Learn about the story of ACT and how our impact on the West Michigan community has grown over the past 30 years.
Artists Creating Together (ACT), originally known as VSA Arts of Grand Rapids-Michigan, was brought to the community by the Junior League of Grand Rapids in 1986. During a study, the Junior League identified a lack of arts education opportunities for students with disabilities in the community. These findings were supported by the Kent Intermediate School District, Superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools, and Director of Special Education for the Michigan State Board of Education. Initially, the Junior League made a three-year financial and volunteer commitment to the new organization, including the planning and presentation of an annual art festival curated to special education students.
1990's: Year-Round Art Offerings
In the late eighties, the organization hired its first executive director to lead the organization as the first part-time employee. By the mid 1990’s, programming grew to offer dozens of workshop series for children and youth, as well as conducting several performances and exhibitions each year.
2006: Becoming an Independent Nonprofit
In March 2006, ACT became an independent nonprofit organization. At that time, there was one full-time Executive Director and we offered five programs. In the following school year, the first art class for transition students (18-26-year-olds) in the Grand Rapids Public Schools district began, serving 15 students in a customized curriculum addressing the unique needs of students with disabilities.
2011: A New Home for ACT
In March 2011, operations moved into a new home at 1140 Monroe Ave NW from Ottawa Ave. This space included a larger, accessible classroom and activity space for holding on-site programs as well as administrative office space for staff.
2012: Name Change
In March 2012, our name changed to Artists Creating Together. This name was chosen to show that we are dedicated, focused, and committed to serving the people in our local communities. This was also an opportunity to introduce a refreshed logo which better reflected our organization’s story and incorporate our popular and creative hands!
2019: ACT on the Move
In April 2019, ACT publicly launched IMPACT, an advancement campaign to support our future. The original space at 1140 Monroe was overflowing as we continued to expand. By doubling the footprint of our previous studio, we sought to provide higher quality visual and performing arts experiences in a bigger, brighter, and more accessible space. This new location would also include spaces for art exhibitions, gardening, staff offices, and collaboration – all within the same building at 1140 Monroe. To bring art to even more people in the West Michigan community, ACT introduced the Creative Cube, a mobile art studio, in 2019. The Creative Cube is a reimagined 40’ long, accessible race trailer with visual art workstations and a performance stage.
Presently, ACT has five full-time staff members and one part-time staff member. In the last fiscal year, ACT engaged over 7,000 individuals from West Michigan and offered over 1,000 direct contact hours of classes. This work is supported by over 700+ individual volunteers, 50+ teaching artists, and our Board of Directors. Programs include arts education for early childhood special education preschools; K-transition artist residencies; arts in healing programs at local health facilities, in-studio classes and workshops; community events; and many more collaborative, creative opportunities for people all abilities year-round.