Benjamin J. Schaafsma   (September 7, 1982 - October 25, 2008)

This page is dedicated to the life and memory of Benjamin J. Schaafsma, friend, brother, and son. Ben was accidentally struck by a car in Brooklyn, New York while walking on the morning of Thursday, October 23, 2008. He passed away on Saturday, October 25, 2008.

Ben was a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he attended Forest Hills Central High School before earning his Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts at Calvin College. During his time in Grand Rapids, Ben was instrumental in bringing musical performances to the local venues and co-founded many community organizations and initiatives for culture and the arts, including The Division Avenue Arts Cooperative , G-RAD, and many more.

In the summer of 2006, Ben moved to Chicago to pursue a Master's degree in Arts Administration at The School of the Art Institute. His studies took him all around the United States and Europe. During his stay in Chicago, Ben co-founded InCUBATE, an institute that focused on bringing art into the practice of living and vice versa.

In August of 2008, Ben moved to New York City as a program director for Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts.

Ben Schaafsma was a man of many gifts, not least of all the ability to bring people together, as only a passing consideration of the diversity of people who have become friends through Ben's introductions reveals. Ben was characterized by his earnest humility, keen intellect, tireless creativity, generosity, and gentleness of spirit.

Though he will be dearly missed, Ben would be delighted at the occasion of those who survive him coming together to grow in friendship and community. Indeed, his life and memory will remain in the lives of those whom he befriended and inspired.

- Jonathan Dawe, friend.

Bennr's links: Personal blog, InCUBATE, Viget, Facebook, Myspace, Flickr, Twitter

Elsewhere: G-RAD Forum Discussion, NewCity Chicago Obit, Propositions Press, Gapers Block, Kimya Dawson [1 , 2], The New Black, Grand Rapids Press Notice, UHX Discussion, Hackneyed, Bad At Sports, BB, Death Notice (Guest Book)

Please add photos of Ben to this page by tagging your pictures of him on Flickr with the word "bennrs"
Services and Community Events

There will be several community events to celebrate Ben's life in the Grand Rapids and Chicago areas. If you are making the trip to Grand Rapids and need a place to stay, please consult this thread. We will accomodate you!

Open House
Monday, October 27, 2008 8:00pm (CST)
2129 N Rockwell St
Chicago, IL 60647

Wednesday, October 29, 2008 3:00 - 8:00pm (EST)
Cascade Fellowship
6655 Cascade Road SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49546

Sunday Wednesday Soup
Wednesday, October 29, 2008 7:00 - 10:00pm (EST)
115 S. Division Ave.
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
[map] [facebook]

G-RAD, InCUBATE, and the DAAC are hosting a special potluck version of Ben's Sunday Soup granting program (read about all about it here) on Wednesday evening after his visitation. This is a potluck, so please bring a dish to pass, if possible. Otherwise, there will be loads of soup and other food available. We would like to use this opportunity to raise a little more money for Ben's family with a suggested donation of $10 per person. But any amount (or lack thereof) is welcome. Come remember our friend Ben.

Thursday, October 30, 2008 4:00 (EST)
Location: TBA Cascade Fellowship
6655 Cascade Road SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49546

Call For Artists

Michelle Harris is setting up an online art auction on ebay to help Ben's family with medical costs and to eventually establish a grant in his name. If you are interested in donating a piece that would be wonderful. To do so, please email her a quality image of the piece along with title, medium, size, and year of execution. Please keep in mind that it should be something easy to mail and that it will be your responsibility to do so. When the piece sells I will contact you with the buyer's information so that you can mail it to them.

If you have questions, please email Michelle or call her at (773) 218 9946.

In Memoriam
Ben has meant so much to so many people. Please share your memories of him.

ben-i remember when you started the InCubate Person in Residence program you sent out an invitation for participants. you said "you don't have to be an artist-just a person" thanks for being that kind of a person -i will remember that and I will remember you-

By linda heemskerk on January 16, 2009 4:38 PM

ben-i remember when you started the InCubate Person in Residence program you sent out an invitation for participants. you said "you don't have to be an artist-just a person" thanks for being that kind of a person -i will remember that and I will remember you-

By linda heemskerk on January 16, 2009 4:33 PM

Ben, I think I'm finally ready to share. Even after those 8 words I have tears welling up. now they stream down my face. I have had to live with this unanswerable question of why did God take the Good son. Im the one who has always been the fuck up. yea whatever excuse my language. this has been bottled up way to long. to be exact probally since i was 6 was when i started swalling my guilt. but you you were always incredible. the bad ass i have so many incredible memories of you and then that damn cab. i feel like we had no relationship whatsoever post highschool but i still envied the hell out of you. you were doing such incredible things with your life and no matter how hard a tried i could never hit that measuring stick. I wasn't jealous in the least I was proud that we finally had a schaafsma who wasn't going to follow the typical dutch tradition. I mean although you did go to calvin. ben we rarely if ever said but loved you and you were my mentor in a lot of ways. ways you probably didn't even realize. i fuckin loved you ben. you were smarter stronger more dedicated more humble and just an overall better human being than most any joe walking down the street. Yet at the same time you would not hesitate to invite them to one of your sunday soups, oe DAAC shows or something you had organized. you were one of the greats.....and i will always be plauged with question why not me? you had so much more good to do on this earth
I LOVE you and will forever miss you brother
-jake schaafsma

By Anonymous on December 27, 2008 12:05 PM

Ben, I didn't know you, but ... you were one of my best friend's, Aria's, half-brother. And she really misses you. And we all miss you too.

By Anonymous on November 15, 2008 3:59 PM

I knew Ben through Emma and even though we didn't know each other well, I always followed with great interest Ben's studies and career and was pleased for him in his new job in NYC. Emma's inspirational piece in memory of Ben was a way for me to get to know him better and to cherish his many gifts. My thoughts are with Emma and all of Ben's family during these most difficult times of missing Ben. His legacy is huge, big shoes to fill and Ben will be missed by so many. Twink Frey

By Twink Frey on November 6, 2008 4:36 PM

To all of you, we can not express our thanks, appreciation, and just being overwhelmed by your generosity. Through this memorial we have found how Ben has impacted so many lives so profoundly.

Thank you for being part of Ben's life and allowing Ben to be part of yours. We mourn for all of your at your loss. We celebrate with you what Ben has been able to bring to your lives and community. We pray that you will find peace and comfort in this experience. And to look forward to some day being able to tell Ben how things have gone on.

Our thanks, prayer, and appreciation to each of you.

Ben's family

By Ben's Dad on November 2, 2008 8:57 AM

When Ben and I first started dating, 6 years ago, I had no idea how much he would change my life. He would become my most trustworthy and loyal companion, and teach me a way of looking at life that I had never known before.

I always told Ben that he should be a tour guide or an ambassador to Grand Rapids because he knew so much about the city, its geography, its buildings, its demographics, its community…he had such pride about the place he came from and contributed to.

Even when we moved to Chicago, everyone we met, Ben would introduce them to this city called Grand Rapids where he had spent his life, a city whose potential he really believed in.

I had never thought about my home this way, it was just a familiar place where I grew up. But somehow Ben understood and believed in the ability of people, especially young people, to take part in where they live, to interact with their city, and to make it their own- to work towards the change they wanted to see- and not just talk about it, but actually just go out and do it.

Before Ben, I had never known the power that lies in us to create something that wasn’t there before, to impact people, with no money, no rules, just an idea, and to make it happen together. That was so empowering to me, to see my city and every city as a living, breathing thing that I could interact with.

Since then, every city or town I visit, I look at in this new way because of him and I’m so glad that I and so many of us were able to do that with Ben and to continue to do that wherever we may be.

I love you and I will never forget you Benjamin.

