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The Community Curator: How ArtPrize Is Changing Grand Rapids

The Community Curator: How ArtPrize Is Changing Grand Rapids

The annual competition founded by Rick DeVos transforms the city's core—and how residents are engaging the visual arts.

An old, greying building sits at the center of Grand Rapids, Michigan, at the corner of the two streets that divide the city into north and south, east and west. Abandoned in the late 1990s, the building's modern-era space-age look has long made it the eyesore of downtown.

That is, until an event called ArtPrize opened its doors—and the doors of nearly every building in downtown Grand Rapids for a three-week event that brings over 500,000 visitors to the streets of the Rust Belt city each fall. Now in its fourth year, ArtPrize makes streets that are usually bustling only during business hours and Taylor Swift concerts teem with crowds of young and old, rich and poor, teens and stroller-pushing couples alike.

ArtPrize is an annual, 19-day competition that bestows the world's largest monetary award for a work of art. Its organizers call it "a radically open art competition, part arts festival, part social experiment." It alters the typical formula used in judging art competitions by allowing the public to vote for the pieces of art it considers worthy of prizes, ranging from $7,000 to $200,000. The competition itself has few rules—some deadlines, specifications for how artists interact with exhibition centers, and geographical boundaries.

This year, 161 ArtPrize venues are displaying 1,517 pieces of artwork within a three-square-mile area encompassing downtown Grand Rapids. After 10 days of public voting, 10 pieces will move to the next round, while artwork not in the top 10 remains on display throughout the event. The public will then spend five days voting on the top 10. In 2011, the controversial top 10 pieces included a large, colorful mosaic displayed on the side of a school, a wood carving depicting ocean creatures, a live statue (street performer), and the winner, a stained glass piece depicting the Crucifixion.

To Rick DeVos, the founder of ArtPrize and a Christian, the $200,000 public vote prize (and other prizes totaling $560,000) is just a part of what makes the event work. "From the beginning, the ArtPrize award has been the catalyst and tool by which we make this conversation come to life," he said. "What's exciting is that this conversation has led to countless individual experiences, each driving us to collectively say, 'Let's do that again.' "

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Displaying 1–2 of 2 comments

William Harris

October 05, 2012  9:41pm

There's far more to see than any one visitor can take in. Of special note would be the continuing work at Cathedral Square -- the diocese home. Tim Lowly displayed a lovely, moving portrait of his severely disabled daughter. Another completely magical moment this year was the launch of 10,000 Chinese lanterns. As dusk settled in, they launched from the river bank; a vision of light bubbling up the parks and streets. Overhead, the lanterns became dots of orange light, drifting up over the skyline, then carried by the wind in procession, suggesting a stream or a particularly close vision of the Milky Way. Up and down the streets of the city people stood, swept up and taken in by lifting of light.

Danielle Harrison

October 05, 2012  9:38pm

Actually, you're mistaken. It was last years top ten that was of questionable merit. This years top ten (due to some important changes) was very solid and almost universally praised. In the future please ask the 'critics' you interview if they are entered in or related to an artist participating. Acres of Sour grapes could be harvested during ArtPrize-especially from the local 'artistic community' whch are anything but. ArtPrize is truly an all consuming event and I recommend it to anyone. For the record, I am in no way connected to ArtPrize, nor do I know anyone entered.

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