New strategies drive ArtPrize growth


Visitors fill streets across downtown Grand Rapids each year for ArtPrize. Photo by Michael Buck

Todd Herring compares this year’s ArtPrize to igneous rock, the porous rocks formed from lava.

The ArtPrize marketing director said several of the new additions to the seventh installment of the internationally renowned event are to help more people feel welcomed.

“We want to give everyone an access point,” Herring said. “Film buffs can start with the Waterfront Film Festival, music fans can head to St. Cecilia.

“It’s not enough to just have the doors open. You need programming that draws people in.”

New programming is driving the growth of ArtPrize this year, with expansive nightly programming under the moniker ArtPrize Tonight, a new satellite location with SiTE:LAB’s exhibit at Rumsey Street and new neighborhood separation strategies.

In the past, ArtPrize has had several exhibition centers and showcase venues that were funded by ArtPrize through sponsorships. This year, ArtPrize has placed $220,000 worth of grants throughout many of its 165 venues. The grants are in a variety of categories, including artist seed grants, pitch night winners from several sites across the country, venues and fellowships for emerging curators.

Maps and banners across town will signify changes in seven ArtPrize neighborhoods. Herring said color coordination will help make the 165 dots on the map a bit more manageable. The seven neighborhoods are Hillside, Heartside, Westside, Monroe North, Meijer Gardens, Rumsey Street and City Center.

“Maybe it will get them to go a little bit further than they would have before," Herring said of the neighborhood boundaries. "Hopefully, compartmentalizing will make people feel more comfortable in exploring.”

There will be five walking paths marked throughout the neighborhoods. The goal of the paths is to get people to explore ArtPrize beyond the gathering point of city center.

“People don’t necessarily feel comfortable moving to parts of the city they don’t know,” Herring said. “This gives them the breadcrumbs to go to the next spot. We hope people stray and create their own ArtPrize experiences.”

ArtPrize Tonight will be highlighted by the return of the Critical Discourse series. The six discussions will be held on the ArtPrize HUB stage, beginning with the Jurors Shortlist event at 7 p.m., Monday, Sept. 28. The presentation will be broadcast live on WOOD TV8 and features the category jurors presenting and discussing the five nominees who are vying for $12,500 in each category.

On Sept. 29, several art experts from across the Midwest will discuss the challenges and opportunities markets have in being far from the coastal art centers during “Unapologetically Midwest: Artist-Run Art Spaces.” The executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, Leatrice Eiseman, also will talk about the future of color and design trends.

On Oct. 2, “Reflecting the Times: Art & Activism” will include two panelists from ARTS.BLACK, Creative Time and the artist Dread Scott talking about how civic rights interacts with contemporary art.

“Why These Finalists?” will be presented Oct. 5 and 6. A panel of three experts each night will discuss the juried and public finalists for $500,000 worth of prizes. One night will discuss the 2-D and installation entries and the other will focus on the 3-D and time-based works. The two panel discussions will be broadcast live on WOOD TV8.

The rest of ArtPrize Tonight will showcase the Waterfront Film Festival, debuting for the first time this year during ArtPrize. ArtPrize on Stage captures everything else, according to Herring. Programming includes events at venues such as The B.O.B., Civic Theatre, SpeakEZ Lounge and The Pyramid Scheme.

Also new this year is The Eddy, a 4,000-person venue located next to the Grand River and Monroe Avenue. The tent will be home to concerts, including the Oct. 3 Avett Brothers show. It will also offer food trucks, beer and art installations.

Herring said when The Eddy’s production company, Porterhouse, sets it up in various cities, it chooses a site close to water to call attention to a resource most places depend on.

“It’s a giant tent at the largest uninterrupted green space downtown,” Herring said. “The tent itself is art in the way it’s lit up.”

In addition to the new space along the river, ArtPrize is heading to the southwest side of town with SiTE:LAB’s location for the next two years on Rumsey Street. SiTE:LAB is a three-time ArtPrize winner of Outstanding Venue.

Kevin Buist, ArtPrize exhibitions director, said officials have been thinking for some time about expanding the event’s boundaries beyond the 3-square-mile downtown area and the Meijer Gardens satellite venue.

He said the southwest side of town has a large Hispanic population, which aligns with a goal to attract more of this growing demographic.

“We want everyone to be welcome and we realized some members feel natural coming to ArtPrize, but there are other members of the community that don’t feel as automatically welcomed,” Buist said. “When SiTE:LAB came up, it (blended) well with our goals of reaching out to some areas in our community to improve access to the event and the arts and make sure everyone in town feels welcome.”

SiTE:LAB will partner with Habitat for Humanity for two years of exhibitions. Parts of the neighborhood will be demolished in two years, allowing for some experimentation by artists. Next year, the art at SiTE:LAB will become even more experimental.

“Their normal spaces are in periods of transition and they work well with property developers and can get the space when it’s in transition or on the way to becoming something else,” Buist said. “They use that transitional moment and raw space. They’re excited about inviting artists who can be more extreme.”

He said, for example, last year artists weren’t able to do such things as knock a hole in Morton House, the 2014 SiTE:LAB.

Buist said the organizers hope to draw on the influence of artist Gordon Matta-Clark, who does interesting work with houses and buildings.

“They’re in dialogue with this segment of the art world that’s interested in radical alteration,” Buist said. “They’re the people to do it.”

The continuation of introducing new forms of art is what ArtPrize is all about, and something it’s done since the beginning.

Grand Rapids Art Museum Director Dana Friis-Hansen feels ArtPrize has made a significant cultural change in Grand Rapids and said it can be seen in how people vote and can be heard in how they talk about art.

“At first it was about how big it was and how many pencils it took to draw it,” Friis-Hansen said. “It’s the kind of conversations you hear and the advances that have been made in the expectations of people and how they vote.”

As people become better acquainted with ArtPrize, there is less of a buzz building up prior to its arrival in the city. Herring said he feels the type of excitement caused by the annual event has changed.

“It was distracting, the grand nature of it,” he said. “The bigness was overwhelming, and now people know what they’re in for. But Grand Rapids residents are always startled by it.”

As ArtPrize matures and weaves further into the Grand Rapids community, Friis-Hansen said there are growing generations of people who are excited about the event year after year.

“Now, there could be 5-year-olds arguing about what’s different,” he said. “Art is becoming a part of people’s lives.”

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