Love always,


Ben is and always will be inspiring and I love inspiring people. His life was cut way too short but he actually impacted this world in amazing, inspiring ways and he will never be forgotten. To be 26 and to have accomplished as much as he did is a great feat in itself. What I know of Ben is that he never was afraid to speak out and share his thoughts and opinions. His intense energy, passion, and dedication that he had for Grand Rapids is unrivaled. He was friends with my little brother when we were growing up. I hadn't seen him years until one night at the DAAC during it's inception. I didn't recognize him at all but straight out I was impressed and admired his passion to bring culture and community to GR (something we so desperately need). Ben is rare. There aren't many people people like him. I can only hope and dream to be as successful and to make such a huge impact on society as he has!!!! Viva Ben Schaasma FOREVER. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones.

By Jessica Powell on October 31, 2008 2:58 PM

This last week has been so difficult, reeling from the shock, hating the news I was hearing and struggling to understand the fact that Ben is gone. The date of his death that appears at the top of this page still seem surreal to me. That cannot belong to someone one someone like Ben.
I knew Ben since he was in High School through many of the same avenues mentioned numerous times here, Pop Cafe, Gold Coffee House, the DAAC and on and on, and was always amazed by his enthusiasm, creativity, and his vision for what was possible. It is true that he was a very motivated and driven individual, but not in the self-seeking ways that we often associate with such a characteristic. Ben was always more motivated by the people he worked with, by the possibility of enriching community, and by the love of the process. He was driven not by ego, but by the thrill of what was possible, for all of us. And through it all, his love people and of life shined through.
I recall the beginnings of the DAAC, and Ben' s ability to bring people, myself included, into the hopes of what it could be. As I had sat around for the past couple of years, scheming of opening an all-ages venue in GR, it always came back to thoughts that it would fail. GR couldn't sustain such a place. I fell back on negativity and the assumption that it was just a pipe dream, and chucked the scraps of paper plans into the recycle bin. It was Ben who was un-jaded enough to convince us that such a plan should be tried, and it could work, and it could thrive. And he was right.
As the DAAC was in its revival earlier this year, struggling to re-open, I remember Ben popping in the meetings for a few minutes at a time, while he was stationed at the art gallery across the street for a short while. Many of the newer people to the DAAC did not even know who he was, because he did declare himself as one of the "founding fathers" of the DAAC, or some type of authority figure who had all the answers. Rather, he came off as a concerned community member who was interested in the continuation of this organization. Always eager to push for the inclusion of all, Ben always humbly embodied the best of the cooperative spirit.
And so we are left, more acutely aware of the impact that Ben had on all of our lives, and acutely aware of the hole that he is leaving, surrounded by sadness. We will you miss greatly. And to those of us who are here, hang on, with both hands. I love you Ben.

Ben was my newspaper editor in high school and was two years older than I was. We were never close but he was someone whose intellect, creativity and opinion mattered to me. I was so sad to read of his passing, yet still uplifted to read of all he had accomplished in such a short life. I know he has touched the lives of countless people and all the work that he began will continue to do so over the years.

You'll be missed, Ben.

By Caroline C. on October 30, 2008 12:25 PM

my cousin Ben..... i really did'nt know him even though he was family,,,, but i got to say what amazing things he has done in his life.... i am very saddened and just can't believe that he is gone ..... the last time i saw him was at christmas at church... it was sort of a miny schaafsma reuion......10 of us all was great to catch up with eachother.....i do remember babysitting him and jacob when they were little....celebrating the holidays thoughts and prayers are with his family ......

I met Ben and got active in GR about the same time that he was Chicago bound. Whenever he saw me, he went out of his way to talk to me. He was generous and always excited about something. I'm sorry I didn't know him better.

I met Ben and got active in GR about the same time that he was Chicago bound. Whenever I saw him, I went out my way to talk to him. He was generous and always excited about something. I'm sorry I didn't know him better.

By Anonymous on October 30, 2008 10:52 AM

My memories of Ben start at the "old Intersection" in Eastown. He worked for me in the "Pop Cafe'" and would bring in the strangest bands ever. (I think just to get under my 'Americana' skin). It turned into a little war :) We had a lot of fun trying to promote music that would bug the other guy.. all under the umbrella that it was music and deep down we loved it all.

I like Ben very, very, much.

As the years went by Ben grew before my eyes from an inde/emo kid who loved music into a community arts activist and advocate. It was a pleasure watching that transformation.

I'm proud to have been his friend.

In knew little Ben in high school. We weren't close, but he was best friends with my best friends and around quite a bit. I remember that he smiled a lot. I also remember thinking, "Who is this youngster hanging around, dressing cooler than me and saying hipper things?" Ah, the concerns of high school. They matter little now, but stay with you.
I guess I'm writing this because about a year ago, we lost another bright light, Johnny Ullrey, in a very similar way. He was also accidentally struck by car in Las Vegas, and spent some days in a coma before passing on. I write this in the hopes that Ben's parents will read it and know that they are not alone. That the anger and confusion born from the futility of the way these two amazing young men died is hard to experience, along with all the pain and sorrow of missing a loved one. It gets better... and it doesn't. But my thoughts and hopes are with you. I know that it may not be a comfort, from a stranger, but my heart goes out to you.

Oh, Ben. It's been too long, I said the last time we spoke. And now I'll have to wait even longer to see you again. I wrote you this silly thing because even though I'm weak with words the words are rushing out.

I remember one of those nights, though not which one or when,
but sitting there, maybe on the back porch or the couch
after a long maybe heated, maybe mild exchange

after wind, rain, warm summer air,
smoke, beer, long talks, walks, parties,
homework, housework, strange debates,
cooking dinner over that old stove
that old impossible-to-clean dining room,
that tar and pea gravel rooftop of a machine shop outside the window
where the cats – Rudy and Ida – would escape to and be rescued

walking downtown, playing pool, taking in a gallery somewhere, at a party; bands and their crowds spilling out into the street, being pulled into circles of faces
always coming back again to our homes and our places, our people, our bonds

one of those nights, after talking
about one thing or another, maybe architecture,
maybe urban design, maybe music – reaching, finally, a lull in thought
and being too tired to go on,
just sitting there in the half light or the dark ,
maybe there were more of us, I don’t remember,
but anyway sitting there and saying,
because we were out of words but refused to give up the dialogue –
having finally reached a point where we only wanted
to agree about whatever core essential thing there was, saying ‘yeah,’ ‘yeah,’
all of us quietly in the dark,
with affirmatives almost in unison – always in unison meant.

By Benjamin Hoekstra on October 30, 2008 3:48 AM

One night after playing a show somewhere in Grand Rapids, Ben came up to me and said, "Your cousin Judy married my dad." That's when it started with Ben and me. We had this weird cousin-yet-not-quite-but-certainly-friends thing. He started managing my band and sent us on tours before he even graduated high school. I remember going to his high school graduation party and thinking he didn't even know how stinkin' cool he was.

As the years passed, we'd spend our time discussing music, art, politics, religion. I loved arguing with him because he'd always keep me on my toes.

One night, after I got off work at some hotel downtown Chicago, I called Ben who was staying at his aunt's apartment for some reason. Swearing at Motorists was playing Schubas and I figured we should both go. I took the train to wherever that apartment was, got in whatever car he was driving and we went to the show. After that, we made our way to some random party and by the end of the night I had asked the girl who is now my wife out for a date. Ben, some other guy, Tara, and I rode in Ben's car after the party and he dropped us off one by one. The way Ben always told the story (to give me crap) was that he was my "love" chauffeur.

The other night Tara said to me, "If it wasn't for Ben, we wouldn't be married right now."

If it wasn't for Ben, a lot of things in my life would be different. I wouldn't have been able to live out some of my dreams with regards to music. I wouldn't have as deep an affection for true community. I wouldn't have started the practice of having done my research on a particular topic before entering a debate about it. And I wouldn't have worked up the courage to ask my wife out on a date.

