WSW: 'Welcome to Kalamazoo' Show Gets New Residents Settled In

Apr 23, 2018

"Welcome to Kalamazoo" is a quarterly event at downtown Kalamazoo's Art Hop that acclimates new residents to the city.
Credit Courtesy photo

Grand Rapids native Dann Sytsma has long wondered why it's customary for companies to offer new employee orientation, but not so for communities to provide such training for its new residents. That question has led him to launch the "Welcome to Kalamazoo" show during downtown Kalamazoo's Art Hops. The next one is May 4.

The one-hour, lighthearted program uses a mixture of live music and locally-produced videos about Kalamazoo, along with a guest speaker.

One video clip features a pretend interview with Titus Bronson, the founder of the City of Kalamazoo.

Dann Sytsma, "Welcome to Kalamazoo" organizer
Credit WMUK | Earlene McMichael

Bronson "was just a character," says Sytsma, who pulls on his experience in entertainment to add a playful flair to the show. The interview "is a lot of fun, but you learn how the city was founded."

Sytsma is the creator of Crawlspace Eviction that's been doing improv in the area for 15 years.

He talks about his newcomers' initiative on today's WestSouthwest, the news and public-affairs show on WMUK. "Welcome to Kalamazoo" is co-sponsored by Crawlspace Theatre Productions, the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo and Discover Kalamazoo. It's been held twice; the first one was in September 2017. 

Sytsma says he came to the realization of the need about 10 years ago.

"My friend moved to Cambridge, Mass., and was just having trouble navigating certain things and I made a joke--'You missed the Cambridge Orientation'--and laughed. I kind of asked myself, 'Why don't communities have an orientation?' You start a job and you have orientation. You start college and you have a long orientation period.

I want to get people engaged in this community quicker - Dann Sytsma

"But a new town doesn't really give you that opportunity to sort of meet people that are going to introduce you to different things that are going to be of interest to you, that are going to make your life better and that are going to connect you with who you are as a person."

Sytsma's ultimate goal?

"I want to get people engaged in this community quicker," he tells WMUK's Earlene McMichael on WestSouthwest. "When you move here, there's oftentimes a lag period where they have trouble finding what connects with them. I want to kind of cut that time down a bit."

Sytsma says longtime residents often say they learn new things at "Welcome to Kalamazoo," too. He hopes to offer the event quarterly at Art Hop in downtown Kalamazoo.

The guest speaker for the May 4th show is former Western Michigan University President John Dunn.

The event starts at 5:30 p.m. with informational tables about area organizations greeting guests in the lobby of the Epic Center. The show itself begins at 6 p.m. in the Joliffe Theatre, on the center's second floor. It is open to the public and, admission is free. 

Pre-registration is not required, Sytsma says, but he welcomes people checking in on EventBrite to help him with the headcount for planning purposes.