Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) announces a new public space activation project designed to honor local women leaders in Grand Rapids’ history, enhance Downtown alleyways and give people another reason to explore the Downtown neighborhoods.

The Womens Way Initiative, organized in partnership with the City of Grand Rapids, the Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council, Lions & Rabbits art gallery and numerous others, will focus improvements to five alleyways in a way that showcases local women who made significant contributions to our community.

The first intervention in each alley will be an original mural - created and painted by local artists - that showcases specific local women leaders. The currently nameless alleyways also will be officially named - and marked with commemorative street signage - in honor of the women leaders highlighted at each space.

While additional creative details for each individual alleyway continue to come together, other improvements will include movable furniture for seating, planters, lighting, a biographical plaque about each woman and periodic pop-up programming to further energize the space.

“The Womens Way Initiative is part of our ongoing work to revitalize public spaces and make places that are interesting, free and accessible for people to enjoy,” said Kimberly Van Driel, DGRI's Director of Public Space Management.

“When we consider the potential for often ignored alleyways to become great public spaces, we can also increase the amount of public space we have in the urban core, boost the image of our City and grow a safer and more beautiful Downtown neighborhood.”

The announcement comes as the GR community commemorates Women’s History Month 2020, International Women’s Day on March 8 and the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S Constitution, which gave American women the right to vote.

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The Womens Way Initiative will kick off in spring 2020, weather permitting, with the following public space improvement projects:

1. Harriet Woods Hill mural in the alley off Louis St NW at the northwest corner of GRPD headquarters.

  • Bio: Hill was the first African American woman officer at the GR Police Department. She started as a clerk typist in the records and identification bureau, worked in the Juvenile Division and eventually rose to become the first female detective in GRPD history.
  • Local Artist: Jasmine Bruce
  • Partnering Business/Organization: City of Grand Rapids Police Department

2. Ethel Coe mural in the alley off Monroe Ave NW on the northside of 20 Monroe Live

  • Bio: Coe was a community activist, renaissance woman, musician, actor and civil rights leader. She received the William Glen Trailblazer Award and worked with Family Life Council, Church Women United, National Association of Urban Leagues and St. Joseph Center.
  • Local Artist: Esan Sommersell
  • Partnering Business/Organization: 20 Monroe Live

3. Angeline Kelsey "Naw Kay O Say" Yob mural in the alley off Sheldon Ave NE between the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum and The Apartment Lounge

    • Bio: Yob was an educator, community activist and Citizen of the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians. She was the great, great, great-granddaughter of Chief Maish Ke Aw She, who was one of the signatories of the Treaty of 1855, which provided terms for removal of the Grand River Ottawa from the Grand River Valley. She worked three decades with Grand Rapids Public Schools in the Native American Education Program.
    • Local Artist: Alan Compo
    • Partnering Business/Organization: Civic Theatre, Grand Rapids Children’s Museum and The Apartment Lounge

4. The GR Chicks 1945 All American Baseball Team mural in the alley of Newberry St. NW behind Auto Fixit Body Shop

    • The Grand Rapids Chicks were one of two new teams to be added to the League in 1945. The league started as a non-profit which solicited contributions to the League from businesses in the team cities. The former Milwaukee Chicks moved to Grand Rapids and half of the players from the 1944 team returned to Grand Rapids under this new management.
    • Local Artist: Michi Farias
    • Partnering Business/Organization: Auto Fixit Body Shop and Garage Bar & Grill

The fifth project location will be announced at a later date.

“These alleyways and remarkable local women share something in common: they’ve all been largely forgotten over time,” Van Driel said. “What’s more, the experience of women in alleys is commonly viewed as negative history.”

“The Womens Way Initiative aspires to acknowledge this complicated history in a way that helps women claim positive ownership of these public spaces, while simultaneously honoring local women leaders from our past, creating jobs for local artists, breathing new life into these spaces and narratives lost over time and ultimately creating new ways for citizens to experience public spaces in our city.”

Underutilized alleyways exist across the city. And local history is rich with numerous important and interesting stories of women’s leadership. Thus the Womens Way Initiative in the future has the potential to grow beyond Downtown Grand Rapids. Interested neighborhood and community leaders can contact Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. if they seek to learn more about the process of establishing a new Womens Way project site.

Stay tuned to DGRI’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn for project updates.

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