Every impulse Ben had was about bettering the lives of those around him.

I'm one of those who is richer for having been around him.

My heart breaks. I will miss him deeply.

By Steve D. on October 29, 2008 7:57 PM

I cannot express how devastating this is. Over the last 9 or so years that I've known Ben, he became one of my favourite people, without question. We originally met when he approached me for an interview with his school paper about all the shows I was promoting in Grand Rapids. Even then, he had such a unique spark, an energy. Shortly thereafter we began promoting shows together at Gold, Pop, UICA, DAAC... He was nonstop. It didn't take long before he established himself as a fixture in the music scene -- not just in Grand Rapids, but for touring artists around the US and Canada. He was an unstoppable force of nature. Pure passion. And a total comedian. Over the years, we hung out in numerous cities and had endless conversations about music, art, life... and everything in between. And I love that about him. He could discuss anything with anyone at any time and switch gears without skipping a bit. I have so many fond and hilarious memories of him (including the Andrew WK incident Karen mentioned). The last two times I was in NYC, Ben was my first call. I came into the city last week for work, and changed my plan at the last minute to be there Wednesday afternoon. Ben and I walked around the city, went for dinner, then off to a friend's birthday party. Even in a room full of people he had never met, he was completely comfortable and held court over everything from cheese to art to politics to Joanna Newsome. Classic Ben. Spending that entire evening with him, I was reminded of how much he'd grown from the scrappy, eager, hustling teenage promoter to a highly respected professional force in the art community -- someone I had so much more to learn from. Someone I was honoured to call my friend. He inspired and reminded me to have purpose, substance, to invest in the people around me. And now all of that has been punctuated even more. I am so thankful to have that last bit of time with him, but it makes it just that much more surreal and heart breaking to know this happened just hours later. I am certain that I will never fully understand the impact Ben had on so many, but it is amazing to hear and see just a glimpse from everyone over the last few days. It gives us all something to aspire to...

By Scott Crane on October 29, 2008 6:25 PM

I remember the first time I met Ben. It was at Rowley Kennerk's bachelor party deep in the Michigan woods. I won't go into too much detail....but for those who were there probably remember the events that took place.....we all had a good laugh the next day (some more than others)...that was by far one of the most amazing nights of my life and Ben was the direct result. Eventually Ben moved to Chicago and I would see him all the time. I always admired Ben for his humor, intellect, and how easily he could get along with anyone. Ben and I have allot of mutual friends who always spoke highly of him.....and with good merit. I know many people who are very close to Ben and I know that he will be missed by everyone who was lucky enough to meet him. Fortunately, I was one of those people. All my love goes to you and your family.

I have had the privilege to have Ben as an "extra" brother. I remember many times over their H.S./College years where Matty would bring Ben O, Abel K, and Ben S. to the house - and irritate me on countless occassions. I was always known to them as Kokonuts. When I talked to Ben last Tuesday night, he was irrating me as usual - and I was trying to have a conversation with Matty on the phone. The only thing I could hear was Ben in the background saying, " Mi, mi, mi, mi" and Matty laughing. I would give anything to hear his mantra again.

By Kokonuts on October 29, 2008 5:15 PM

From Matt E's Mom:
Ben walked through our door just like another son...We loved having him show up.
Back in the summer of 2004, Ben and I shared the driving when we took Matt and a trailerful of belongsings to NYC to begin his first teaching job - Art of course. (Both young men have had a great passion for the arts and for connecting.) You know, Ben was usually putting something over on someone else. However, on that trip to NY, with my new car's heated seats, I turned Ben's seat thermostat to "high" while he was out gassing up the car, and for the next 15 minutes I watched him squirm with increasing discomfort. (You can imagine what was going through his mind.) I finally burst out laughing - and 'fessed up to the prank - which was sweet - since Ben was usually the instigator of such mischief. We'll miss him but will remember the good things he brought into our lives.

By Dee Evearitt on October 29, 2008 4:40 PM

Ben was a funny guy. It was always nice to be able to have someone with such a good sense of humor around. It's amazing how the charisma of others build upon your character. I have nothing but fond memories of being around him. I remember one time when we got in trouble because I left my backpack at his house with a few beers left in it after the East game and his father and my mother had a little face-to-face with us. I regret not keeping in touch with him since high school. Being a graphic designer, I would've loved to share our Artistic experiences. It is nice to know how he spread his passion for the arts through so many people and contributed to the cultures that surrounded him. RIP Ben. Thoughts and prayers to all.

By Adam Bunday on October 29, 2008 4:21 PM

Unfortunately even though Ben and my sister dated for (around) 6 yrs. or so, I never got to know the guy, In retrospect I would've liked to have opened a welcome to him to be my friend, I wish I could tell him I'm sorry for making fun of him in just that stupid brotherly way just 'cuz he was dating my sister and I didn't want her to get hurt. What an asshole I was, And I would just like to say that he never did hurt my sister, yell at her or swear at her, Bluntly, I could've never asked for a better man for my sister..I'm sure she wanted to spend more time with him before he was gone, And I find myself wishing the same..Ben was a damn good person, He, Least of all deserved for this to happen to him..See you in the next life brother..

By Dirk H. on October 29, 2008 4:03 PM

I never met Ben but I felt as if I knew him. I heard so many great stories about him from his mother, aunts,uncles and grandparents. It has been very hard to see this family go through so much heartache but we all know that Ben knew he was loved very much and will never be forgotten!

ben was a talented and ambitious person who knew how to network and bring people together to realize very interesting projects. but, in my brief encounters with him, his professional motivations never got in the way of him being a genuine caring human being. it is rare to meet someone with so much talent and so much humility. it was apparent that his desire to use art to bring people together was sincere, not just a way to advance his own career.

i was in the middle of a frantic weekend working on a 450 person fund raiser ($500 per person ticket price) when i heard about ben's passing. during this weekend, i had many opportunities to ask why all of my and others' efforts and energy go towards projects that in the end only serve people that have the financial means to attend them--projects that glorify people's egos and have nothing to do with "culture". it was in thinking about these things that i again realized how important ben's work in finding alternative sources of funding was and continues to be. it is the small endeavors that have meaning and we need to remember this.

By jennifer breckner on October 29, 2008 1:40 PM

I recently heard a story about Ben. The story is how he single handedly lifted the front end of car parked too closely between others, pivoted one way for space, and the car drove off.

Ben is strong. He is strong in his tireless efforts, whether it is art, food, communities, or relationships. Everytime I met up with Ben in life there was something powerfully new around him that he helped to create. And everytime time it was something greater than the previous.

As for me, I moved to Grand Rapids in middle school. One of the first people that I met was Ben Schaafsma, a kid with a crooked jaw and stories of eating liquid food through a straw. I laughed and thought that goofy. Over time we skated together, played music together and marched together. This is where another name for Ben came into being; B Flat Ben. He worked at a local McDonalds and everytime I came in to see him, he was kind enough to provide me with a warm treat. Throughout our relationship he was always giving in whatever way he could. And as time went on our physical paths grew apart, but whenever we met up again he was the same Ben I'd always known, crooked jaw and constantly giving.

Ben, my thoughts and prayers are overwhelmingly with you and your family. Know that you are truly loved and be comforted that the warmth of so many communities blanket you.

By Brian G. on October 29, 2008 1:17 PM

ben gave artists and musicians a place to call home in three different cities. that is incredible. i didn't know him very well... but he did give me my one and only art show back at the daac. he inspired many people and his memory and work will absolutely live on. "it's better to burn out, than fade away" though i don't think ben will ever fade.

