ArtPrize show and contest back in Grand Rapids Sept. 22-Oct. 10 after crowded ‘09 debut

By David Runk, AP
Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Grand Rapids, Mich., awaits ArtPrize crowds

ArtPrize, the Grand Rapids art show and competition that surprised locals by drawing tens of thousands of visitors when it debuted in 2009, is back for a second year.

And it’s expected to be even bigger this time. The southwestern Michigan city’s vibrant arts scene will get an infusion of energy from 1,713 artists displaying their works for 19 days in 192 venues, from plazas, hotels and museums, to restaurants, coffee shops and parks.

One of the most unusual aspects of the event, which runs Sept. 22-Oct. 10, is that the public decides the top 10 winners through “American Idol”-style voting. Last year, more than 37,000 people voted on their ArtPrize favorites either online or by text message.

Artists from 21 countries and 44 states are taking part in the competition, which offers $449,000 in prizes decided by the public, including a top award of $250,000.

“It’s designed for maximum openness in participation,” ArtPrize founder Rick DeVos said in an interview. “The extent to which people got it the first year and ran with it even further than we had imagined was amazing.”

Paul Ha, director of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, said winners of most art competitions are decided by a few professionals.

“It’s very rare to have such democracy in art, the fact that the public vote counts,” said Ha, who is scheduled to speak in ArtPrize’s lecture series. Ha did not attend last year but received a barrage of enthusiastic e-mails from artists who did participate. He plans to spend four days exploring this year’s event and the host city.

The success of the inaugural ArtPrize caught many off-guard. Throngs spent hours or days walking between the 159 venues that displayed the work of 1,262 artists. Some restaurants ran out of food and were forced to close early.

Organizers had also expected most visitors would be in their 20s or 30s, but all ages turned out. This year’s schedule includes some family-focused events such as neighborhood block parties.

“I didn’t even think of children when coming up with the initial concept,” DeVos said. “The extent that it was embraced by families, and served as really an inspiration for kids to get excited about art and making things, was really, really gratifying.”

DeVos is grandson of multibillionaire Rich DeVos, a co-founder of direct-sales giant Amway Corp., and son of Dick DeVos, a former Amway president who unsuccessfully ran for Michigan governor as the GOP candidate in 2006. In starting ArtPrize, Rich DeVos’ long-term goal is to encourage the growth of the area’s creative culture. In the process, he’s helped to raise Grand Rapids’ profile as an arts destination.

While the public gets to make the big-money award decisions, this year’s ArtPrize also includes juried awards worth at least $5,000 each. Judged by experts, the categories include best two-dimensional work; best three-dimensional work; best time-based work of performance, film or video; and an award for use of urban space.

The biggest challenge for visitors will be deciding what to see and what to skip. The event’s seven main exhibition centers — including the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids Art Museum, and Grand Rapids Public Museum — make a good jumping-off point for visitors. With the exception of Meijer Gardens, all of the venues are in the downtown area.

ArtPrize is also turning the city’s Old Federal Building into “The Hub” where artists can meet, the event’s speaker series will be based, and visitors can get information and technical help with voting or mapping.

Joseph Becherer, the Meijer’s chief curator, said ArtPrize is an important part of a transformation he’s seen since moving to the city of 200,000 nearly two decades ago.

“People are thinking about and beginning to live with the visual arts in a very different way,” he said.

If You Go…

ARTPRIZE: Grand Rapids, Mich., Sept. 22-Oct. 10; Most artworks are on display in a 3-square-mile district of downtown. The nearby Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is the only one of the event’s seven major exhibition centers outside that area. Finalists — including the top 10 winners chosen by the public — are announced Sept. 30. The winner is announced Oct. 7.

GETTING THERE: Grand Rapids, located in southwestern Michigan, is about a 3-hour drive from Detroit or Chicago, about a 5-hour drive from Indianapolis and about a 6-hour drive from Cincinnati and Toronto. Gerald R. Ford International Airport is about 20 minutes from downtown. Buses and trains both stop in downtown Grand Rapids.

WHERE TO STAY: Downtown hotels offer a great home base to walk to many of the exhibition centers and events, and some tour packages are being offered. Staying outside of downtown, visitors may drive to Meijer Gardens and take a shuttle bus downtown, or park downtown and walk or bike around. The Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau has resources for organizing a trip, 616-459-8287 or

HOW TO VOTE: Anyone 16 or older who registers in person at ArtPrize with a valid government-issued ID may vote by mobile phone or online. Voter registration stations will be open throughout the city. For the first part, votes “up” or “down” may be cast for each artist. For the second part, one vote for one finalist may be cast, but the pick may be changed until voting ends.

PLANNING A VISIT: The ArtPrize website and iPhone app are two quick ways to check out entries and artists ahead of time or during the event, look at maps and vote. Once voting starts, a randomized top 25 list will be available, and a list of other interesting works or hidden gems will be updated. Visitors may want to pick one of the exhibition centers as a starting point for exploring.

THE HUB: Last year, the Old Federal Building, 155 N. Division Ave., was where eventual first-place winner Ran Ortner of Brooklyn, N.Y., displayed his 19-foot-wide oil painting of the sea, “Open Water No. 24.” This year, the building is being called “The Hub” for ArtPrize. It will be a meeting place for artists, home to the ArtPrize speaker series and a place for free access to computers for voting and mapping, as well as technical help.

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