In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month 2019, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) announces a sweeping public art project to recognize and celebrate the contributions women have made to the United States of America.

 In partnership with local art gallery-boutique Lions & Rabbits, the City of Grand Rapids and numerous other partners still coalescing, DGRI recently began commissioning twenty-seven local female-identifying artists to paint portraits of influential women on mechanical boxes located throughout Downtown Grand Rapids.

 The project is inspired by "Rad American Women A-Z," a New York Times bestselling book written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl.

 Like all A-Z books, Rad American Women A-Z illustrates the alphabet - but instead of “A is for Apple,” A is for Angela - as in Angela Davis, the iconic political activist. B is for Billie Jean King, who shattered the glass ceiling of sports; C is for Carol Burnett, who defied assumptions about women in comedy; D is for Dolores Huerta, who organized farmworkers; and E is for Ella Baker, who mentored Dr. Martin Luther King and helped shape the Civil Rights Movement.

 And the list of great women continues, spanning several centuries, multiple professions, and diverse identities. There are artists and abolitionists, scientists and suffragettes, rock stars and rabble-rousers, and agents of change of all kinds.

 "This is the most extensive public art project we’ve ever undertaken,” said DGRI Director of Public Space Management Kim Van Driel. "We’re honored by the opportunity to work with Ms. Schatz and bring rad local ladies together for such an exciting idea. This project will brighten our city streetspaces and create paid opportunities for local artists.”

 “We’ll also paint these inspiring female role models all over Downtown and promote the fact idea – particularly for the young women all across our community – being smart and strong and brave is rad.”

Illustrations from the book "Rad American Women A-Z" by Kate Schatz
Illustrations from the book "Rad American Women A-Z" by Kate Schatz

Celebrating #RadWomen in Grand Rapids

DGRI and Lions & Rabbits recently issued a call for artists to support the initiative. Each participating artist will be paired with a leader featured in Rad American Women A-Z, and then create an original portrait work painted on the mechanical boxes – which are typically dull or unattractive and house electrical conduit, traffic signal controls and other basic infrastructure.

 “This is so much more than just public artwork,” said Hannah Berry, Founder and Creative Director of Lions & Rabbits.  “We will create all these places and moments across our Downtown that celebrate women, bring women together and educate our community about America’s rich legacy of women leadership. This is humbling work for our entire project team and we can’t wait to get started.”

 Painting of the mechanical boxes is scheduled to begin this spring, as weather permits. 

 DGRI also plans to promote walking tours of the works. Once completed, regularly scheduled hosted tours will happen in partnership with Grand Rapids Running Tours and self-guided tours will be available through a partnership with GR Walks. The project team anticipates both types of tours will launch this spring or early summer.

 To help kick it all, the project partners will host author Kate Schatz – an experienced educator – in Grand Rapids in early May. While the itinerary is still coming together, activities will include a Rad Women Happy Hour at the Pyramid Scheme on May 7 as well as classroom visits at Grand Rapids Public Schools and West Michigan Center for Arts & Technology.