So many of the things I am reading here sound very similar to my experiences with Ben. I have known him since high school. We shared many common interests and crossed paths frequently over the years, in Grand Rapids, Chicago, and last February, oddly enough the last time I saw him, we were both on a weekend trip to Brooklyn. I was always impressed with how active he was with so many different aspects of the community-- whether it was arts, music, urban issues, etc.

He really was an inspiration to many people-- He actually DID things that many of us would have liked to do, or be a part of. He was really a down to earth person, and it is such a huge loss for him to have been taken. He will truly be missed by those who knew him-- family and friends, who benefitted from his activism, and future communities he may have been involved with. His memory will live on. With deepest sympathy. "Only the good die young."

i have been thinking of the moments ben & i have crossed paths. i loved the way he could bring community together. i think one of my favorite memories that comes to mind was going to a SLGTM show at the DAAC and everyone was dancing. especially ben & patrick. it gave me a huge smile on my face. really ben thanks for bringing community together for the good. it's so obvious he loved life. he dreamed put things into action... he didn't sit on the sidelines and wait until someone else did it. he took the initiative. i just pray that the communities he did work with from grand rapids, chicago, to ny will continue on and be united and new ideas will be birthed.

i know we will all see each other again. my thoughts and prayers are with everyone dealing with the passing of ben. much love.

" is a gamble, and that gamble, if it is to have any meaning at all, must have failure as one of its real possibilities. Without the risk of losing everything, gambling/love is just another game, one hardly worth playing. Maybe my deepest ambition for social practices and the art/life tension they embody for me, is that it too is a game worth playing, something more than a profession, something more than a series of projects, a game with something tragic at stake – something that could break your heart..."

I wrote those words in a blog post about a year ago and never imagined how painfully real my ruminations would come to be. I quote my blog because it is how I came to know Ben Schaafsma. We had been friends for about a year when I wrote that post and Ben was on my mind as I wrote then, and he is on my mind now. I met with him and the other InCUBATE "kids" when they were planning to make their idea into a working, living entity. I listened to their multiple ambitions and crazy schemes and I must confess I had some doubts. Of course, I'm chronically chasing, and herky-jerky scheming myself, the difference being, that they actually followed through and made InCUBATE a reality. One of the things they followed through on was Sunday Soup - a brilliantly simple and generous act. An act of love.

Now I certainly can't add anything profound to the human struggle with, and striving for love, but I can stake a claim for it, for its aching urgency. It's not a particularly fashionable thing to talk about in the art world and it was never part of the "official discourse" for Sunday Soup. Ben's passing crystallized what makes me so enthusiastic about InCUBATE and their various activities. It is a bittersweet realization. There is something tragic at stake - something that has broken my heart in Ben's work. They may not think in these terms, but his colleagues at InCUBATE carry this forward. When you cut through all the artspeak, the core of what they do is rooted in love.

As I choke up writing this it isn't soley for Ben's absence. His family and close friends must feel the tragedy of losing him with greater depth than I. But I am choked up by his unbearable presence - the traces of generosity that have outlived him. We all too often are struck by these reminders that building our vitae might not be so important afterall. Maybe some people find comfort in building their careers, in the depth of their political convictions, or in the mastery of the latest theoretical fad. I find my comfort in the everyday sorts of things Ben and InCUBATE set out to explore - the company of friends, making beer in your bathtub, hosting social events, a shared commitment to supporting people actively engaging their world, and even a bowl of soup, on Sunday.

By Randall Szott on October 29, 2008 1:55 AM

I was counting on Ben. I believed that he had it all figured it out and was going to bring about an art world that didn't feast on commodification and greed, but rather flourished through community and unbridled creative thought. I think, though, that my imagined scenario of him single-handedly doing this is contrary to his nature and his ideals. His work was... is about people doing amazing and resonant things together.

Though we did not know each other well, it always meant a lot to me that he kept me in mind and in the know of projects like LAMB! and InCubate. I certainly kept him in mind whenever I thought of or told people about the creative energy and potential that I have come to know. His intelligence and confidence and ability intimidated me - and I regret that this kept me from swimming through the crowd to say hello the last time I spotted him at Mess Hall. I wish I could have known him better. He has been and continues to be a tremendous inspiration... and I have no doubt that his unstoppable idealism and his brilliant ideas will survive and, indeed, flourish.

By Teresa Z on October 28, 2008 7:59 PM

The Grand Rapids community (and Chicago, NYC, etc) are richer places because of Ben. He was an interesting, engaging person, and I admired that he didn't mince words. He wasn't afraid to give constructive criticism, when so many people avoid honesty.
I showed my first works of art at the DAAC, hung out with my (later) boyfriend there for our first "non-date date" at the Akron/Family show and enjoyed many bands in the last five years. Now, I enjoy G-RAD as a source to connect to people in my community.
We should all be so lucky to have such a lasting, positive impact on other people's lives.

Ben was one of my best friends. I wish I could say I remember the day I met him, but I only remember how we met. Back in high school, Matt E told me a story about this kid who picked up a frog and stared at it with his mouth wide open, only to have the frog jump in his mouth. I’m sure a lot of people remember this story, or that Ben was called “frog” for pretty much the rest of high school, at least by some of us, but I became friends with Ben by making fun of him. Ben had a great heart, a great sense of humor, and was goofy as hell, and I loved him for it. There's another great story about how he and another friend came to visit me in college one weekend, but let’s just say it illustrates Ben’s undying devotion to his friends. There are of course more, everyone that knew Ben has at least one good Ben story, he was just that kind of person. Ben did a lot of great things in his 26 years, it’s hard to imagine someone having that much drive. I admired him for it, and I don’t need to tell anyone that he was inspiring. But I wasn’t friends with Ben because he did great things, I was friends with Ben because he loved his friends and treated everyone that was close to him as if they were family. I lost a brother on Oct 25.

I collaborated with Ben on a public art project in Chicago, and remember him fondly. Ben was keenly intelligent and persistent. He exhibited such passion for art as a part of our lives, and I believe the projects and ideas he championed will continue through the efforts of his friends and colleagues, who so admired him. I will always be grateful for the opportunities to organize with him, to argue with him, to drive to Home Depot a bunch of times to pick out trees, sit in parking spots, make soup, bounce ideas back and forth, or just bullshit online in the middle of a stressful day. He was so dynamic and hopeful and cool. Funny thing, I can’t stop thinking about Ben teasing me: “Duuuuuuuuuuuude” he would laugh and say every time I needed a reminder to get with the program. I will miss those reminders. I will miss Ben.

By Stevie Greco on October 28, 2008 6:23 PM

Ben was one of the first people I met at Calvin. It was obvious he was cooler than I and I was very intimidated. Ben was accessible, though. If there was something interesting happening he was always at the center of it and he always made sure I was included and welcome. I must have met many of my friends through him. No one could bring people together like Ben. Even after I moved to Chicago and knew very few people he would call and invite me to events and openings and encouraged me to participate in his projects. I regret every time I turned him down.

I remember one evening I was walking downtown in Grand Rapids and ran into Ben. In the twilight he was pacing back and forth, creating perfectly parallel lines in the vacant lot at Fulton and Division while traffic rushed past. I stopped to talk and walked in sync with him for some time. He told me about the endless potential of space. As I recall now, it was one of the few times I ever saw him alone. I'll always remember Ben - at the center of town making something out of nothing. No barrier or inhibition could stop him; Ben didn't just theorize - he acted. I'm sure he didn't know how much he meant to me; I'm a much better person for simply having known him.

We have been extended family witnessing Ben growing up over the years. He has always exhibited unusual God given talents and social abilities. We know God never makes a mistake and therefore refrain from judging His wisdom in terminating his contribution to society in such a dramatic way. We extend our sincere to his immediate family and siblings and trust the God will grant them grace to overcome this tapestry of events in their pathway through life.

