Rising Tides: Catching Up with Avenue for the Arts
Avenue for the Arts.

If Grand Rapids has a reputation for celebrating art, a significant amount of credit for that reputation belongs to Avenue for the Arts.

The organization, which began as an offshoot of the nonprofit Dwelling Place, has contributed to the transformation of downtown’s Heartside District and, under the recent leadership of Zachary Trebellas, has begun to expand beyond, into the wider community; residents unaware of the organization will nevertheless have benefitted from it.

It’s a grassroots organization, one run entirely by volunteers and committed to the idea that local artists deserve support and celebration.

Trebellas began volunteering with the organization in 2015, shortly after having moved to Grand Rapids. It was more than a hobby; it became a mission. When Avenue transitioned to a volunteer-only organization, in 2018, he took over leadership, confident that the group would continue to have an important role as a facilitator and enabler of local creators. It did and does, and it does so in a variety of ways.

Each third Thursday of the month, dozens of downtown venues host special one-day events, showcases, and sales. Venues include restaurants, small businesses, and cultural venues such as the Grand Rapids Art Museum. All are located along the free DASH shuttle line, providing convenience and accessibility for would-be patrons.

The event Trebellas may be proudest of is Break It Down | Make It Better, West Michigan’s only conference devoted to helping local artists develop professionally. “Nothing is sadder than when a creative person is processing mortgages for a bank,” Trebellas said, laughing. The conference helps artists find a different way.

This year’s conference, the 11th, takes place on March 22 at Kendall College, and will feature more than 20 workshops, roundtables, panel discussions, and presentations. Last year’s conference included sessions on public art, running an alternative art space, the future of the UICA; crowning it was a performance by Dance in the Annex. Like any good conference, attendees got as much value in the connections they made. By facilitating the conference, Avenue for the Arts helped artists discover how to help each other and themselves.

The organization’s website maintains a clear and comprehensive database of resources for local artists, including links to sites where artists can purchase supplies, learn of galleries showcasing and selling art, and more. Not least of the website’s offerings is its Local Artist Network. Local drag queens, curators, visual artists, and more have individual links; click, for instance, Holly Bechiri’s, and you’ll be taken to a brief description of her work, along with an example and links to where you can learn more.

You don’t devote nine years to an organization, especially an organization that has since become all-volunteer, unless you see real value in it. Trebellas has seen, and contributed to, the value Avenue of the Arts offers: the real, practical value it offers to the creators living among us, helping make the city a more beautiful, and more interesting, place to live

Avenue for the Arts