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Jane Bush – Little Live Coordinator
Bio for Cynthia Hagedorn:
Cynthia Hagedorn is the owner and executive director of Square Peg Events — a local company producing art-enhanced events and tours throughout West Michigan — as well as a working artist, art educator and curator maintaining a private art studio in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Square Peg Events produces dozens of art-enhanced happenings annually for children and adults in Grand Rapids and along the Lakeshore. Square Peg’s pARTys, tours, artful dining experiences and community on canvas events are often produced in partnership with local civic and cultural organizations. Examples of pARTy experiences include live mannequin nights, human sculptures, downtown live-painting events and other happenings.
Square Peg Events tours include more than twenty annual downtown food-and-beverage tours throughout West Michigan communities, including tours in the footprint of downtown Grand Rapids. Other tours include independent walking tours of various Grand Rapids neighborhoods and Lakeshore communities. Recent and recurring tours have included The W(h)ine Not Tour, The Martini March, The Brew Crew, Boys & Beer, Chicks & Chocolate, The Cocktail Cruise (with celebrity bartenders), The International Food Tour, Kiddie Cruise, The Time Trot and The Undergrounder of Grand Rapids.
Square Peg’s artful dining events entail evenings of art, culture and cuisine at a variety of West Michigan eateries. Each educational and experiential event immerses participants in the time and culture of a master artist, pairing food and beverage from the artist’s world with a collaborative exploration into the art itself in a casual, relaxed atmosphere. Recent and recurring events include Monet’s Garden, Freda (Kahlo’s)Fiesta!, Pollock’s Painting Party, Van Gogh’s Table, Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party and Sips & Ceiling with Michelangelo.
One of the four founders of Kids ArtFest, Cynthia served as the event’s executive producer for its first three years. An annual happening produced in partnership with Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, Kids ArtFest is a free, large-scale art experience during ArtPrize in which children create, explore and imagine a variety of art mediums. The festival features three performance stages, street performers and live visual artists creating in-the-now. Festival attendance grows each year, reaching 10,000 participants in 2012.
Cynthia was instrumental in bringing several annual events to downtown Holland, including as the founder and planner of the popular Live Mannequin Night, now in its tenth year.
An art educator for more than 20 years, Cynthia serves as an Independent Docent for the Art Institute of Chicago, with an emphasis in French 19th-century paintings. “I love bringing families from West Michigan to explore across the puddle. We review hot paintings, draw in the galleries and take in that amazing culture we fondly refer to as ‘impressionism,’” she says.
Cynthia also offers lectures, programs and support events on a variety of subjects, often in conjunction and in partnership with outside organizations including Herrick District Library, Grand Rapids Art Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago. As a working artist, Cynthia works in abstract acrylic art, showing in one large-scale exhibition each year. Her work can be found at cynthiahagedorn.com
Cynthia has done more than 40 live-painting events in support of local organizations, including performances for Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, Grand Rapids Art Museum and Grand Rapids Children’s Museum. She painted live in Holland Symphony Orchestra’s production of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. “I typically paint live with music. Jazz is my favorite, but I have painted live to Dave Matthews Band, Bob Dylan, Primus, Snoop Dog, Wide Spread Panic, 311 and with a wide variety of local musicians,” she says.
Cynthia’s educational beginning was in fashion design and merchandising with her core studies in her passion - economics at Northwood University. She continued her studies with endorsements in education and art anthropology with her undergraduate work accomplishing at Indiana University with honors.
Side-by-Side Painting Experiences with Cynthia
eMily Alemán-McAlpine — Senior Community Liaison, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
The process of painting was very thoughtful and relaxing. Cynthia made it really easy. She made me feel artistic, though I really didn’t think I had an artistic side. It’s all about who we are and how we express ourselves. Cynthia said, “Whatever you think, whatever you feel, put it on the canvas.” When I started to approach it that way, it made it a lot easier. To know that there are people like Cynthia always nurturing and making sure that these types of opportunities keep on happening in Grand Rapids and continue to become more vibrant and to have more depth…to me, that was really awesome. It was eye-opening.
Rick Baker — President& CEO, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce
I really enjoyed the opportunity to work with Cynthia. It was a great experience. In the couple of hours that we spent together, it’s amazing how much I learned during that time. Not necessarily about the mechanics of painting, but more about the emotions of painting. She made it very comfortable. I kind of had in mind what I wanted to communicate through the piece, and how I might do that. At the beginning, I was quite stiff, but she loosened me up, and the result of that was a much better outcome. She just does a nice job of quietly coaching you. I am not an artist. I had never experienced the emotional side of creating art before. I couldn’t relate to the experience on the level of what an artist feels when they’re trying to communicate through art, that emotional experience. Now, I have a new lens with which to view other people’s work. For me, having that experience, having that lens, will allow me to view art at a different level, and maybe understand to a greater degree the artist’s experience of creating that piece.
