Like a boss!

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Evette Pittman. Photo by M. Buck Studio.

Organizing an event in Grand Rapids is no easy feat. There’s the coordination of vendors, the procuring of permits, and orchestrating street closures just to name a few of the many boxes that often need to be checked for an event to be a success. Whether it’s an elaborate festival, a city-wide race, or an afternoon of jazz in the park, the office of special events is here to help make visiting Grand Rapids a fun and engaging experience.

While there are many folks at the helm of any given event working tirelessly to get it off the ground, there’s one person who you can bet has a hand in dotting the “Is” and crossing the “Ts,” and that’s Evette Pittman, the manager in the office of special events. From acting as a liaison between event planners and various departments in the city, to overseeing administrative and logical needs, Pittman does it all.

City of Grand Rapids Office of Special Events manager Evette Pittman stands outside her office.

“I love working with the different event organizers and all the diverse events that occur here in the city of Grand Rapids,” she said. “It always puts a smile on my face when I see people out in the community having a good time enjoying their community. As we’re working with different event organizers and as we’re planning our own events, I want to make sure that we are creating something for everyone within the city of Grand Rapids, so no one can say, ‘Well, there’s nothing to do,’ I want them to say, ‘There’s plenty to do.’”

Of course, the city doesn’t plan all events in Grand Rapids. In fact, most events are brought to the community by people who have an idea, but the office of special events takes an active role in bringing it to life. The events Pittman’s office does put on are usually designed to fill a need that might not be met elsewhere, like collaborating with other organizations to bring new life to city parks, for example.

“We partnered with the library a few years ago and the Grand Rapids African American Art and Music Festival,” Pittman said. “There were some things that were happening at Martin Luther King Park. I reached out to them and said, ‘When parks are activated, folks that are doing things that we don’t necessarily want them to do at the park take that elsewhere.’ Working with those entities, GRPL and Grand Rapids African American Arts and Music Festival, we do family fun days,” she continued. “They’re the third Thursday every month from 6 to 8. We bring all kinds of free resources; they’ll get free dinner; we’ll have free entertainment; there’s going to be tons of stuff for them to do.”

Evette Pittman sports a “GR” cap. Photo by M. Buck Studio.

And it’s more than fun activities and free entertainment – last year, they partnered with Wolverine Worldwide on a back-to-school event and gave away school supplies and 100 pairs of shoes to kids in the community.

“Last year when we were giving away those shoes, oh, my goodness,” Pittman said. “There were so many kids that said, ‘This is my first pair of new shoes; I always get hand-me-downs.’ it’s just such a beautiful thing to be out there. I hope anyone that reads this article, if they want to partner with us and be a part of those events, just give me a call or an email and they can bring out whatever it is that they would like to give away or whatever resources they have for the community, and we would love to have them be a part.”

Over the past several years, more and more events that celebrate diverse people and cultures have been finding a home in Grand Rapids. And of all the events Pittman plans, those are some of her favorites.

“It’s those community events,” she said. “I love the big splashy ones just like everybody else, but it’s so beautiful when we have our cultural festivals and our community events, because you see folks that don’t necessarily look like what you normally see downtown Grand Rapids, and they’re here and they’re enjoying their city. It’s not just being a welcoming city but being a belonging city where everyone feels like they belong and this is their city,” she continued. “That’s what those cultural events and those community events do in our community parks. I love all of them. From Asian Pacific Festival to Glimpse of Africa to Polish Fest or the Hispanic Festival, it’s just always so beautiful to see the culture, the foods, the clothing, the way they dance or celebrate, to hear the music–it really helps to broaden who Grand Rapids is and how we’re viewed.”

The city is also home to marathons and runs of all kinds. The Color Run, Amway Riverbank Run, and She Runs Grand Rapids are just a few of events that drive thousands of people to the city, and these big, complex races are some of the most complicated ones to coordinate.

“Grand Rapids has become such a vibrant and bustling city that when we need to close roads for an extended amount of time so that we can get thousands of people running in these races, that affects our restaurants, and it affects our hotels, and it affects our merchants,” Pittman said. “But it’s also a beautiful way for people who maybe don’t ever come downtown to see what there is downtown. They’re like, ‘Oh, look at that new restaurant; I didn’t even know it was here.’ Oftentimes when they come, they’re just going specifically to Rosa Parks circle for an event. But if they come to participate in a marathon or a half marathon or a 10K or 5K, they get to run throughout the city and they get to see beautiful scenic spots, gorgeous, well-maintained parks, new restaurants and businesses, or they get to see old favorites.”

The city hosted nearly 650 events last year, but Pittman is adamant–if you don’t find what you’re looking for on the events calendar, let her office know.

“There’s plenty to choose from,” she said. “Look at our calendar found at Grandrapidsmi.gov, and then you go to events and activity calendar and you’re going to find something to do. If you don’t find something to do, then you create the fun. You can give our office a call, or you can email us at specialevents@grcity.us. Just reach out to us and we will help you create your fun.”

We had to know what event Pittman would bring to Grand Rapids if she could take her pick. Her answer? A flash mob.

“I think that the first one was fantastic,” she said. “It actually helped put Grand Rapids on the map. It answered back a negative article that said we were not a great place to live, and it answered back and said, ‘Hey, you know, we’re not going to take it; we’re going to show you that we are a fantastic place and great things happen.’ The city has changed so much in ten years; we have ArtPrize and we have so many more cultural events that go on in the city. I feel like we need to showcase that and show folks that–a decade later and look at us thrive.”

 

 

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Ever since Pasha Shipp could talk, she's been dreaming up colorful stories. Fantasy creatures, mysterious kingdoms, enchanted forests, you name it. As she reached adulthood, she decided to take the magic out of her head and put it down on paper. Pasha has been writing for Grand Rapids Magazine since November 2015, and has loved every minute of it. She has a master's degree in Communication and a bachelor's degree in Film Studies from Grand Valley State University and Western Michigan University respectively. When she isn't daydreaming and writing stories for the magazine, she's exploring the many hidden treasures of Grand Rapids with her fiancé.