ArtPrize, Public Art, Placemaking in GR

The first words on the ArtPrize website read:

“ArtPrize®is a radically open competition. Open to any artist in the world who can find space. Open to anybody in Grand Rapids, Michigan who wants to create a venue. Open to a vote from anyone who attends.”

Nessie Installation in 2009

As someone who cares about placemaking, that entry reads like music to me.

The not-so-subtle theme of this blog is that the vibrancy of a place is critical to its economic environment.  ArtPrize, which opened last week and continues through October 9, combines a number of elements that help to establish a distinct quality of life in Grand Rapids.

  • Public Art. At its core ArtPrize is an art competition. It attracts artists of all mediums from across the globe- 1,582 at last count.
  • Urbanism.  There are 164 venues scattered throughout Grand Rapids, Michigan’s second largest city and the unofficial capitol of the west side.
  • Civic Engagement. Artists are asked to seek their own installations- in businesses, on public property, in the river, you name it. And everyone votes, not just a chosen few. Almost a half-a-million votes were cast in 2010.
  • Cultural economic development. The ever increasing field of cultural tourism is on full display at ArtPrize. People come from all over to see the art and experience the city and its offerings. I still recall people complaining that local restaurants actually ran out of food due to the heavy traffic in the event’s first year. That’s a good problem to have!

While still a young event (it is in only its third year) the brain child of Rick DeVos has become a staple in Michigan’s cultural scene and is a model for other communities to adopt.  Dubbed “part arts festival, part social experiment”, ArtPrize is a place maker’s dream come true. I will be there in a week to check out the art and see who wins the big $250,000 prize. It’s clear, however, that the real winners are culture, art, the city of Grand Rapids and all who love these things.