Bob Dean — Executive Director, Grand Rapids Children’s Museum
This was really a freeing experience. I approached it with some trepidation, but Cynthia walked me through it and really taught me how art is an expression of what you’re feeling deep inside. From that point on, it became easy. The process of producing what you’re feeling is something I hadn’t really felt before. Now, as I look at art, I wonder what the artist was feeling.
Steve Heacock — Senior Vice President of Public Affairs, Spectrum Health Systems
The experience of painting with Cynthia was very enjoyable, very relaxing. My wife came along and the three of us had a great time, not only painting, but also talking. Cynthia is very patient and engaging, and so enthusiastic about what she does that she makes the process very easy. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed myself. I actually may go and see her and paint again sometime. What Cynthia is doing is encouraging people to actually do it. This experience is sort of, “Now, roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.” You have to actually do it. It was literally the hands-on experience that was most profound to me.
George Heartwell — Mayor, City of Grand Rapids
I’ve never considered myself to be an artist. I came in with just a theme: I wanted to do something with water. Cynthia opened up my creative thinking. She got me thinking about what water meant to me, what role it plays in my life. And then, she showed me how to use a brush. Her tutoring and my being freed up to even think of myself as an artist resulted in a canvas that, quite honestly, I’m rather proud of. I’ve come to realize that there’s creativity within all of us. It may take a special person like Cynthia to help release it, but it’s there, almost embryotically, within all of us.
Elissa S. Hillary — Executive Director, Local First
I really enjoyed painting alongside Cynthia. It was fun to visit her studio and have her guide me through the process of painting and the different techniques. I was nervous. I didn’t really know what I was going to be painting. I was surprised at my own ability to paint what was in my head, and nervous about whether I would be able to do that. It’s not something I ever thought I could or would do.
Shelley Irwin — Host/Producer, WGVU Radio & TV
The trust was put into Cynthia for guidance. It was all about working through the process and just doing it. I started to think about the journey I’m on. What goes on the canvas stays on the canvas. There’s no do-over. The process of creation was immediate.
Cle Jackson — President, Greater Grand Rapids NAACP
This was a great experience. I was very hesitant about it at first, because I’m not a painter at all. I can barely write my name. When I went to Cynthia’s studio, she made it seem very easy, very cool and relaxed, and we had a great conversation. When people say, “I’m an artist,” it’s all you; it’s self-expression. That surprised me, that it really does come down to how you feel and how you express yourself. For me, the greatest value of this experience is just having the opportunity to go through that process. It helps you face, in a sense, a fear. My fear was, “I’m not an artist.” That was my whole thing. Fear is just that; it’s just fear. It shouldn’t limit you.
Kristopher Larson — President & CEO, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.
Cynthia was great at being able to take what can be an intimidating experience and make it feel comfortable. She was very accommodating, and just created a fun atmosphere in which to be able to enjoy the experience. She gave me a practice canvas with which to really understand the brush and how the paints are going to apply themselves and mix. It’s sort of a metaphor for life. I wish we had more practice canvases to try things out before committing to making a permanent change. For me personally, the greatest value of this experience is actually doing something artistic with my hands for the first time in probably two decades. Once I got down that career track from college onwards, the closest thing I do to being creative with my hands is typing with my fingers. It’s nice to be back at those vulnerable but creative moments of putting brush to canvas. The label of “artist” is not as unattainable as some might imagine it to be. There’s an opportunity for the artist in all of us. Cynthia, in her peaceful, cajoling approach, helps us to get back to that place where we might have been decades ago.
Teresa Weatherall Neal — Superintendent, Grand Rapids Public Schools
This was my first time ever painting. I didn’t know what to expect. The experience was wonderful. I actually felt like I knew something about art. Cynthia was able to make me feel pretty comfortable with the paint, the process and the colors. The studio was very relaxing. You become an artist when you walk in, and I didn’t think that was possible. Space matters. It made me feel comfortable and at home. I was able to express myself on canvas. I was able to free-flow, like blue water. Art is not defined for you. It comes from within. There’s an artist within each and every one of us. There’s no right or wrong way to do this. I thought I had to practice. I thought it had to be a flower or something like that. Art is a personal expression. I found that I enjoyed it and I was pretty talented. I came to this with fear, but I got a chance to express who I am. Whatever this is, it shows just a little bit of me. I am an artist.