By Harv and Marion Brouwer on October 28, 2008 5:59 PM

Ben was such a pleasure to know in NYC. With kindness and intelligence he dealt with me and fellow artists at efa. He was full of passion and talent and cared for art and artists. He is forever in my positive thoughts. Thank you Ben! Thank you Schaafsma family! much love, md

The first night I met Ben was soon after he moved to Chicago. We met at a small house party that concluded in the wee hours of the morning with a few friends, Ben included, dancing around like maniacs to James "Laid." He earned my immediate respect with his ability to cut-loose on the dance floor like there was nobody watching. It wasn't until much later that I began to learn about Ben's many other talents, gifts, and projects. You didn't have to know Ben very well or very long to get a sense of his vitality and his desire to impact his environment and those around him. It is clear by reading all these stories that where ever he was his positive influence, inspiration, and unassuming attitude touched the hearts and minds of everyone he came in contact with. I wish I could say I lived my life with equal intent, action, and passion. He sure packed a lot of living into those brief 26 years. . .

By Jessica on October 28, 2008 4:19 PM

As a Forest Hills Northern trouble-maker, I ran around with lots of FHC kids too...met him that a party in a blur of trouble-making and fun-having.
Then met him again at the UICA...we shared the same views of how it had changed over the years but hadn't changed with what art was doing...enter DAAC, something we needed so badly in Grand Rapids.

My deepest sympathy to all of Ben's family. No parent should ever have to go through such a loss...hopefully some comfort can be felt through the outpouring of support of his countless friends.

I first met Ben as a freshman in college. I later roomed with him, and we passed mad hours playing snood on his couch, not studying, and rubbing our feet together.

Ever since I’ve known him, Ben has been a dynamic individual. He always brought people together in community and for the sake of art and culture; the fact that we were able to stay in touch after college ended is a testament to this ability.

I was thrilled when I found out he would be moving to Brooklyn as I had done earlier this year. When my wife and I first moved here we found that we lacked a sense of community, which quickly changed when Ben moved in three blocks away. He always organized us for dinners, shows, parties, visits to neighborhood bars (we briefly transformed the bar into a motley crew of 50 something West Indian men and young white Midwesterners), openings, and other events that he had a hand in organizing all over New York.

Ben was always an active force in his community, transforming his environment in a way that would later be echoed in his intellectual interests. In the past few years I feel he had really begun to articulate his vision. He talked to me the other day about how he was content with the ways in which his professional work intersected with other projects.

I will remember Ben for his humor. A few months ago he told me about how he awkwardly purchased a huge-ass cinnamon roll on the street on his first day of work at EFA, only to find that a woman who disgustedly and disapprovingly watched him consume it would turn out to be a new co-worker.

I will remember him for his intellect and commitment to social causes. We would discuss Marxist and postmodernist perspectives, and he would battle with the support of a host of French theorists, but we at least found common ground in the steadfastness of class war among a pile of shattered meta-narratives.

I will remember Ben for his brilliance, beautifully coupled with humility.

He left way too soon. I can’t believe he’s fucking gone. There is so much we had left to do together. He only just moved here and I was so excited to be around him again, honored to always be included by him.

I don’t know if I ever told you, but I love you Ben. You left way too fucking fast. I just started reading a book you loved, and am only beginning to understand how you embodied that approach to transforming your environment. If you can see this, I’d like to think you heard us say goodbye, and that we love you and miss you so much. You left a hole in all of us that we can only attempt to honor by coming together and tending to the seeds you already planted. You’ll have to let us know about what’s going on wherever you are now, in Heaven, in the Sky, wherever it is your soul is hanging out, duder, doing the Schaafsma Shuffle.

i am so sorry to hear of Ben's passing. i had only just met him -- i ordered his zine on collectives for my class in Florida earlier this year, and was surprised and glad to run into the real person in Incubate's room at the "Democracy" convergence at the Armory in New York. Ben had just offered to help ABC No Rio with office space through EFA Foundation where he worked during the construction phase for ABC.
While I did not get to know him, it was clear to me that he was the kind of collective-minded person the New York City scene badly needs, the kind of person who makes things happen. We could ill afford to lose him. I am so sorry for all of you, his friends and his family. Much love. We go on.

By Alan Moore on October 28, 2008 1:51 PM

I remember the first time I met Ben, when he was still working at Gold Coast Coffee. I remember I was a little intimidated because I was the new girlfriend being introduced to an old friend and because Abel had told me how cool Ben was, I mean how many high school kids did you know that set up their own shows? But when I met him I was just struck by how nice and unassuming he was. I think we even played cribbage that night and Ben taught us the rules. His open and humble attitude continued, in the midst of everything he was doing that was completely amazing. The last time I saw Ben was last New Year’s Eve. A lot of people came into Chicago and he went way out of his way to make sure that everyone had a good time.

Ben brought people together. He opened my eyes to a world that I would never have been exposed to had I not known him. I didn’t always understand what exactly he was doing, but I knew that it was amazing – he CREATED things, BIG things, and he created the space for others to create.

Ben always had the ability to bring people together. Whether it was a party, a show, an exhibit or just to get a bite to eat, Ben possessed an amazing ability to lead and engage everyone he met. I look back at our college years together and, while i can't say I was a close friend, I can honestly say they would never have been the same without him. His laugh was infectious, his sense of humor crude and sarcastic and his personality-always genuine. It is ironic that in this next week Ben will be bringing everyone together yet again. And while it is a damn shame he will not physically be with us, there is not a doubt in my mind that he won't be there. We'll miss you, Ben. All my love.

By Carrie Glick on October 28, 2008 1:00 PM

I miss how I missed Ben. I mean... I still get to miss him but not how I want to. The last time we spoke face to face was at his going away party before he moved to Chicago. Even though we lost touch, I still thought about him and how much fun he, Tim, and I had living together. I felt we were an unstoppable trio. He put excitement into every situation. I remember various antics of wading through abandoned buildings, running through Eastown to find summer party's, taking polaroids of our bare chests with chips/milk rings/bottle caps taped to our nipples, and on and on.

I first met Ben at what I remember to be a Bounty Hunters show at some coffee shop in an Ada strip mall. Matt Everett introduced him to us as Frog. I believe it had something to do with putting a frog in his mouth... maybe pee too, I can't remember.

The next time I encountered Ben was after Tim and I had formed Halos. That's when I started to notice how important of a role he played in the GR music scene. His creation of the Pop Cafe opened up a new community for me... the introductions of many a new faces, the bonds that were created by the local musicians, and the chances to see some amazing touring acts in a town that I originally thought was small and overlooked.

My thoughts are with Emma, Ben's family, friends, and everyone else who feels as sad as I do about his passing. He was a genuine individual and will forever be missed.

I hope to see you in the next life Ben.

By Justin Gray on October 28, 2008 12:46 PM

I remember the first time I met Ben, when he was still working at Gold Coast Coffee. I remember I was a little intimidated because I was the new girlfriend being introduced to an old friend and because Abel had told me how cool Ben was, I mean how many high school kids did you know that set up their own shows? But when I met him I was just struck by how nice and unassuming he was. I think we even played cribbage that night and Ben taught us the rules. His open and humble attitude continued, in the midst of everything he was doing that was completely amazing. The last time I saw Ben was last New Year’s Eve. A lot of people came into Chicago and he went way out of his way to make sure that everyone had a good time.

Ben brought people together. He opened my eyes to a world that I would never have been exposed to had I not known him. I didn’t always understand what exactly he was doing, but I knew that it was amazing – he CREATED things, BIG things, and he created the space for others to create.

Ben I never really got to know you as well as I wanted to. I was told by Erika and Adam that we should be friends. I knew you really loved music so I sent you a package from Drag City just a couple weeks ago. You were so happy to have gotten a package while at work. We decided we would start swapping music and art so that we'd get fun packages during our work days.You were so thoughtful and gave meaning to otherwise mundane days. The world needs more of you...

