Break It Down | Make It Better: Find Your Place

The tenth year of Break It Down | Make It Better was Friday, March 24, 2023. It took place at the historic Federal Building and kicked off with a keynote presentation by George Bayard III, founder and director of the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives (GRAAMA).

Following the keynote was be a day of breakout sessions, food, a dance performance by Dance in the Annex, and a happy hour. The days sessions took the form of presentations, roundtables, panel discussions, and workshops on the topics of professional skills building and the conference’s theme, creative placemaking, a practice in which the arts are used to strengthen communities.

Check out the day’s sessions and schedule below:

Creative Placemaking Roundtables, Presentations, and Panel Discussions

• The Future of the UICA: A Roundtable Disscussion with John O’Neil, Tommy Allen, and Paul Wittenbraker

Artprize: Year of Yes with Director of Exhibitions JoLee Caseras

• Art, Land, Politics, and a Decommissioned Power Plant with Macatawa Strata

• Running an Alternative Art Space with Hugo Claudin of Mexicains Sans Frontieres

• Jumping into Public Art. An Artist Panel Discussion by Katie Moore of DGRI

• Advocating for 1% for Art Funding with Susan Coombes, former art commissioner

• Lessons Learned Restoring Burton Heights’ Four Star Theater with Marcus Ringnalda

• Stronger Together: A Roundtable Discussion on Creative Collaboration with Chris Protas of All Artworks

• Intro to Public Narrative Framework, a tried and true method for community engagement with artist Angelika Lee

• Volunteerism in our Art & Music Communities with Charity Lytle of The DAAC

Skills Building Workshops and Presentations

• Paid Artist Opportunities: Application Workshop

• How to Write a Killer Artist Proposal with John Fenton of Lions & Rabbits

• Getting the Most Out of an Art Residency with musician Vanessa DeCouto

• Forging a creative career path with printmaker Kristin Casaletto

• Digital Marketing Skills with artist Payton Pringle

• From Blog to Book with food photographer Katy McAvoy

• Mental Health & Art as Therapy with Nicholas Hartman (Chapel of Ghouls)

• The Gift of Being Present with Kate Lewis

• Following the process: Allowing Intuition into Your Artwork with
Ryan Crawley

The Day’s Schedule

10:00 AM – 10:30 AM

10:30 AM – 11:30 AM
Opening Remarks and Keynote Speaker George Bayard III

11:30 AM – 12:15 PM
Breakout Session Block #1: Six locally-led roundtables, workshops, panels and/or presentations

12:30 PM – 1:15 PM

1:30 PM – 2:15 PM
Breakout Session Block #2: Six locally-led roundtables, workshops, panels

2:30 PM – 3:15 PM
Breakout Session Block #3: Six locally-led roundtables, workshops, panels

3:30 PM – 4:15 PM
Keynote Panel Discussion
A discussion between regional arts leaders on the themes of creative placemaking: getting artists, arts workers, and arts organizations out of their silos, collaborating with others, and embracing the neighborhoods and regions around them.

4:30 PM – 5:30 PM
Happy Hour
Happy hour will open with a dance performance by Dance in the Annex followed by refreshments and a chance to mix and mingle. In addition, it will feature tabling by regional arts organizations so that conference guests can learn more about what they do and how to get involved.

Break it Down | Make it Better 2022

The 8th annual Break it Down | Make it better was held on March 4th from 12:30 to 5:30 at Little Space Studio in downtown Grand Rapids.

The conference is an educational event that promotes lifelong learning and strengthening local connections among West Michigan creatives.

It kicked off with a panel discussion of new creative businesses including The DAAC, The Stray, and Cultivate.

Following the panel were two rounds of five different breakout sessions. These are aimed to help attendees gain needed skills and knowledge, giving them the opportunity to attend roundtables, panels and workshops from the following topics:

Marketing for Artists • Local Grant Info Session • Smash that Creative Block• Publishing for Artists • Fostering Accessibility in the Arts • How to Form an Art Collective • Music Labels vs. Staying Independent • Art As Labor: Make Sure You Get Paid • NFTs •

The afternoon concluded with a networking happy hour complete with pizza from Mitten Brewing Co.

