Grand Rapids Ballet and Dégagé Ministries Partner to Raise Awareness of Homelessness in Grand Rapids Through Performing Arts

Created by Circumstance to be performed during ArtPrize

Sept. 14, 2021 — Shared creativity and a mission to bring authentic representation to a difficult subject bring two organizations together for powerful ArtPrize performances. Grand Rapids Ballet (GRB), Michigan’s only professional ballet company, is partnering with Dégagé Ministries for three performances all with the mission of connecting through art to share a message of hope, help, and awareness.

Dancers from GRB collaborated with Dégagé Ministries to create a moving work titled “Created by Circumstance,” aimed at sharing a glimpse into the lives of those experiencing homelessness in the Heartside neighborhood. Gretchen Steimle, professional dancer at GRB, set out to bring awareness to the resources that Dégagé provides the community through choreographic work that includes saxophone and vocals from patrons served by Dégagé.

“Art has the power to connect us through our human experiences,” said Steimle. “Watching human bodies move and express music is something that every person knows and can connect to. It’s so important to use those mediums to incorporate significant subject matter and create a connecting moment to share an understanding of the experience of homelessness.”

The vocals, voiced by Thomas at Dégagé, include real-life testimonials from Dégagé patrons, which are accompanied by saxophone performed by Isaac at Dégagé. GRB’s dancers will perform live alongside Thomas and Isaac at three venues during ArtPrize. The performances will take place at three locations, beginning on Wednesday, September 22 at Heartside Park at 5:30 p.m. The following performances will take place on Friday, September 24 at Monroe Social Zone at 5:30 p.m., and finally on Sunday, September 26 at Rosa Parks Circle by the GRAM at 3 p.m.

“I am so proud of Gretchen for creating a work about such an important subject matter, and I’m proud of Grand Rapids Ballet’s collaboration with Dégagé engaging with our community and using our art to impact lives in a positive way,” said Artistic Director James Sofranko.

According to Dégagé Ministries, in 2019, over 9,200 people in Kent County experienced at least one episode of homelessness, a 52% increase since 2016. Additionally, over the past five years, homelessness has increased by 94%. The COVID-19 pandemic has created even more demand for Degagé’s services. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Dégagé has continued its ongoing services, but has also added new services like job creation for patrons, hotel stays, extended shelter hours and PPE. In addition, in 2020, Dégagé served more than 60,000 meals, provided more than 7,200 loads of laundry, nearly 6,000 showers, and helped 52 women move into housing.

“We are incredibly grateful to Grand Rapids Ballet and ArtPrize for this beautiful opportunity to tell an important story through art,” said Thelma Ensink, Executive Director, Degage Ministries. “So often vulnerable populations lack access to the arts but have incredible artistic abilities. This partnership showcases God’s gift of creativity, given to all, and breaks down stereotypes about the causes of homelessness.”

Created by Circumstance,” is included among other artist entries as a recipient of one of ArtPrize’s curatorial grants, which will be featured in prominent outdoor locations in downtown Grand Rapids, exploring themes relevant to the community by hosting a diverse set of artists and artworks, and through events and performances.

“It was amazing to get to know people I might not have otherwise crossed paths with,” Steimle explained. “I am grateful for Dégagé sharing their time with me through this process.”

Each of the three performance locations also will include a QR code for visitors to scan with a chance of finding cash prizes ranging from $250 to $1,500 each to award to any participating artist which would directly impact Dégagé by supporting its mission.

About Grand Rapids Ballet:

Grand Rapids Ballet, Michigan’s only professional ballet company, celebrating its 50th Anniversary in 2022, is committed to lifting the human spirit through the art of dance under experienced leadership.

Grand Rapids Ballet, along with its Grand Rapids Ballet School and Junior Company continues a rich history marked by steady growth, a commitment to excellence, and strong community support.

About Dégagé Ministries:

Established in 1967, Dégagé Ministries strives to reflect the love of Christ to all who come through their doors by building relationships and offering programs that foster dignity and respect. Dégagé Ministries is an independent 501 (c)3 ecumenical organization. In 2020, Dégagé provided 62,545 meals, 13,142 showers, and loads of laundry assisted with 3,732 visits in the organization’s Resource Office, and moved 52 women into sustainable housing. For more information, visit


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