By Nicole Yalaz on October 28, 2008 12:26 PM

I met Ben at Calvin, knew him peripherally through the DAAC, G-RAD, InCUBATE, through roommates and friends. When he moved to New York, he lived with my boyfriend and me for the first month. His absence is shocking because he was so involved in this city from the beginning and I expected him to be here for decades. Ben had a vision regarding arts and community; an amazing ability to pursue possibilities, to bring people together; and knew how to have good rowdy fun. We miss him.

I am sitting here trying to think of something profound to say about Ben. Where do you start? His aura of generosity, passion, and intellect was addicting. His goofy laugh and awkward humor was comforting. And his ability to reach-out and connect with so many people was inspiring.

Ben and I go back to when his family moved to Ada. To describe Ben's influence on me since then would take a too much space. What an overwhelming loss.

To Ben's family - I am thinking of you and boldly praying for comfort and healing. You are constantly in my thoughts.

I am one of three who have known Ben from conception. Ben began with and has continued in a tradition of humility and caring. He exemplifies the best of what was seen in his grandfather, B.R Schaafsma.

Ben's physical body will be missed. But what I have found even more so in the poast few days is that he continues on this earth through those lives he has touched. He also continues on through th egifts of life he has given. But most profound and important of all is he continues on with whom he belongs, his Lord.

We, Ben's physical family thank all of you for your friendship, tears, prayers, and kindness that has been so deeply felt. Our prayers and tears go out to all of you as well; Ben's extended family.

By Ben's Dad on October 28, 2008 9:38 AM

My husband and I spent a while trying to figure out how and when we met Ben, and we couldn't. It seems like we've always known him, even though we know that's not true. There are a handful of people in Grand Rapids that I don't see on a regular basis, but are a joy to bump into now and then. Catch up conversations ensue and the rest of the day/week is 100% better. Ben is one of those people. Maybe it was because he always seemed genuinely happy to see me, or because he always had a cool project that he was in the middle of that he would first tell me about, and then try to get me in on. When we opened our coffee shop, I remember talking about how we hoped that Ben would show support, because we knew so many people liked him and respected his opinion that if he supported us, everyone would. We just had to get Ben Schaafsma on our side, and we'd be good.
Now, imagining what he could have done breaks my heart. He seemed so much more capable of accomplishing his goals than most of us. I'll miss seeing his face now and then, I'll miss all of his plans and ideas, and I'll miss what he could have become. I regret never taking him up on all of his attempts to get me involved in his plans for Grand Rapids.
None of this makes any sense.

Ben and I grew up together........ since fifth grade exactly........ we both transfered to Wealthy Elementary School the same year........... my mother knew his father, and @ the time we both coped with the EGR culture shock together, being that we both were certainly cut from a whole different sheet of cloth than most of our pre pubescent peers at the time........ which was difficult at times for sure, but was a blessing becuz we werent spoiled rotten, just blessed........ i shared a lot of good times with ben.... we laughed alot with eachother, we argued with eacother, sold overpriced lemonade together, went to argos together (the comic book store), got mad at the unfair world together, taped our favorite music off of the radio, schemed on sleepovers together, talked about girls n all that...... we brought the issues between the both of our siblings to eachothers attention, kicked dirt and got mad the sun was going down, all while tryn to imagine all the cool stuff we could do on this planet when we got older......... oh man, "when i get older" would start off many of the creative ideas he and i would express to eachother as young boys growing up.... we didnt have all the fancy shit our classmates were draped in, so we made what we had seem like the coolest shit on earth! and it was....... and still is.......
i remember me and ben being real close (well as close as a school night allows) and becoming interested in two particular ladies from class..... at that time relationships were obviously elementary, but we couldnt afford to go to the movies with a girl at the drop of a dime, or impress a girl with the clothing styles from last year..... and you all prolly remember how tough kids are on eachother in elementary/middle school......anyway, our competition could always afford the little luxuries we lacked, so to make up for it we had to be CREATIVE, GENUINE, and ultimately REAL. so when his crush's birthday had came up, we were under the impression it was gift time..... thats what you do, right? well, in efforts to date successfully we put our heads together and came up with a gift to give her........little did she know that whatever it was (i cant remember but it was stuffed) had previously sat on my dresser for quite some time...... but he was my dawg...... couldnt leave em hangin..... we laughed about it for years, in fact, it was brought up the last time i seen him, both of us cheesin.......... as we got older me and ben switched even more schools and went seperate ways, but always saw eachother here and there and with Ben, no matter how long it had been since you seen him last, it was like he never left.... by no means does it surprise me that he was so influential amongst the people he would go on to meet thru out the years, becuz we learned how to meet new people together........ and i am absolutely sure he will still influence those closest to him thru the vivid memories he left us with....... to be unafraid in the face of ney sayers..... to challenge the world with the infamous "why not"....... and to believe in this life that he so deeply loved and was fascinated by.... i loved you ben, you kicked much ass, and i will never forget you.... god bless you.........peace kid. Sean P

I was nervous about leaving a message on here at first, until I scrolled down the page and read what folks had to say. I don't feel so alone in saying "I didn't know him very well" anymore. Honestly, without the photos on this page, I couldn't even conjure a face to the memory I had of the man I spoke to for only a short amount of time. But in reading the shared memories of other strangers, I now realize exactly what was so special about him, and why I cried when I heard that he passed away. He had that rare magnetic ability to connect to people almost immediately. He didn't really even have to try, and he'd leave a mark on you. You don't need to remember a face to know a good soul.
The long and short of it is this: Once upon a time, I traveled to a strange city, and met a good person who treated me kindly, introduced me to other good people, and gave me a place to stay for several days. The fact that I was a friend-of-a-friend was good enough for him. And that is good enough for me.

Thank you, Ben. It was nice to meet you.
I'm sorry if I didn't say that before.

By C.L. Moore on October 28, 2008 4:43 AM

Ben danced to the beat of his own drum. He so craved social change. He fought for others. He had innovative ideas and an active heart. I will remember him.

Ben and I became very good friends when he moved to Grand Rapids. It was around 3rd or 4th grade, i'm not sure of the year, when he transferred to Wealthy Elementary. I think the first time we met we almost got into a fight. We got a little too competitive playing basketball at recess. After that scuffle we became best friends, up until he transferred to a different school around 6th grade. We both loved basketball and played it 24/7, playing in countless 3 on 3 tournaments together. I remember one time when Ben, his brother Jake, their dad and I were shooting around and Jake bent over to pick a ball up and his pants ripped right in the butt. Ben and I almost pissed our pants we were laughing so hard. I didnt really know him much in his teens and 20's, but from what I remember he was a nice and humble person, a great friend, and just someone who was fun to be around. I didnt know he was so influential, instrumental and inspirational in so many ways. I wish I would have kept in contact with Ben and remained better friends throughout the years. I'm just lucky to have known him for a portion of his accomplished but far too short-lived life. Ben surely will be missed. My sincerest condolences go out to the Schaafsma's in this time of need.

By steve wood on October 28, 2008 3:15 AM

Ben and I became very good friends when he moved to Grand Rapids. It was around 3rd or 4th grade, i'm not sure of the year, when he transferred to Wealthy Elementary. I think the first time we met we almost got into a fight. We got a little too competitive playing basketball at recess. After that scuffle we became best friends, up until he transferred to a different school around 6th grade. We both loved basketball and played it 24/7, playing in countless 3 on 3 tournaments together. I remember one time when Ben, his brother Jake, their dad and I were shooting around and Jake bent over to pick a ball up and his pants ripped right in the butt. Ben and I almost pissed our pants we were laughing so hard. I didnt really know him much in his teens and 20's, but from what I remember he was a nice and humble person, a great friend, and just someone who was fun to be around. I didnt know he was so influential, instrumental and inspirational in so many ways. I wish I would have kept in contact with Ben and remained better friends throughout the years. I'm just lucky to have known him for a portion of his accomplished but far too short-lived life. Ben surely will be missed. My sincerest condolences go out to the Schaafsma's in this time of need.

