Text: R. Collins
The time has once again come for Grand Rapids to host its annual World of Winter Festival: 44 days of interactive art and ice events invigorating the downtown area and deep winter months. From Friday, Jan. 15 through Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., the City of Grand Rapids, and numerous city partners have collaborated on 15 unique and interactive art installations, more than 80 ice sculptures, and age-inclusive activities all spread across the city. Each event and exhibit is free and socially distanced, and most will be live-streamed for at-home viewing.
“We’re trying to activate public spaces and give people a reason to go outside, whether through free events and programming, public art and murals, or those kinds of things,” said Samantha Suarez, communications specialist at Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. “We’re trying to beautify and activate public spaces during the winter, because if Grand Rapids is a better winter city, it is a better year-round city.”
The festival kicks off this Friday with Suarez’s personal favorite, Hybycozo’s at Ah-Nab-Awen Park. The series of large-scale installations and artworks investigate geometric exploration and patterns through light, shadow, and perception, taking shape in intricately surfaced, human-scaled glowing shapes that illuminate the night. Hybycozo’s is hosted by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and in partnership with artists Serge Beaulieu and Yelena Filipchuk of HYBYCOZO.
That same night, Hybycozo’s will also be the site of an interpretive dance event by Dance in the Annex, a Grand Rapids-based modern dance collective. Their performance, “Evolutions on a Theme,” includes five transitions, four solos, and both structured and improvised movement that explores the site, its light interplay, and sound work provided by Grand Rapids-based musicians, Pink Sky.
The World of Winter Festivals of years past included social games like the Hungry Hippos on ice tournament and even a silent disco, but this year’s events take more of a turn for the artistic and cerebral to service social distancing guidelines. Many behave similarly to last year’s hit “Prismatica,” which featured several multi-colored, human-scale prisms for crowds to spin, climb, and interact.
“[Prismatica] was super well-received and the nice thing about that is you could go any time; you can go at midnight if you want,” Suarez said. “That’s what we’re going to do this year: multiple versions of things like ‘Prismatica’ so that the programming will be more focused on social distancing. There are still some events, but they will be capped at 25 people and enforce strict social distancing with masks.”
These will be events like the guided walking tours Miles of Murals, The Chilly Challenge, and the Black History Walking Tour. The Prismatica-inspired installations popping up across the city include things like Ice Luminaries, a series of roughly 600-pound interactive “icicles” illuminated in the center; and The Singing Tree, an installation that responds to vocalization and has been integrated into public spaces across the United States and Canada. To help strategize a festival night downtown, organizers have built an interactive map that shows the sites and dates of each installation, game, sculpture, and all other makings of this year’s anticipated World of Winter Festival.
Photos courtesy Downtown GR