ArtPrize is an art competition created by Rick DeVos that gets an entire community to be in conversation with artists and art professionals.
Time Magazine has listed it as one of five festive events in the U.S. not to miss.
Prizes totalling more than $500,000 are awarded at ArtPrize each year, the largest total prize purse for art in the world.
Almost every year since its inception the organizers have added refinements to make ArtPrize more interesting and to encourage greater dialogue between the general public (which votes who receives half the prize money) and guest art professionals (who decide the recipients of the other half of the prize money).
This guide will help you plan your trip no matter whether you have half a day or a week.
When you visit, you'll find that great art is hidden throughout the city, and it takes time to find it. Unless you've got four or five days and really like walking, some general guidelines are helpful:
If you only have one day: If you only have a day and like contemporary art best, try the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, the Kendall College of Art and Design, Western Michigan University - Grand Rapids (open limited hours), and SITE:LAB. If you have extra time, ask people at these venues what else you should see. If you like art tied to social justice themes don't miss the Fountain Street Church.
If you only have a day and you like paintings or drawings best, start at the De Vos Convention Center. Take the Skywalk to the Amway Hotel display, then head to Grand Rapids Brewing and to the Grand Rapids Art Museum. End up at the BOB for for fun. If you still have time, go to UICA, Kendall, WMU, or Fifth Third Bank.
If they have been announced, check the list of juror's picks and public vote favorites to see if there's anything else you have to look at. You're going to miss lots, but you'll have fun and you'll probably see or experience something to make your trip worth it.
If you only have one day and you like sculpture best, start at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. If this will be your only trip to Grand Rapids, plan on spending at least half a day looking at their year-round collection (which requires an admission fee) as well as the ArtPrize entries (which are free to view).
Next try the sculptures along the riverbank, in the plaza outside the B.O.B. and at the Gerald Ford Museum. There will probably also be some sculptures at the venues mentioned for contemporary art, above.
If you only have three days: Pick up a map and focus on the Exhibition Centers first. Forget the outlying venues, unless you hear reports about something great at one of them. You'll miss good stuff, but you don't have enough time. Concentrate on the central core of downtown, the venues with the most artists, and the seven or eight exhibition centers. Focus your time on spots with the densest collections of art.
If you have five days: If you walk fast, are methodical, start at noon, and keep at it until 9 p.m., you might be able to see every venue. It helps to have a car to reach the outlying venues, but you don't need a car if you're satisfied with seeing only 80% of the venues.
If this is your one trip to Grand Rapids, spend some time enjoying the permanent displays around town and the bridges over Grand River.
At the top of your list should be The Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park even if you're not that wild about sculpture.
The Grand Rapids Museum has an excellent permanent display on furniture manufacturing.
The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is worth a visit as well.
When to visit: You'll be able to have fun no matter when you visit, but if you're in town for the last five days of the event, you can plan your travels around the public and jurors' top picks.
Whenever you go, check ArtPrize.org for ticketed events you might be interested in seeing happening during the event.
If you're in town at the end of the event, be sure to attend the closing awards ceremony. If you're not in town, this event is streamed live and would be worth watching to catch a taste of ArtPrize.
After you visit: Thanks to the great reporting at Mlive.com you can stay on top of all the ArtPrize news long after you've left Michigan. Tell Google to notify you about new stories on ArtPrize at http://www.google.com/alerts.
You can get a good picture of your ArtPrize hotel options at maps.google.com. Type in "hotels near Grand Rapids, MI." You'll see a small cluster of hotels at the intersection of 131 (the yellow line running north and south) and 196 (the Gerald R. Ford Freeway). That's the downtown area.
Downtown. If you stay in a downtown hotel, you'll be at the center of all the action. Your options are the Amway Grand Plaza, the JW Marriott Grand Rapids, the Courtyard Grand Rapids Downtown, the Holiday Inn Grand Rapids Downtown, and the City Flats Hotel. These hotels are the best locations for ArtPrize.