By steve wood on October 28, 2008 3:14 AM

I am also from Grand Rapids and live in Chicago and heard/seen Ben's impact on these communities. I looked forward to the day I would meet him and congratulate him on doing so much, so much more than I have been able to do in such a short time. I am so very sad I will never get the chance to meet him in person and congratulate him. This, sadly, will have to suffice.

I mainly knew Ben through communication online, over e-mail, IM, or Google Talk. We rarely met in person, but his enthusiasm carried easily over the written or spoken word. He was always full of ideas and looking back at it I mainly played the negative analyst saying this or that wasn't possible... but they probably were, for him. Perhaps my favorite idea of his was not so serious as his others—he harbored a desire to Duchamp Gibson's. I can only hope someone will read this and make that tiny dream come true. We were never close, but he was my friend, and he introduced me to so many other things that I now come to think of as my identity. I celebrate his life as one full of progress, passion, and the ability to inspire others. I don't know how to describe how much he meant to me, to Grand Rapids, to the other communities he touched. There's so much of him all around us.

I never got to know Ben very well, but through our conversations over the phone and exchanges of emails which filled our primary source of communication, I got a sense of him. A sense of someone who imagined the kind of city he wanted to live in. A man who was so kind and thoughtful. I think of how very thoughtful he was. inCUBATE was a strong introduction and through Roman and Abigail I understood his practice as it encompassed Chicago with such grace, reciprocity and precision. We explored a project of archiving the complete notebooks of Michael Piazza which he seemed so connected to. That connection tonight is obvious as I see the many pictures and hear the many passages from his friends of his brief, bright life.

Anyone would be lucky to possess a fraction of your energy. I always enjoyed our geography discussions.

Dear Ben,
You welcomed me to Grand Rapids when I first arrived to UICA. You introduced me to the DAAC and GRAD and the locals behind them. And although I was never fully involved with those organizations I was always happy to know you and it felt good to be offered involvement and friendship. I didn't really know anyone in GR at the time so it was great to have a friend even though we didn't hang out all that much. I appreciated your taste in music and art and always though highly of your efforts to bring music, art, and people together.

I celebrate who you are, where you are, and what you've given in your short time here on earth.


I met Ben via email, then video-chat, then gchat, then phone and finally after a full year had gone by I met him in NYC in October when I came to visit and support InCUBATE at their exhibit. We were supposed to hang out, but we were too busy to meet up and planned to meet sometime in the near future.

Ben was kind, brilliant, tenacious and inspiring. He was supportive and encouraging and a thousand other things that I never really had the chance to discover.

The last time I saw Ben was at the Granholm Gathering in his Division loft. I had to run home to get my mac video adapter to help with the setup, but by the time I got back Ben had already figured something else out. I think it was the same night that he gave me a blue dress shirt that he never wore. It became my best, snazziest work shirt I wear (it never wrinkles!). Ben had a lot of heart and talent. I didn't know him well - but enough to be moved and feel his effects.

I didn't know Ben well. When we lived in Grand Rapids, my roommates were the ones in his circle of friends. But even though our interests were different, and we knew very little about each other, I always felt comfortable around him. He was a kind and decent human being who seemed always to go out of his way to include everyone around him. Actually, no. It wasn't out of his way. It was very natural for him. I appreciated him for that, and in such a small way he made the world a better place. Thank you, Ben.

By Jeremy Doornbos on October 27, 2008 7:29 PM

I never was a close friend of Ben's, but he had been in my circle of friends since the mid 1990's. In Grand Rapids and later in Chicago I witnessed Ben's work and ability to get people together. His work and collaborations were always something I would always pass on to others. His ability to put words into action was inspiring. Ben was always positive and doing something positive for his community. He will be deeply missed.

By John-Patrick on October 27, 2008 6:59 PM

It amazes me to realize Ben Schaafsma was only 26 years old when he died. He certainly packed his short life full of people: friends, musicians, artists, activists... He began doing what many of us aspired to while still in high school! I remember hearing about some high school kid booking national bands at the Pop Cafe in Eastown. Very impressive.

Ben had a confidence about him that I found interesting. He didn't seem to follow the rules we were told: "you have to have money to open galleries and venues....", "you have to be well-known for that person to speak with you or return your message...."

I really respected how Ben seemed to make his own rules. Sometimes it worked out, some times not... sometimes he got in over his head, over-scheduled, over-committed...

We need more folks around who decide something should be done, and through organizing, people, relationships, personality and persistence... they make it happen.

I'll miss Ben's creativity, sense of humor, his mischievous smile. He could have done so much more, but it doesn't seem he wasted many moments of his short life....

By Tami VandenBerg on October 27, 2008 6:21 PM

I am shocked to hear the latest about Ben. Though I didn't know him well, I enjoyed getting to know him in civic studio - I especially liked his excitement over projects like soda-making and the boat regatta! I also enjoyed many shows at the DAAC, and (since moving) have been really missing the kind of artist community he has helped to build in GR. Reading everyone's words reminds me of how much impact a person can have. My heart goes out to Ben's family and friends. May his wonderful deeds inspire us to do more!

In Howard's End, E.M. Forster famously wrote, "Only connect!" I didn't know Ben well, but while I lived in Grand Rapids he and I shared a similar sphere -- me in the periphery, him at the moving center. What impressed me about Ben - continues to impress me - is how he continually connected: people with other people, people with places, places with ideas, people with ideas. His "object in motion" quality, his sheer will to create and to connect seemed to ensure his success. I was positive he was one person on whom I would look back and say, "I was once at a party with him, once had a drink with him, once danced to the same small-time band-that-made-it-big that he was dancing to (and had, in fact, booked)." What has been written here so far, and the palpable loss that has reverberated in the communities of Grand Rapids, Chicago, New York and elsewhere, is a testament to Ben's success. He connected, and the evidence of that is found in the enriched lives and work of countless individuals and communities. So well done, Ben. We're only sad you didn't get to do it for longer.

The memories that keep popping up in my head involve traveling to and around Syracuse with Ben this past summer. We decided to take Amtrak from Chicago to Syracuse - a 12-ish hour ride. On the ride there we ate trail mix, sipped whiskey and ginger ale, and swapped books back and forth across the aisle. When the train's engine broke down at midnight, stranding us for 2 hours in the middle of nowhere, we groaned and then began hypothesizing absurd reasons for the mechanical failure to pass the time.

A few days later, we rented a car to drive out and see the Oneida Community Mansion House. It was just us and an elderly couple on the tour. The place was as beautiful as its story was bizarre. Later, we enabled each others weakness for fast food and stopped for french fries and milkshakes. We drove back to Syracuse listening to music and joking around.

By Bryce Dwyer on October 27, 2008 5:50 PM

Ben was one of my best friends and my first friend when I transfered to Forest Hills Central in 9th grade. Ben had the ability to maintain countless friendships and bring together more people than I can even fathom. I am so honored to have known him and been a part of his life. With that aside, Ben was also one of those wonderful friends who always got me in trouble haha Winter of 9th grade Ben thought that the snow in my backyard was a great place to hide beer cans, this was true until March. Ben also thought taking my car to pick up beer in high school was a good idea, I was declared the provider and the only person to receive an MIP that night. I could go on forever, but I would never trade any of those moments because they're some of my favorite memories. Hell I'd let him get me arrested tomorrow if it meant having him back. I love Ben and everything he did. I will truly miss him, especially those mornings he'd crash at my place and I'd get the joy of seeing him walk around in just brief boxers haha Ben, you are and were the best. I'll see you again sometime in the next 90 years, I know you'll have a great party to go to in Heaven. Granted you may not show up, but at least I know you'll care enough to invite me to it haha

By Kevin Maupin on October 27, 2008 5:46 PM

When Ben was a high school senior and I was a senior at Calvin, we worked as interns at the Paper, when it was still a functioning newsweekly. Ben was a great writer and I'm pleased I got a glimpse of that creative spark in action.

