Focus of spending

LaughFest, with support from Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., or DGRI, hopes to use the sponsorship from the DDA to increase the festival’s exposure to diverse populations, re-locate the Community Kickoff to Calder Plaza and create a Laugh at Rosa event during the festival dates as an extension of the DGRI Relax at Rosa summer programming.

Kris Larson, president and CEO of the DGRI, indicated the support is intended to continue raising “the bar for what we can do for our downtown.”

“This year, we are looking to support the program and build upon our method to support them last year,” Larson said.

Supporting downtown events

The DDA’s financial support is considered part of the Major Event Sponsorship component of its fiscal budget. The nearly $80,000 line item in the budget is designated to support three major events: 2015 ArtPrize, 2015 GRandJazzFest and 2016 LaughFest.

To date, the DDA has spent about $62,000 to support ArtPrize and GRandJazzFest, and the $15,000 was allocated to support LaughFest.


When LaughFest originally launched in 2011, the festival featured 228 events across 49 stages, 642 artists, including Betty White, Kevin Hart, Gabriel Iglesias and Margaret Cho, and attracted visitors from 25 states and Canada.

By 2015, the “celebration of laughter for the health of it” hosted 199 free events and more than 270 events overall, 752 artists and attracted nearly 50,000 visitors to the region.

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