Several Organizations Mark Milestones

September 6, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — There are several area arts organizations celebrating milestones this year. From choirs to Very Special Arts, the groups have been sharing the arts with Grand Rapids for more than 20 years.

The Grand Rapids Chamber Choir will begin its 26th season Oct. 7 at St. Adalbert’s Basilica with “Ecclesiastical Echoes: Religious Musical from the Time of Pope Gregory the Great up to Today,” according to Larry Biser, musical director and conductor.

The choir has toured Austria, Hungary, Germany, Russia, Estonia and Finland. It has collaborated with many other groups, such as the Grand Rapids Symphony, Grand Rapids Ballet Company, Holland Chorale, St. Cecilia Youth Chorale, the West Michigan Academy for Girls and the North American Choral Company. The choir also has been invited to perform with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City. As a partner with the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatoire in St. Petersburg, Russia, the chamber choir has brought many international performers to West Michigan.

“They have done some fabulous work in bringing artists from other countries,” said Iliana Ordaz-Jefferies, executive director of the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids.

The Junior League of Grand Rapids’ Very Special Arts program is celebrating its 20th year, adding new programs and continuing its mission to “promote creative power in people with disabilities,” said Executive Director Michele Suchovsky.

“We literally provide access to and opportunity in the arts for people with disabilities,” she said. “We have a wide range of programs that do that.”

The newest programs at VSA are an adult choir, aptly named the Very Special Choir, and Arts, Jobs and Mentoring Grand Rapids, a program for upper level students — 18- to 26-years-old — who have cognitive disabilities. The program uses art to transition them into the community and independent living situations.

“What we’re really doing is trying to expose these students to greater opportunities,” she said. “We’re taking these students and we’re using art to provide that bridge.”

VSA has grown immensely in the last 20 years, Suchovsky said, from a one-day arts festival reaching 500 students to a whole spectrum of classes and programs. The one-day festival still takes place, having grown to encompass 500 volunteers and 1,200 students.

The Shir Shalom Chorus and Master Arts Theatre also are each celebrating 20 years.

The chorus, which had its start during the “Fabric of Jewish Life” program at the Public Museum of Grand Rapids in 1985, will give a 20th anniversary concert Oct. 9 at Ahavas Israel.

Master Arts Theatre, an independent nonprofit dramatic arts ministry, will celebrate its anniversary Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 with a schedule of events including a Showcase Fundraising Banquet, pancake breakfast and evening cookout.    

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