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Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is a 158-acre (64 ha) botanical garden and outdoor sculpture park located in Grand Rapids Township, Michigan in Kent County. Commonly referred to as Meijer Gardens, it has quickly become one of the most significant sculpture experiences in the Midwest and an emerging worldwide cultural destination. In April 2005, The Wall Street Journal wrote that “There’s nothing quite like Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park this side of the Kroller-Muller Museum and Sculpture Park in The Netherlands”.
In May 2009, it was named one of the top “30 Must-See Museums” in the world. It is Michigan’s second-largest tourist attraction and is a feature venue in ArtPrize, the largest art competition decided by public vote. In ArtPrize 2012, it debuted “Quan,” an outdoor sculpture by Carole Feuerman, as part of its fall group show “Body Double: The Figure in Contemporary Sculpture.” Feuerman’s sculpture ranked in the top 50 of the competition, drawing in crowds to the sculpture park.
Meijer Gardens opened to the public on April 20, 1995 through the generosity of Frederik and Lena Meijer, the family behind the Meijer Corporation, who donated financial support, land and their entire sculpture collection to the organization.
In 1990, the West Michigan Horticultural Society approached Frederik Meijer about donating a parcel of land owned by Meijer, Inc, as a potential home for a botanic garden and conservatory.
Meijer, Inc donated 70.7 acres (28.6 ha) of land in Grand Rapids Township, Michigan for the Gardens site in January 1991. At the same time, Fred and Lena Meijer donated their entire sculpture collection to the project. The Michigan Botanic Garden, as the project was called, was renamed Frederik Meijer Gardens after its major benefactor.
The distinctive signature of the park and gardens, which emphasizes the equally important entities of sculpture and horticulture, satisfies Meijer’s goal to unite the visual art of humankind and the visual art of nature.
It is currently the second most-popular cultural destination in Michigan with 600,000 visitors annually, and is funded almost entirely by private donations. Meijer Gardens includes Michigan’s largest tropical conservatory; three indoor theme gardens; a new 8-acre Japanese Garden scheduled to open in 2015, outdoor gardens, nature trails and boardwalk; sculpture galleries and permanent sculpture; library; audiovisual theater; a café and gift shop; classrooms and meeting rooms. Both indoors and outdoors, the entire property is fully handicap accessible.
In its first ten years of operation, Meijer Gardens has attracted more than three million visitors. Meijer Gardens celebrated its 15th anniversary on April 20, 2010. On May 7, 2010, the Gardens welcomed its six millionth visitor.
The Lena Meijer Conservatory at Meijer Gardens is a five-story, 15,000-square-foot (1,400 m2) facility featuring rock landscapes by designer Philip diGiacomo and plant selections by garden designer Stephen Rosselet. The conservatory houses tropical plants from around the world, including coconut palms from the Pacific, fig trees from India, exotic orchids from Central and South America, Asiatic bamboo and banana trees. Additional indoor gardens include the nation’s most comprehensive carnivorous plant house, arid house, featuring Saguaro cacti, and Victorian conservatory.
Scheduled to open during a dedication ceremony on June 10, 2015, the 8-acre Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden will further the organization’s dual mission of horticulture and sculpture. One of the most revered and deeply appreciated international garden styles, the 8-acre Japanese Garden will be located in the northeast corner of the 132-acre property and exudes the very essence of the Japanese tradition—tranquility, simplicity and beauty. The design will re-imagine existing features of the land—water, elevation changes and quiet surroundings—with a combination of manicured and naturalistic areas.
The artful design by Hoichi Kurisu, president and founder of Kurisu International, Inc., will reflect this essence through a variety of horticultural elements such as zen, moss and bonsai gardens, scenic bridges, waterfalls and a tea house, among many other features. Plans also include works of contemporary sculpture by major international artists whose aesthetic and form will work in harmony with the space.
The first confirmed sculpture is a major work by Anish Kapoor, one of the most acclaimed artists working today. It is one of the few works in granite the artist has created. Circular units on the front surface of the sculpture reflect and enhance the surrounding environment while the quiet mood of the work encourages meditation. AE and Owen Ames Kimball will provide architectural, engineering and construction management support.
