Acton Notes - January/February 2016 Notes

2015 A record year for Acton

Last year was busy and exciting, not just at the Acton building in downtown Grand Rapids but at Acton events all over the world. Some stats from last year’s calendar:

  • nearly 5,000 unique attendees
  • more than 40 events held
  • first Acton conference held in the Middle East
  • largest Acton University with nearly 1,000 attendees
  • largest Annual Dinner with more than 800 attendees

In the Acton building, there were more than a dozen lunchtime Acton Lecture Series events, two film screenings and two art discussions with accompanying gallery openings and more. Acton staff and supporters were blessed to be able to hear from economists, college professors, think tank directors, religious freedom activists, artists and other intellectual giants. Lecturers included Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute; Lawrence Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education; Os Guinness, British author and social critic; Lela Gilbert, award-winning author with expertise on religious freedom; George Weigel, a political and social activist; Marina Nemat, a political prisoner under the Iranian government, and many others.

“...hear from economists, college professors, think tank directors, religious freedom activists, artists and other intellectual giants.”

Just down the street from the Acton home office at a local Spanish restaurant, San Chez, a Tapas Bistro, Acton on Tap was held five times throughout the year, featuring Acton staff members and others in short, casual discussions with plenty of time for questions.

We’re looking forward to 2016 being just as busy. Currently, ten lectures and screenings are already planned for the spring months. Please visit www. for more information.

From Our Conference Participants

I want to thank [Acton] for this investment in my life and the perspectives that have broadened my understanding of poverty, the poor and my responsibility to them … I truly am blessed to see and hear from others in the ministry about the problem of poverty from a different viewpoint.

Cedar Hill, Texas

One of the areas that needs greater development in our church is that of community and economic development. Presently, we have partnerships with healthy organizations throughout our city, but our approach to holistic engagement has not been as strategic or sustainable as it needs to be...

Denver, Colorado

A year of art at Acton

Part of Acton’s mission is to pursue the good, the true and the beautiful. In 2015, Acton was certainly surrounded by the beautiful. Throughout the year, Acton hosted several art collections in the Prince Broekhuizen Gallery, facilitated art discussions and occasions and participated in ArtPrize, a 19-day art festival in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The first display was “Seeing the sacred in the ordinary” by John August Swanson, from the Richard & Helen DeVos Collection. These serigraphs (intricate silk screens) are part of a large traveling exhibit that celebrates the Gospel story. Swanson created these pieces with nearly 90 color stencils, using lines, shapes, color and form to share his faith.

In April, the gallery was briefly home to Pamela Alderman’s 2014 ArtPrize entry, “The Scarlet Cord.” This is an installation dedicated to the children who are victims of sex trafficking and complemented an evening lecture about human trafficking.

In connection with an art discussion and ArtPrize during the fall, the gallery housed a collection of Marissa Voytenko’s work, “Quiet Spaces.” It was a display of abstract encaustic two-dimensional pieces, featuring squares, blocks and grids. Voytenko uses her art to explore the opposing themes of order and chaos. She created the images by heating beeswax and damar resin. Several layers of encaustic medium were added on top of canvas or wood, and then Voytenko painted on top of the wax. This is one of the most ancient artistic methods and predates oil painting.

The final collection that Acton staff and visitors were able to enjoy was “Christmas,” a collection by Japanese artist Sadao Watanabe. After becoming a Christian at an early age, Watanabe devoted his life and his art to depicting Biblical stories. Watanabe updated the process of katazome, a traditional Japanese folk method of stencil dying used with kimonos, and applied it to paper. The particular works in the Prince Broekhuizen Gallery were commissioned by the Japan Calvin Translation Society and included a rare print of Watanabe’s John Calvin portrait.

Every September and October since 2009, the city of Grand Rapids has held ArtPrize. Art fills the streets and businesses of the downtown area and the public and professional art critics vote for their favorite pieces. Ever since moving to 98 E. Fulton in 2013, Acton has been an ArtPrize venue. In 2015, the lobby hosted five pieces: “Losing Connection,” an encaustic by Marissa Voytenko; “Quantum Bubbles,” a sculpture by Christine Soccio Romanell; “Blue Bridge by Winter Moonlight,” a photograph by Christopher Gillespie; “Divine Transformation,” a sculpture by Chelly Morris; and “I Spy ArtPrize,” a mixed-media piece by Allison Polkowski.

To celebrate the Christmas season, Acton had a special window display facing Veteran’s Park and Fulton Street in downtown Grand Rapids. The display, “Wise men still seek Him,” featured a rare nativity set, Cathedral glass-inspired paint and more. Acton’s president and cofounder, Rev. Robert Sirico, initiated the exhibition, wanting to create a proper display for his personal precepio (extended nativity scene). This set is made up of 171 individual pieces. The figures were handmade in Naples from terra-cotta and also include stiffened fabric for the clothing. The set depicts people from every walk of life going about the usual day-to-day chores that would have occurred on the day Christ was born.

Acton University registration now open

Registration for Acton University 2016 opened on November 16. The conference will be held at the DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, from June 14–17. Registration is open until May 20, 2016 at midnight EST. The conference fees are $500 for students and $750 for regular attendees. This year includes 15 first-time faculty members, 42 new courses (for a total of 121), and online registration for all hotel reservations.

The following four keynote speakers also have been announced:

Vernon L. Smith: 2002 Nobel Prize winner in economic sciences for his groundbreaking work in experimental economics. He has the George L. Argyros Chair in Finance and Economics and is a research scholar in the Economic Science Institute at Chapman University. He has served as president of the International Foundation for Research in Experimental Economics since 1997.

Magatte Wade: passionate adventurer and idealistic entrepreneur. Born in Senegal and educated in Germany and France, she left for the United States to begin a career as soon as she could. She lived and worked in Silicon Valley at the height of the dot-com boom and started a beverage company that obtained national distribution at leading natural food retailers and distributors.

William B. Allen: emeritus professor of political philosophy in the Department of Political Science and emeritus dean, James Madison College, at Michigan State University. Currently he serves as Veritas Fund Senior Fellow in the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the Study of Free Institutions and the Public Good at Villanova University.

Rev. Robert Sirico: president and cofounder of the Acton Institute and pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His writings on religious, political, economic and social matters are published in a variety of journals, including: the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, the London Financial Times, the Washington Times, the Detroit News and National Review.


“Provocative documentary from Acton Institute fellow examines why those in need aren’t always thankful for giving—and what can be done to better improve their situation.”

—Excerpted from a review of Poverty, Inc. in Variety magazine.

Poverty, Inc.

  • Title: Acton Institute film on poverty wins
  • $100K Templeton Freedom Award
  • Publication: The Grand Rapids Press
  • Date: 11.15.15

Samuel Gregg

  • Title: The End of Europe
  • Publication: Public Discourse
  • Date: 11.17.15

Rev. Robert Sirico

  • Title: Can the free market help combat
  • climate change?
  • Program: Vatican Viewpoint
  • Air Date: 12.03.15