Learn about the story of ACT and how our impact on the West Michigan community has grown over the past 30 years.
ACT, originally known as VSA arts of Michigan, was first brought to the greater Grand Rapids community by the Junior League of Grand Rapids in 1986. During a feasibility study, the Junior League was appalled by the lack of arts education opportunities for students with disabilities in the community. Research confirmed and 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 revealed that there was an immediate need to address this deficiency. Initially, the Junior League made a three-year financial and volunteer commitment to the organization.
In March 2006, we 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.
In March 2011, we moved into a new home at 1140 Monroe Ave NW. This space included a large classroom and activity space for holding on-site programs as well as administrative office space for our staff.
In March 2012, we publicly changed our name from VSA arts of Michigan—Grand Rapids to Artists Creating Together. This new name was chosen first and foremost, for our constituents. The term “special” is not generally approved language in the disability community anymore. Continuing to use the word “special” in our name emphasizes differences and not the inclusive community of ability that we promote. Second, a refreshed and updated image and logo would better reflect our organization’s story and incorporate our popular and creative hands! And third, we are dedicated, focused and committed to serving the people in our local communities, which this new name and evolution allows us to do more effectively and efficiently.
In April 2019, ACT officially launched IMPACT, an advancement campaign to support our future. Our original studio at 1140 Monroe was overflowing as our programming continued to expand. We realized that by doubling the footprint of our previous studio, we could provide higher quality visual and performing arts experiences. Our new location would also include spaces for art exhibitions, gardening, staff offices, and collaboration – all within the same building at 1140 Monroe NW.
In addition, we sought to increase outreach by bringing art to even more people in the West Michigan community. This inspired the Creative Cube, a mobile art studio with visual art stations and a performing stage that brings art to those who may be unable to come directly to ACT. The Creative Cube is an exciting experience within our in-school residencies, early childhood art exploration, Festival Day, and community events throughout West Michigan.
Presently, ACT has five full-time staff members and one part-time staff member based in Grand Rapids. In Fiscal Year 2018, ACT directly served over 6,000 individuals from West Michigan and offered over 1,000 direct contact hours of classes. Our programs are additionally supported by over 700 individual volunteers and Board of Directors. The ACT board and committees are comprised of community and business leaders, educators, parents, and other interested persons. Our programs include arts education for early childhood special education preschools; K-12 artist residencies; arts in healing programs at three local health facilities and in-studio adult classes programs; and community programs for people of all abilities including a choir and other visual and performing art classes.