The outdoor gardens, by internationally acclaimed landscape designer James van Sweden of Washington, D.C., and garden designer Penelope Hobhouse of Sussex, England, feature four-season plantings that can be enjoyed throughout the year. In September 1997, the Leslie E. Tassell English Perennial & Bulb Garden and the New American Garden were dedicated.
To foster an educational awareness of numerous ecosystems in West Michigan, the Wege Nature Trail is a paved path that winds through a forested section of the property. It is connected to the Frey Boardwalk which brings visitors to the natural wetlands. Featured on these walks are bird watching sites, natural prairie areas, a tadpole pond and beautiful vistas.
The Gwen Frostic Woodland Shade Garden, dedicated in June 1998, commemorates the artistic influence of a well-known naturalist artist and writer and features woodland plants including ferns, hostas, bleeding hearts, rhododendrons and azaleas.
In May 2003, Meijer Gardens opened the 3-acre (1.2 ha), Michigan Farm Garden as a place where families can experience gardens filled with heirloom vegetables, orchards and figurative animal sculpture within a 1930’s era farm setting complete with a 100-year-old barn and a replica of Lena (Rader) Meijer’s childhood farmhouse.
The Frederik Meijer Gardens Amphitheater opened in June 2003. The outdoor music and theater venue features a covered stage set to symphony standards, and is able to accommodate almost any musical performance. As a garden itself, the Amphitheater features tiered lawn seating for 1,800 people. Past musicians featured on the Meijer Gardens Amphitheater stage include Harry Connick Jr., B.B. King, Sheryl Crow, Steve Miller Band and Wynton Marsalis.
The Lena Meijer Children’s Garden at Meijer Gardens opened in June 2004 and is one of the largest children’s gardens in the nation. This unique family experience revolves around the enchanted world of plants, gardens, sculpture and nature through creative interactive areas encompassing 5 acres (2.0 ha). Woodland tree houses and a log cabin, an interactive water garden, a butterfly maze, sensory garden and much more, is featured within the most enchanting children’s gardens in the Midwest.
As part of Meijer Gardens’ educational focus, the Peter M. Wege Library offers reference books and periodicals on horticulture and sculpture.
Meijer Gardens includes a 30-acre (12 ha) outdoor sculpture park, which opened on May 16, 2002. It features more than 170 sculptures by world-renowned artists including Magdalena Abakanowicz, Jonathan Borofsky, Alexander Calder, Tony Smith,Anthony Caro, Anthony Gormley, Mark di Suvero, Henry Moore, Claes Oldenburg, Marshall Fredericks, Arnaldo Pomodoro, Dale Chihuly, Laura Ford and Kenneth Snelson among others. The collection includes numerous monumental sculptures exhibited outdoors, throughout all areas of the property, as well as indoors in the conservatory, specialty gardens and gallery.
Among the many highlights for visitors is Nina Akamu’s The American Horse, created in homage to Leonardo da Vinci’s original commission by the Duke of Milan as well as selected works by Rodin and Degas featured in the Victorian Conservatory.
The Sculpture Program at Meijer Gardens features three temporary exhibitions annually. Featured exhibitions included works byAndy Goldsworthy, Tom Otterness, Magdalena Abakanowicz, George Rickey and Jaume Plensa.
Every year, Meijer Gardens features two of its largest exhibitions, Foremost’s Butterflies Are Blooming, sponsored by Foremost Insurance Group, and Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World.
Butterflies – Butterflies Are Blooming began in 1995 and is open every year, March 1 through April 30. It is the largest temporary butterfly exhibit in the United States with thousands of tropical butterflies from Central and South America and Asia on display in the Lena Meijer Conservatory. This is Meijer Gardens’ largest exhibit with more than 150,000 visitors annually.
Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World – Started in 1995 as an effort to share how Christmas is celebrated around the world, every November through the first week of January, Meijer Gardens embraces the decorations, music and food of more than 40 countries and cultures and 300,000 lights twinkling indoors and out. Family activities, carriage rides and holiday entertainment take place during weekends and Tuesday nights. The exhibit has grown to become a holiday tradition with more than 75,000 guests visiting from around the country every year.
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