Other options. If you want something less expensive, there are lots of hotels clustered on 28 St. SE (Highway 11) closer to the airport. If you have a car, your commute time to town will be about 20 minutes. There are parking lots all over downtown. Rates vary, but expect to pay about $12 a day. On a bus or taxi, your commute time will be about an hour (see below).
If you're at a hotel on 28th Street, estimate about $20 one way for a taxi, with a 20 to 40 minute wait to get a cab to your hotel, and another 20 or 30 minutes for the ride to town.
The bus is about as fast as a taxi. There is excellent bus service from Woodland Shopping Center on 28th Street (you can take either route 5 or 6 to town). But check the distance from your hotel: it's a two- or three-mile walk from some of the 28th Street hotels to Woodland Shopping Center.
There are a few hotels along 28th St SE at Division Ave S. The route 1 (Division) bus serves these hotels.
Passes to ride the bus are available at ArtPrize gift shops. Bus schedules are available at http://www. RideTheRapid.org.
ArtPrize is an interesting event, but it is NOT like visiting a major show like Art Basel Miami Beach or New York's Armory Week. Be sure to read Quirks of ArtPrize (below) to see if ArtPrize is the right event for you.
Steam plant, Grand Rapids, MI. © 2010 Mark Dahle
Grand Rapids, MI. Photo © 2010 Mark Dahle.
Grand Rapids, MI. Photo © 2010 Mark Dahle.
ArtPrize is extraordinarily well run, and it models lots of ways to engage regular and social media. It's also a great excuse to discover Grand Rapids.
If you get frustrated a little (and you might!), it helps to remember that you're there to look at an interesting social experiment as well as the art.
A few quirks about ArtPrize:
Downtown, Grand Rapids, MI. Photograph © 2010 Mark Dahle
1) Anyone can enter. This is, overall, a great attribute. It increases the chances of your discovering an artist before the artist becomes known. But it also means that some of the art will not be of the quality you'd find in a juried show. Since the non-juried art is spread throughout a three-square-mile area that includes multi-storied buildings, one has to do a lot of looking and walking to discover the better pieces. If you only want to see recognized artists, ArtPrize is not for you. Try Art Basel instead.
2) ArtPrize is held in Grand Rapids, MI. This means that it's easiest for Michigan artists to enter, just because of the difficulty of transportation. As a result, ArtPrize will continue to be Michigan-centric (unless #1 changes), in spite of the high value of the prize.
3) Voting is skewed to sites with the most visitors. If only 1% of the visitors at a high attendance venue vote for a piece, the piece will get more votes than if 100% of the visitors had voted for it at at a low attendance venue.
4) The sites with the most visitors are currated by art and museum professionals. This balances the "anyone can enter" aspect of #1.
5) Each year the rules are improved. Over the years a number of rule changes have made impressive improvements in helping there be better dialogue between art professionals and the public. If you go intending to look at an interesting social experiment as much as the art, you'll have plenty to see.
1) To get noticed at ArtPrize, entries have to be big, as in monumental. What looks big in an artist's studio won't look that big next to 18-foot tall paintings, drawings and sculptures.
As an example, in 2011, nine of the ten finalists were large scale. The one that wasn't was a life-size sculpture of President Gerald Ford, a home-town hero in Grand Rapids.
2) If you see lots of ArtPrize entries, you'll see people making art out of almost anything.
You'll see quite a few pixillated works. For example:
A giant eye made out of pushpins.
Pete Fecteau's 2010 entry "Dream Big" made out of Rubik's Cubes
Pete Fecteau had my all-time favorite quote of ArtPrize, in a report by Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood.
Two weeks before the start of the 2010 ArtPrize, Pete was less than half done with his 22-foot mosaic of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Jennifer saw him unloading 2,500 rented Rubik's Cubes that he still had to twist into the right designs to complete the mosaic.
Fecteau wasn't sweating it. At least not openly.
"In the inside, I'm screaming a little," he said, smiling.
Lots of people working on monumental projects can relate.
With these pixillated works, occasionally the medium and the message match, as in the case of a portrait made of bras.