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September 25, 2014 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 2014-09-25

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U The Michigan Daily I michigandaily.com I Thursday, September 25, 2014

The world of contemporary art
has historically been dominated by a
small sliver of individuals: art cura-
tors, writers, and aficionados. The
conversation about this fast grow-
ing field is expanding, catalyzed by
events that allow contemporary art
to be more accessible to the general
population. In Michigan, the Grand
Rapids ArtPrize, a radical, in-your-
face international art competition
with the goal of promoting discourse
over contemporary art, has pushed
boundaries to bring the medium into
its rightful place in the sun.
ArtPrize was founded in 2009
by Grand Rapids native Rick DeVos
III, son of 2006 gubernatorial can-
didate Dick DeVos II, and. a small
group that wanted to find a way to
bring contemporary art to a histori-
cally conservative city. The concept
was masterfully simple: encour-
age contemporary artists to make
agreements with downtown venues,
which could range from an actual
museum to a small family-owned
shop, and create a work of art to
compete for a grand prize. The only
qualifications are that the artists
must be over 18 years old and that
the venues are within the dictated
ArtPrize district. Otherwise, anyone
can participate.
Exhibitions Director Kevin Buist
has been with the organization since

the beginning. Since ArtPrize is
independently organized between
the artists and the venues, who con-
nect on ArtPrize's website, Buist's
role is to provide support for the col-
laborative process as well as orga-
nize speakers and the judges for the
event. Since Buist has been with the
organization since 2009, he's seen
how ArtPrize has grown in the last
five years.
"It was really disruptive. People
loved it, people hated it, people
didn't know what to think about it,"
Buist said about the 2009 event. "It
was very radical because the criteria
was very open, anybody could be an
artist and any place in downtown
Grand Rapids could be a venue."
Buist noted that there remains
a very stark distinction between
contemporary art and other artistic
media, which is what ArtPrize aims
to change.
"(ArtPrize) operated as a foil to
how things typically work in the
contemporary art world," Buist said.
"Even very cultured people don't
really know what's going on in that
weird little world, which I think is a
problem. We really wanted to cross
those wires, to open up that conver-
sation again and get this exchange
happening across those various divi-
sionsthat have formed naturally over
the years, and the public vote opened

that and opened alot of debate."
The artists who participate inArt-
Prize have come from nearly every
state and more than 30 countries in
the past. In 2013, there were 1,524
art entries, which ultimately boiled
down to participation at 169 venues.
400,000 visitors came to ArtPrize
last year from across the state and
the world.
Originally, ArtPrize awards were
solely based on public vote. In 2010,
Juried Awards were implemented
alongside the Public Vote Awards,
adding an interesting distinction
between what the public voted for
and what art experts liked. New
for 2014 is a restructured prize sys-
tem with five awards for both the
Public and Juried Prizes: Two-
dimensional, Three-dimensional,
Time-based, and Installation prizes,
each for $20,000, and two $200,000
grand prizes. Placing the public vote
against the jury vote has become a
central component of the event, add-
ing an intentional tension between
the two.
Todd Herring is Director of Mar-
keting and Communications at Art-
Prize, and oversees the planning and
execution of the event's awards and
manages critical discourse events,
print materials and the general art
design for promotional materials.
He joined the ArtPrize team in 2011

after attending the event in 2009 and
volunteering in 2010.
"What's changed with ArtPrize is
the nature in how people engage the
event and explore it," Herring said.
"The idea of this conversation about
art and why it matters is something
that is always relevant and always
surprisingly accessible. It's changed,
for a lot of people, how they view
contemporary art."
Through the event's focus on
community-based interaction, Todd
noted the ease with which commu-
nity members can become involved,
whether through voting, providing
a venue for an exhibition, or simply
attending and enjoying the art.
"Play that out over six years and
what you have is 400,000 visitors
who are ready for that experience
and are looking forward to the abil-
ity to participate in the conversa-
tion," Herring said. "They're more
willing to yield to the artists and
what they're trying to accomplish
through their work. What ends up
happening is a strange, beautiful
meeting that was called to order by
a basic inspiration to be creative and
Historically, Grand Rapids and
west Michigan have been a bastion
of political and social conservatism
which, on its face, might be expected
to clash with ArtPrize's support for

radical, disruptive art. Both Herring
and Buist noted that while the politi-
cal orientation of everyone involved
in ArtPrize is incredibly varied,
everyone is willing to invest in
things that will change and impact
the Grand Rapids community. This
diversity allows for administrative
decision-making to go through many
opinions and find the best solution
to please everyone. In terms of the
art that is featured and the reac-
tions visitors have to it, that at least
is beyond the control of the ArtPrize
staff and completely relies on the
individual artists, which is part of
the exciting beauty of the event.
"(ArtPrize) can be quite explo-
sive at times, and it's a really excit-
ing thing to watch," Herring said.
"It's the artist's job to tell us what's
wrong with the world and what's
changed in the world, and they do
that very much here. There have
been very controversial projects
that support and bring to life every
possible political view that you can
"What you end up getting is hav-
ing the understanding that artists
have a lot to say and they do so in
a way that's different than what the
news media does, and is different
than what you see in anywhere else
in the world."
See ARTPRIZE, Page 38


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