May 29, 2009 | Myrna Anderson

Daniel Garcia, a Calvin professor of communication arts and sciences, spent two years filming conversations with 32 local philanthropists. From those conversations he created a documentary titled The Gift of All: A Community of Givers.

And at an event titled A Gift to All, which begins at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 9, 2009, at the Ladies Literary Club, Garcia will present the 50 hours of original interviews from which he created the film to the historical collection of the Grand Rapids Public Library (GRPL).

A useful donation

“We want to leave a legacy in the audio-visual medium that was not just oriented to a specific purpose, but that can be used multiple ways in the future,” Garcia said of the donation.

The Gift of All, which was sponsored by S.O.U.L of Philanthropy, premiered at Calvin College and on WGVU in November of 2008. The documentary tells the story of the peopleWilliam Sprague, Margaret Sellers Walker, Peter Cook, Bunny Voss, Lena and Frederik Meijer, Harvey Lemmen, Richard and Helen DeVos and many others—who have contributed not only their money, but their time, talent and vision to the revitalization of greater Grand Rapids.  

The original interviews with philanthropists (some of which weren’t featured in the documentary) will be donated to the library in the form of high-definition DVDs and a 650-page transcript. “It’s a very significant donation,” said Tim Gleisner, the Grand Rapids history and special collections supervisor for the GRPL. “We feel honored to have even been considered to get such a gift.”

A discrete collection

The interview collection will serve a variety of uses, Gleisner said: “Any researcher, any student, any casual user that wants to learn more about the city—about the noted figures who are in this documentary—people like that are going to look to this collection.” The library will store the interviews in a climate- and humidity-controlled room in the library archives. “They’ll be their own discrete collection that will chronicle the history of philanthropy in Grand Rapids,” Gleisner said.

The original interviews are also being turned to educational purposes. They will be the basis of a Web-based curriculum created by Learning to Give for teachers of grades K through 12.

“As far as we know, this project is one-of-a-kind in this country, where a group of people made a history of philanthropists and philanthropy,” said Pam Daugavietis, the executive producer of The Gift Of All and a member of the S.O.U.L. team. Philanthropists have been interviewed, but never within the context of ‘Why are you in this community?’ or ‘What does this community mean to you?’ It was Daniel who came up with that.”

Sharing the wealth, sharing the credit

Garcia shared the credit for the project: “This is a project that could not have happened with only one person leading the way. It’s a project that has unfolded because it’s by a group of people with the same passion and a direct care for what they were doing.” A native of Peru who has taught at Calvin for seven years, Garcia is honored that he was chosen to direct a documentary about Grand Rapids’ history and heritage:

“I learned tremendously about the place I live and about the culture of giving in different ways that has made this community what it is. I have had the privilege of working with local historians, which has exposed me to the community beyond the walls of the institution where I work,” Garcia said. “Through this documentary, I’ve learned about this country where I now belong in the most direct and compelling way, which is by knowing people, by hearing their personal stories.”

Daugavietis is excited about the potential uses of the interview collection: “We created one documentary from it—one documentary. But think of the infinity of creative projects that could come from this archival material, this resource,” she said.

The June 9 event will feature a reception and a screening of The Gift of All: A Community of Givers. Gleisner likes the location of the event because of its ties to both the college and the library. While the Ladies Literary Club donated their building to Calvin (in February 2007), they donated their papers to the GRPL historical collection. “It’s just another building block within the history of the city, that’s all,” he said.

Please RSVP to the Calvin development office for this event by Friday, June 5 via e-mail or phone (616-526-6507). Thank you!

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