Presented by 

Bissell, Inc.  

Underwritten by

In March of 2020, Gilda’s LaughFest was the first major event or festival in West Michigan to cancel, shutting down before its second festival weekend. Since then, every large-scale event or festival in West Michigan has canceled, postponed, or moved virtual. Some not just for 2020 but for 2021 as well. This panel will explore the pandemic impact on West Michigan festivals touching on attendance, funding, and sustainability, and think forward to the future of these events in our community.


Evette Pittman, Special Events Manager, City of Grand Rapids OSE

Evette Pittman is the Special Events Manager for the City of Grand Rapids.  There, she provides leadership and guidance for event organizers to produce vibrant and unique year-round events, activities, films, and art exhibits that engage our diverse community.  She is committed to creating and inspiring high-quality events and activities that encourage the community to ‘Find Your Fun’ when exploring entertainment options in Grand Rapids.  Evette especially enjoys building partnerships and collaborations to engage and expand the City of Grand Rapids’ brand regionally and nationally.  She  has a bachelors degree in broadcasting communications and is scheduled to complete a masters degree in organizational leadership in August of 2021.  Evette has over 20 years of experience in marketing and event management and is a Certified Tourism Ambassador for the City of Grand Rapids.  Her mission is to provide vibrant year-round programming on public spaces for residents and visitors to engage in the City of Grand Rapids.




Cesar Gonzalez, Hispanic Festival Chair, Hispanic Festival

Cesar is the former Board Chair to the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, currently the Hispanic Festival Chair. For over 5 years, he has managed the festival to create a better experience and increase outcomes and profitability to help fund parts of the Hispanic Center’s programing. He serves in a volunteer capacity and works full time at Mercantile Bank of Michigan as a Mortgage Lender.




Jazz McKinney, MA, LLP, Interim Center Director, Grand Rapids Pride Center

Jazz is a Black, Indigenous (Ojibwe and Cherokee) Two-Spirit individual that although born and raised in Detroit, has made West Michigan their home. Jazz has been involved in the mental health field for over 7 years and with racial justice work as well as advocacy/activism in the 2-SLGBTQ+ community for over 15 years. They are committed to highlighting the importance of education, awareness, and involvement to create change. They are passionate about working to decolonize gender roles and identities as well as discussing the impact that harmful gender binaries can cause within our communities.  They currently serve as the Executive Director of the Grand Rapids Pride Center.


David Abbott, Executive Director, Festival of the Arts

Grand Rapids Native growing up on the South East Side.  Attended Grand Rapids Community College and received a bachelor degree from Central Michigan University.

David’s always has and always will be an idea guy.  His brain will start making connections in most any situation and can connect people together to make things happen.

For the last 12 years, David has been involved in many non-profits doing strategic relationship building with a focus on fund development.  He credits his current role because of Fred& Gina Bivins and their daughter Chris. It was the Bivins family that ignited David’s passion for community events when they met during the very first ArtPrize 12 years ago.  David assisted in the creation and ideation of Gilda’s LaughFest for Gilda’s Club of Grand Rapids before he took the role of Fund Development Director three years into the event’s history.  He served as the Fund Development Director for ArtPrize and for Goodwill industries of Greater Grand Rapids 50-year anniversary.

He also has been connected and selling in the menswear clothing business for 30+ years.  He was a general manager and owner of A.K. Rikk’s for seven of his sixteen-year employment with A.K. Rikk’s.  He lived in Toronto, Canada for 3 years while working for Holt Renfrew.  He is now back to selling men’s clothing at Fitzgerald’s at Breton Village in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

David is a five-time cancer survivor with a strong outlook on life ahead.  Currently he serves as a member of the Arts Working Group, a consortium of arts leaders in Grand Rapids and offers style advice when requested and even sometimes when it isn’t.

Joanne Roehm, MPA, Director of Strategic Initiatives & LaughFest, Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids

Joanne Roehm serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives & LaughFest, for Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids.  She has been with the organization since 2010.  Joanne is a two-time graduate of Western Michigan University (Go Broncos!)  She received a BA in Music and Communications in 2004 and a master’s degree in Non-Profit Administration with a concentration in Non-Profit Leadership in 2010.  A proud member of the Leadership Grand Rapids class of 2013, Joanne remains engaged with the GR Chamber Center for Community Leadership, as well as volunteer engagements with MomsBloom, and Girls on the Run of Kent & Muskegon Counties.