It’s not too soon to think about ArtPrize’s milestone in 2018


ArtPrize Nine has packed up, and our city begins to relax. Merchants, club owners and restaurateurs breathe a sigh of release, total up their profits and start preparing for fall events and the Christmas season.

It's hard for us not to enjoy ArtPrize despite the crowds and the craziness because the festival/competition generates a colossal amount of money each year for our city — and always provokes huge social buzz and monster civic participation. It's helpful to remember, though, that next year ArtPrize will revel in its 10th anniversary — surely a milestone in anyone's festival chapbook. After nine years, there's much that has come clear about ArtPrize and that probably needs to be said before its 10th anniversary. I've observed and written about many global arts festivals over the past decade in my work with international nongovernment organizations (NGOs), and I'd like to share one observation here about this ninth iteration of "the world’s most-attended art event" because I think this is the right time the ArtPrize organizers do something about it: building an ArtPrize legacy.

One thing I always look for when studying global arts fests is the attention that organizers pay to their history. I was reminded of this last summer in Venice in the Biennale's Library in the Arsenale. Browsing through this site, it occurred to me ArtPrize also probably has generated a body of material that could be collected and offered to the public in this way: programs from back years; video recordings of artists' and critics' conversations; photos of artwork, events and activities; keynote speeches; press articles; and similar materials. The Biennale Library also contains a "Book Pavilion," containing books and magazines donated by artists they consider significant for their work.

The Biennale's second site, The Historical Archives of Contemporary Art located on the mainland in Porto Marghera, contains arts management material — documents outlining partnerships with other institutions and festivals, records of collaboration with individuals and businesses, arrangements for educational programs, etc.

This kind of ArtPrize collection would be a great gift to the city, to its artists and to arts programs at our local universities. High school and university faculty could use those resources for research, for training librarians, for assigning student projects, teaching aesthetics and writing art criticism. Emerging artists could access the collection for ideas, advice and innovative approaches to pursue. GVSU, Hope College and KCAD certainly have the facilities, the library science staff and the resources to build and house such a collection. And ArtPrize might even assign a few of its digital wizards to help with the task. If nothing else, such a collection would lend ArtPrize a mantle of seriousness, dignity and importance that it presently lacks.

ArtPrize, hopefully, will remain our bedfellow for many more years. It already has become a major driver in our city's cultural life, and a raft of studies here in the United States and abroad testify to the key role that the arts are playing nowadays in renewing our urban landscapes and strengthening the quality of life in our communities. Our local schools, critics and artists surely deserve the kind of support that an ArtPrize archive and library can offer them. Perhaps next year, we can start to build a solid legacy for this wonderful event by pulling together all the factoids, bulleted lists, financial reports, journal articles, photos and everything else that now lie scattered in so many places.

ArtPrize Nine has packed up, but already, ArtPrize 10 is coming ’round the mountain!

Roger Ellis is a professor of theatre at Grand Valley State University. He has published 16 books on the contemporary theatre, as well as numerous articles on global arts festivals in international journals. He served for nine years on the Executive Committee of the International Amateur Theatre Association, helping to organize global arts festivals, leading performance workshops and observing best practices in festivals on four continents.

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