Jennifer Pascua — Co-Host of News at 5 p.m. & Reporter, WZZM 13
It had been a while since I had even picked up a paintbrush. Cynthia had a great approach in starting with what’s going on in my life. It became an experience. I appreciated that she was there to guide and not necessarily take over. When I wanted to do stuff, she would make me stop and think about if I added another stroke or another color, would it really accomplish what I wanted to say in the painting? I was surprised by how much I really enjoyed the experience and how much I missed having that art in my life, those things that I used to do when I was much younger. I valued the ability to become vulnerable again. There was a point at which I asked if I could start over. Cynthia said, “Leave it alone.” In that moment, you’re being very raw. I wanted to be more perfect. She convinced me that part of this whole process is that it’s okay to have those moments when it’s not perfection.
David M. Rahinsky — Police Chief, City of Grand Rapids
I have absolutely no artistic bent. Having no previous experience, it was energizing to hold a brush in my hand. Even for someone who has no intrinsic artistic ability, it still felt very natural and I was very happy with how it turned out. It reinforced that you don’t have to be classically trained or have a propensity for the artistic to be able to enjoy creating something.
Joanne Roehm — Festival Director, LaughFest
I was excited to paint with Cynthia. This gave me the opportunity to view art through a new lens as an artist. Thanks to Cynthia for the opportunity.
Darel Ross — Co-Executive Director, LINC
This was a really cool experience. I’m anything but an artist, but Cynthia made it painless. It was cool to be outside of my comfort zone and area of expertise. I was surprised at how fun this was. It definitely wasn’t as stressful as I thought it would be. I found a deep satisfaction in being able to express myself creatively. I do a lot of public speaking, presenting and facilitating. To present a concept artistically and visually without using words but using only paint and colors was definitely a new experience, and something I’ll value. Everybody has something artistically to contribute, even if it’s perceived differently by the audience.
Rachael Ruiz — Host, eightWest, WoodTV
I love Cynthia. She’s always doing wonderful, thoughtful, artistic projects. I thought it would be fun to be an insider, instead of someone who’s always asking questions and reporting on the art, to be a part of the creative process from the other side. It was refreshing. I felt limitless, eager, excited and a bit scared. I’ve always had a great respect for art, artists and the creative process. It’s good to experience art from every angle. You appreciate it all the more.
Doug Small — President & CEO, Experience Grand Rapids
I grew up in a family of 14, the only one without an artistic bone in my body. Doing this has allowed me to create. I’ve learned to appreciate all forms of art much more. Cynthia is a very talented artist. It gave me a true appreciation for those who have an artistic gene.
Diana Sieger — President, Grand Rapids Community Foundation
I thank God for Cynthia being able to calm me down. I was really rather anxious about this. I’m a consumer of art, not necessarily an artist. I was excited but nervous for the two hours that I spent with Cynthia. She had a small canvas for me to practice on. That helped getting the nerves out and for her to see what I could and couldn’t do. I was quite thrilled. Cynthia taught me to just relax and let it flow. It doesn’t matter if the ultimate product is good, bad or indifferent; it’s an extension of how I was feeling at the time. It was a tremendous gift that she gave me. Understanding the training that artists have, it really boils down to how they’re feeling emotionally at the time. This helps me to understand what goes through an artist’s mind during creation. This is another side of the brain…what’s in your heart and in your soul. There’s an artist in all of us.
Audrey Sundstrom — Founder & Chair, GRandJazzFest
I love art in many forms, so this was an awesome experience. I’ve never been a person who draws or paints, so I was a bit apprehensive. Cynthia was wonderful. She offered encouragement and gentle guidance, creating a fun, relaxed and enlightening experience, drawing out hidden talent. I now have a greater appreciation for the message behind the art.
Greg Sundstrom — City Manager, City of Grand Rapids
This was a riot! In my job, I’m focused on quick, effective and creative problem-solving, relying on data and customer feedback. While painting, I was forced to focus on a different part of creativity — a part I don’t often use — seeing solely from the eye inside my mind and heart. It was refreshing, cathartic and therapeutic. Cynthia added with her gentle and positive coaching, celebrating even my simple work. I may have found a new hobby. It certainly brings together my passion for paintings and this new process of focusing my creativity inward. Now I understand why I pay so much for paintings that capture my attention.
Meg Miller Willit — Community Volunteer
This was my second time painting with Cynthia. I had had a taste of it, and I wanted more. With Cynthia at your side, you have more confidence. Cynthia guides you, but she doesn’t do it for you. It was fun to be able to express myself on canvas. It was a scary experience, but a good experience. My creativity usually comes more from the events that I plan or the galas that I’m doing, not from artistic endeavors like this. To anyone who is entertaining the idea of participating in an opportunity like this, I say, “Give it a try. Put yourself out there.”