I saw Ben socially over the years. He attended a Halloween party at my apartment and came dressed as Andrew W.K. I think I scolded him for smoking in my basement. He sheepishly smiled and said, "I thought you said it was OK." I believe he met Emma that night.

Ben's gusto in life puts so many of us to shame. I was always amazed at his involvement in the arts community. Ben accomplished things I can only dream of, and yet he did so with such ease, as if inactivity wasn't an option. I second Matt's comment: "I know he had so much more to do, to give, to make real." I only hope that gusto can inspire others to take over where he left off.

By Karen Maylone on October 27, 2008 4:39 PM

I remember going to punk shows with Ben back in when he was in high school, contributing to a zine that he did, and dreaming big about someday opening some type of co-op venue for independent music in Grand Rapids. I wasn't close with Ben over the past several years, but I always enjoyed talking to him when I would see him and have nothing but respect for his work and dedication on all of the projects that he has been involved in over the years. He'll be missed.

What Ben has done for the city of Grand Rapids is of unmeasurable importance.

The DAAC as a venue/gallery/community organizing space has brought so many different people together, artists to our city and importantly the idea of what this organization can and should be; open to everyone, a way for the public to engage with art and each other. This is a direct result of Ben's commitment to the arts and society at large. Ben also brought an adventurous spirit, unafraid to take on things that seemed too big; success or failure we were all the better for trying and we are left with a strong organization. His drive, criticism and creativity will be missed.

By mike saunders on October 27, 2008 4:32 PM

Ben in the dark watching the little t.v.
screen with the O.C., sink with the coffee
accidental roommate
life spliced habitation
plastic on the window
idea in the living room
hand on the scooter chain
party with all strangers
book book second look
cities tied together
practicing the grammar
artist slash urban planner
you had an idea
i can help it happen

...sleeping on the floor, listening...
good night, Ben.

I first met Ben through a friend, when we were both in high school. I remember this because before I knew him, I asked "who is that again?" and was told he was the guy with the round owl glasses, an identifier that stuck with me for many years.

It wasn't until college that I really became friends with Ben myself, and the majority of that relationship existed on AOL Instant Messenger. Ben was always online, and always IMing, and in those days the subject of the messages frequently referred to the basics: a desire for food, weekend plans, and all too often and all too candid talk of farts. Even when we were cohabitants of 804 1/2 wealthy, rather than just come over to our side of the apartment, Ben would IM me to ask a question or share a link. One such message stands out among all the others... While we were sophomores (i think?) in college, Ben told me he had a crush on one of my friends... Emma, of course.

I am immensely proud to have worked with Ben in the early days of the DAAC, and was always envious of and amazed by his ability to be involved and dedicated to so many projects. I honestly cannot think of another one of my peers who not only changed the lives of so many artists and musicians but also shaped the arts community so significantly.

This is an enormous loss that no sense can be made of.

My heart goes out to Emma, the Schaafsma family, and of course, the arts community which is forever indebted to Ben's tenacity, optimism, and life's work.

My condolences for all that knew him well. It is touching that he will be so missed. I always admired and will continue to admire his love of the arts and communities and how pro-active he was. I am thankful to have known him.

I did not know Ben very well, but we crossed paths frequently over the past 7 years or so, due to our shared interests and geographies. I felt he was a kindred spirit with similar interests in art, music, community, geography, and public space and how they all intersect. Of course, he always seemed much more articulate and well-read about such things than my nebulous gut-takes on them. I think we first met at parties in Grand Rapids years ago, where a lot of my high school friends had moved for college (I am from Holland). The only extended time I ever spent with him was in a van from Providence back to Michigan a few years ago; we both happened to be in town for different conferences at the same time. We never actually lived in the same city until a few months ago, when he moved to Brooklyn.

I only saw him twice, and briefly, since he moved here, but it seemed that, as with everywhere he went he was already having an impact on the community around him. His dedication, energy, and ideas were an inspiration to me in very many ways, and will continue to be. I tell everyone about all the great things happening in Grand Rapids, and I know he was one of the very instrumental people behind that. He will be missed. Go forward and do good work, live, love. We are not here long.

I knew Ben since he was in high school, booking shows at the Pop Cafe. He was always so full of energy and ideas and every year he became more capable of making them real, enjoyable and sustainable.

When he headed for Chicago and started Incubate I saw his energy focus and I knew he was going to make a mark on the art world or maybe make a better one in it's place.

That in some ways is the hardest part of not having him here anymore. I know he had so much more to do, to give, to make real. I will miss Ben for his creativity, our conversations and his humor. It is a testament to his impact on people all over the globe that so many have come together to remember him and make sure that his work goes on.

We love you Ben and we miss you so deeply.

The synthesis of my thoughts and feelings from my interactions with Ben, however limited, leave me with a lesson. Every time I talked (or more often debated/argued) with Ben, he was always speaking, doing, and being passionately. He impressed me as being a person of determination and purpose. He breathed art, music, and community. He constantly pushed us to embrace those, too, with pragmatic optimism. To me Ben is a lesson to live ones life with purpose everyday because, in my eyes, that's how he lived.

By David Bleckley on October 27, 2008 12:03 PM

I very much admired Ben's sincerity of demonstrating his thoughts through his actions. He was so dedicated to IMPLEMENTING his ideas for the good, something which I will never forget. I hope to become more like Ben.

Ben helped create incredible memories for so many musicians in GR, and was such an inspiration in refreshing a network of artists who had become so caught up in themselves that they forgot about the importance of community. I think we owe gratitude to Ben for a lot of the bindings that held this scene together through a time of desperation, when it very easily could have deflated and disappeared; where musicians would have given up or moved to more promising cities. Instead, he helped cultivate a rich community of talented, selfless individuals with their eyes fixed on the greater good. Thank you, Ben.

I have to begin by saying that I did not know Ben well personally.. I first began to notice him because I used to work at Schuler Books and Music and kept a close eye on the local music scene, Schuler's had a community pegboard by the music section and once in a while Ben would appear with flyers for some show he was putting on. I was booking shows for a place on Bridge street called Arco Iris and often his shows were on the same date that my shows were on. We were both luring the same few people that were interested in adventurous music that you would normally not hear on the airwaves of Grand Rapids.

I would run into him at other places where he was displaying his flyers like the Kava house and we would discuss attendance of our last show. I was impressed by his relentless belief that we could change the music scene in Grand Rapids. I was not convinced yet..

Over the years I was even more acutely paying attention to the caliber of the music he brought to Grand Rapids I realized that Ben was not booking shows but was curating a series of shows. I had been doing this as well but it was Ben that made me feel aware of this. The interest was not in making money but in making something happen. Even at a loss to our pocketbooks.

I remember specifically talking to Ben about an artist I had just discovered in a pile of advanced copies at Schuler, I was so turned on by.. her name is Lhasa de la Sela, Ben had already contacted her agent to bring her to the UICA... damn it!!

Ben was constantly preoccupied by the usefulness of art in our lives, the gap between art and real life. Whenever I pooh poohed the local art scene on these pages Ben would gently advice me on a plan he was working on in Chicago that might work here and he would tell me
via my personal e-mail address.

I will miss his enthusiasm and perseverance in the face of budget cuts for the arts but will continue fighting negativism (mostly my own) with Ben in mind.
His time was not wasted.