Do artists make money during ArtPrize?


The huge dinosaur at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and the horses in the Grand River are examples of the types of pieces that interest Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Photos by Christopher Pastotnik

In 2011, ArtPrize reportedly benefited the Grand Rapids/Kent County economy by $15.4 million. That figure included hotel stays, restaurant sales, retail purchases and other spending within the city.

It seems everyone within the downtown community benefits from ArtPrize economically, but what about the artists’ whose work is on display? How much of the exposure translates into sales?

“They do well,” said Brian Burch, ArtPrize director of public relations. “We know 30 percent of the artists sell their work during ArtPrize. That is a self-reported number by the venues. Venues help facilitate sales, ArtPrize does not do that, although we’re looking at it as an option, but we don’t really know what that looks like.”

Burch said artwork sales is an important aspect of ArtPrize, something the organization wants to see occur as a result of the competition.

“We want artists’ ideas to expand into people’s homes, and we think that is a very important part of an artistic community,” Burch said. “There are definitely art purchases happening and it’s very good for the community.”

Paul Amenta, curator of Site:Lab, located this year at the former Grand Rapids Public Museum building on Jefferson Avenue, said that although art sales is not something he or the artists at his location are primarily focused on, artwork is always for sale and he has heard of artists selling their work during ArtPrize.

“It’s not what we really try to do,” Amenta said. “We don’t really function as a gallery, or a commercial gallery, during these types of things, but I’ve had situations where people have inquired and I simply get them in contact with the artist. I don’t try and broker any deal through our space, but I am more than happy to facilitate it through giving contact information. I know that there are other spaces that sell a lot of work.”

Since Site:Lab tends to host more site-specific works, one area where his artists might have increased success due to their ArtPrize exposure is in lining up additional shows. Amenta said that artist Alois Kronschlaeger, who previously participated in ArtPrize in 2011, went on to show his work in Arizona and in Beijing, China.

“That project and the documentation of that project elevated his artistic activity. … I guarantee you the documentation of that project aided him in getting those shows,” Amenta said.

One segment of artists who have a great opportunity to sell their work during ArtPrize are those with unique, odd or even weird pieces. That’s because, for three years now, Ripley’s Believe It or Not has been traveling to Grand Rapids in search of work to fill its more than 80 museums worldwide.

“We are looking for unusual art,” said Edward Meyer, vice president of exhibits and archives for Ripley’s Believe it or Not. “Hopefully, we are buying art that is beautiful art, but it’s got to be something that’s a little bit different — something odd, something unusual. Primarily, we are looking for things made from unusual mediums.”

In the past, Ripley’s has purchased pieces by ArtPrize artists Bill Secunda, Laura Bell, Jeremy Kirsch, Kate Askegaard, Paul Baliker and John O’Hearn, among others. Meyer said Ripley’s has purchased approximately 40 ArtPrize pieces in the past four years.

“We’ve bought a lot of Bill’s (Secunda) art,” Meyer said. “He’s probably been the number one person we’ve spent money with, and he’s the guy who got us to come here in the first place.”

The works are on display throughout the country, including Ripley’s museums in Orlando and St. Augustine, Fla., Hollywood and Baltimore. One of Secunda’s nail sculptures is on display in Korea.

Meyer was excited by this year’s prospects. During the two and a half days he spent in Grand Rapids during the second week of ArtPrize, he visited many venues and plans to purchase several pieces.

“This year we are looking at an eagle made out of knives and forks,” Meyer said. “We’re looking at a zoetrope that is made out of little wire men that appear to dance. I’m looking at these horses here in front of me made out of driftwood. Jellybean portraits are one of the ones we are really excited about this year, the big dinosaur made out of paper-mache — that’s the kind of things we are looking for this year.”

Though he would not discuss how much money Ripley’s spends on average each year on artwork, he did say the organization generally will pay more than anyone in the top four is going to win in prize money. He also mentioned that Laura Bell’s 2011 piece, “The Creation of Adam,” was probably the most expensive piece it purchased last year.

In addition to artwork purchased during ArtPrize, Meyer said Ripley’s often purchases pieces from ArtPrize artists after the competition.

“We try very hard to meet the artists and get into their heads, figure out why they make what they do, whether they are capable of making something else, or want to make something else,” Meyer said. “Sometimes we don’t buy the piece that is actually for display, but we end up buying something else.

“In the case of a gentleman three years ago — I believe he came in second or third — Paul Baliker, he did a driftwood sculpture. We bought the piece that was at ArtPrize, but when we went to pick it up at his studio, we found a piece that was even bigger and better in our minds, so we bought two pieces.”

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