Flashback 2021

For the 7th Break It Down | Make It Better, we went virtual! This year’s event kicked off on March 11th and was reinterpreted as three weekly online talks. Missed the conference? You can watch our March 11 session here.

March 11Striving and Thriving During COVID-19

A panel of regional artists and creative business owners respond to how they are innovating in the face of COVID-19.

Jennifer Bastian, Communication Madison
Brianna Lynn Hernández Baurichter, Madison-based fine artist
Eirann Betka-Pope, Funny Girls, Betka-Pope Productions

March 18Reinvigorating Local Arts Journalism

A panel discussion of local and regional arts journalists discussing strategies and successes around giving local art the attention it deserves.

Christina Nafziger, Sixty Inches From Center (Chicago)

March 25State of the Art: Grand Rapids

A panel discussion of arts leaders speaking on the current state of art affairs in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Together they will explore what is working in Grand Rapids and where artists can invest time, energy, and funds to make the city better for creatives of all stripes. Questions for the panel will be gathered from the audience during the Week 1, 2, and 3 sessions.

Steffanie Rosalez, CEO of Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities
Michele Bosak, Director of Curatorial at UICA
Adrian Butler, Grand Rapids based DJ, Designer, and Musician
Hannah Berry, Executive Director of Lions & Rabbits
Zachary Trebellas, Director of Avenue for the Arts

Flashback 2020

Break it Down | Make it Better 2020 was a half-day skill-building conference taking place on February 21st from 12:30–5:30 p.m. at Little Space Studio. The afternoon kicked off with a keynote panel about the state of the creative community in Grand Rapids where we discussed how we can grow stronger together.

Featuring :

Jenn Schaub (moderator): Co-director of Community Building & Engagement at Dwelling Place, Artist

Natalie Wetzel : Art Director, Artist, KCAD Professor, Co-director of The Moon

Kyd Kane : Founder and CEO of Kyd Kane Poetry

Tommy Allen: Rapid Growth Media Publisher, Artist, Longtime Community Advocate

Stephen Smith, M.ed : Owner of Muse GR, GRPS Teacher

Following the panel were two breakout discussions. These aimed to help attendees gain needed skills and knowledge, giving them the opportunity to select from roundtables, panels and workshops from the following topics:

Finding & Applying for Opportunities • Future of Creativity • Local Grant Info Session • Legal Roundtable • Marketing through Digital Tools • Glowing Up After Graduation • Teach What You Know • Authentic Community Dialogue • Collective Creativity •Making Money • Get a Second Date with a Curator

The afternoon concluded with a networking happy hour complete with hors d’oeuvres and music by DJ Joe Moon of Vinyl Fetish.

Flashback 2018

Break it Down | Make it Better 2018  included over 108 guests and 40 conversation facilitators for a total of 148 participants. Doors opened at 8:30 and kicked off our day with registration and breakfast, and networking. At 9am the morning panel discussion, The Civic Life of an Artist | The Creative Life of the City began in main space. The first set of discussions began at 10:30am, there were 10 discussions to choose from. Discussion formats included:

  • Workshops – Active sessions featuring participatory learning that require the engagement of attendees.
  • Roundtables – Facilitated discussions with 10-12 active participants.

  • Presentations – Knowledge sharing from experts in their fields, with time for participant questions and answers.

Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 8.05.23 PM

From ‘Advocating for City Investment in the Arts’ to ‘Building an Arts Based Business,’ conversation topics were submitted by West Michigan artists, curators, art educators, venue coordinators and creative professionals. Locations, themes and discussion types were shared in a printed program and on door signage and volunteers were on hand to help direct participants to the correct location. There was ten minutes between each session to move to the next location. Sessions were hosted on the main floor and the lower level, which was accessible by stairs and an elevator. Lunch from Tacos El Granjero began at 11:30am and included vegetarian, vegan and meat options. Following lunch there were two more rounds of discussions. The final conversation of the day will be held in the main gallery and all attendees were invited to participate. The day concluded around 3:45 pm. Clean up took place directly after the event, volunteers helped to remove trash, break down tables and chairs, take down signage and pack up tables and chairs.

Click here to see more images from 2018’s event.