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Exploring Greater Grand Rapids: Experiences as a GoSite Guide

From tourists to new residents to lifelong residents, GoSite impacts people over the long-term through small recommendations that place a large role in how people experience West Michigan together.
Outside GoSite at the Grand Rapids Art Museum

Outside GoSite at the Grand Rapids Art Museum /Courtesy of GoSite

Underwriting support from:

Written by Brett Townsend, GoSite Guide

Most everybody who's explored a new area has likely experienced the fluttering emotions of excitement and bewilderment that can accompany new terrain.

“…Where do I start?” a recent Seattleite-turned-Grand Rapidian asked me with a laugh in recent weeks. West Michigan was as new to her as her student body at Kendall College of Art and Design.

Open-ended questions like this pop up often in Grand Rapids' GoSite, a new information sharing space located at the northwest corner of the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Over the last eight months, fellow GoSite Guides and I have shared daily encounters here with city natives, visiting tourists and prospective residents about what to see, taste and give back to the area. From Rosa Parks Circle to the lakeshore along Muskegon, our ears have been tuned in to the variety of destinations visitors become aware of after sharing with us their goals in the space. These ears have also been tuned in to how visitors in the space have become their own Guides and shared their own recommendations with each other.

The day the Seattle woman stopped in, polka music and even a little bit of the aroma from the downtown Polish Festival wrapping up came in with her. After hearing about her interests in visual art and live music, I helped break down for her some of the different areas in Grand Rapids, from Heartside to Heritage Hill to Eastown. This helped us create a picture together of where she could steer the conversation. Accompanied by one of our brochure maps and digital display screen of ongoing events, she began asking and learning about bars, music venues, markets and coffee shops that are open late. It wasn't long before the polka music and thin aroma brought in two more visitors and our conversation grew to four.

I realized I was experiencing just what makes the GoSite the information “sharing” space it's intended to be.

"You're going to love it here,” the woman of the couple now standing with us said to the new student. She had grown up in Grand Rapids; her partner had been living here for four years.

“Where do you live? What do you like to do for fun? Where did you come from?” the woman asked. She was animated, locked in, eyes wide. Her partner smiled as he chimed in about the nightlife and the parks in walking distance from his house. The three of us familiar with the area began sharing stories with her about what we considered some of our favorite “gems,” from The Bitter End coffee shop to the northeast Seidman Park to a favorite corner store: Martha's Vineyard.

The Seattleite-turn-Grand Rapidian was learning as fast as she could, rapidly jotting down on a notepad everything being shared. We learned a lot about life in Seattle through the conversation too. Before she left, she told us all how much she appreciated us helping her to feel prepared to explore her new home. The couple remained and we talked about how fun it was to see her light up to all of the opportunities for her here.

The collaborative feeling we shared that day has been a feeling celebrated and embraced since we officially opened our doors at the GoSite on April 4 of this year. It's a feeling that has extended beyond the visitor-to-Guide and visitor-to-visitor interactions, as they're happening. That feeling reaches into the research we dive into together as GoSite Guides when we happen to find ourselves with time here outside of visitors' company.

Lisa Radeck, a fellow Guide, is no stranger to this collaborative research on our end. Her various projects have included cataloging as many open mic and poetry reading-friendly venues in the area as we can find. When we hear a desire for knowledge about something in the area we don't have access to, we seek it out to share in the future. This same open mic/poetry reading research has come in handy, as I was able to share this recently with a pair of Grand Rapids natives who had recently turned 21 and were looking for bars where they could perform their work with others. Samil Molina, another fellow Guide, sums up this kind of receptive collaboration on our end pretty precisely when he refers to the GoSite's role in West Michigan as a “curatorial” effort.

Beyond the new residents, the lifelong natives and the tourists, we've been able to recognize that many who visit the GoSite will be impacted for a lifetime by the seemingly small recommendations shared. Call these long-term impacts ripple effects, butterfly effects or simply “influences,” the initial encounters we're fortunate enough to share together in the space, we recognize, may make the difference between someone discovering or not discovering something in West Michigan that positively affects their personal and social paths for the rest of their lives. It's a recognition we treat with respect and pride.

Having recently returned to our primary space at the northwest corner of the Grand Rapids Art Museum after having been mobile around the museum during ArtPrize to make room for WOOD TV8’s on-site broadcasting, we’re able to continue to bring this respect and pride with us to the thousands of more new visitors awaiting their exploration of Greater Grand Rapids. It’s something I’m enjoying and looking forward to, both.

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