Day 3 & 4 (Grand Rapids)

From Grand Rapids

-Reb Roberts, an artist who is building community

I was so excited to be headed to Grand Rapids. Though we were still experiencing technical difficulties, I was energized by what I saw happening in Buffalo. And of course, Grand Rapids is where the 10% Shift study took place, and is also home to one of the strongest Local First networks in the country.

When people talk about Michigan and 'the economy' these days, its pretty standard to hear doom and gloom. And they ARE suffering. But what I saw and heard told a very different story. Elissa, who you'll meet in her interview, coordinated my stay.  She had me start with a local artist, Reb Roberts. Reb, as it turns out, is the personification of what I was looking for when I asked to meet with "an artist who is building community".

Everyone I spoke to knows Reb.  His art is or will be on the walls of every other subjects home or business.  And when he came up, they all smiled. Here's why...

Reb Roberts, through his work in the community of Grand Rapids, has been the catalyst in the revitalization of not one, but TWO, downtrodden neighborhoods.

Over 10 years ago an Gas Station was a real eyesore for the neighborhood.   East Hills, I'm told, was a neighborhood in need of help and redevlopment.  So Reb and his wife put up large pieces of art, one (below) reading:  East Hills is the Center of the Universe.  

Shell, who owned the property, took them down and put up a fence.  So Reb put them back up, this time on the fence instead.  These positive images seemed to lift the spirits of the neighborhood, and draw attention to the lack of redevelopment.  Today, the area houses NEW building, retail, a restaurant and a nonprofit organization....all local independents.

Before I knew all this, when I pulled up to Reb's gallery, there were a number of homeless men on the corner, less than a block from his front door. When Reb opened his gallery, he chose this location and was the only business on the street. He was surrounded by empty storefronts, the homeless and the mentally ill. But this is the place he chose to open up shop, put art on the boarded up windows and make a go of it.  And despite opportunities to move elsewhere, he stayed. Flash forward to today, and an entire neighborhood has sprung up. A cafe and many other unique and local businesses have decided to open their doors next to Reb.    

In his words "And all the sudden, neighborhoods were developing around art".

Reb's interview is long, cuz he had a lot to say.  Its powerful stuff, I hope you'll check it out. (Note: The summary and video are going to take a while, as there's a lot there to summarize)

There's more from Grand Rapids.  As I mentioned, this is home to the LocalWorks Economic Study, which is the basis for the 10% Shift.  Elissa, Executive Director of Local First here, oversees a network with 550 members, multiple succesful programs and the admiration and respect of those she works with.  Yet another in the long list of high performing, talented people working in communities all around the country that are changing the way we live and do business.   

Her message:  we're talking about 1 dollar in 10, and that is NOT a lot of money for an individual.  That's not that hard.  You can find a way to change what you do with one of ten dollars, and should  know that the cumulative effect of that money is absolutely staggering.  


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