A City Becomes a Museum

The art world takes over downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan each year for an International art competition called Art Prize. This is the 5th annual year and is currently going on. Artists start setting up their art in mid to late August and the voting begins September 24 and ends October 12, 2014. The city is completely transformed throughout the duration of this event. One cannot walk a block without seeing any type of art. Each year art is displayed in all mediums, painting, sculpture, performance, etc… are all represented. This year there are 1,536 entries at 174 venues each falling within three square miles of the downtown area.

The competition began in 2009 as a kind of social experiment because it is one be the first of its kind. The creator and benefactor Rick DeVos was curious to see the outcome and response this type of event would have not only on the the city but also for the artists. There are two grand prize winners. One that is voted solely by popular vote from the public and the other is decided by a jury of art experts. Each of these grand prize winners will receive $200,000. There are also 8 other artist that could win. Two per category one chosen by the public and the other the jury chooses. These other categories are two-dimensional, three-dimensional, time-based, and installation. $20,000 is awarded to those 8 that win. This makes it one of the largest art prizes in the world.  This event is for everyone. Anyone can participate whether it is through voting or being an artist venue.

In 2009, the experiment turned out be a success. Hotels were fully booked and restaurants ran out of food just in the first week. Also the venue that hosted winning piece that year had around 80,000 visitors. Overall that first year there were over 100,000 visitors and 334,219 votes cast. This event was bigger than anyone could have ever expected. The winner in 2009 was Ran Ortner with a large scale painting of ocean waves, titled Open Water No. 24. Ortner went from not being able to pay the bills to being in newspapers around the world.

Ran Ortner, Open Water No. 24

Since 2009 there have been 1.7 million public votes cast and this number is only going to keep getting larger. 2014 alone includes 1,536 entries which represent 51 countries and 42 U.S. states and territories. In 2013 alone there were over 400,000 active participants. Thus, Art Prize has been a huge success and shows signs that it will keep growing over the years to come.

To give an idea of what other kinds of pieces are displayed and the various sizes here are some more pictures. Everything imaginable can be displayed and artists are encouraged to try out new ideas. The videos at the bottom of the post give an good overview of what has been exhibited over the past couple of years and what is currently around the city.

Joachim Jensen, Steam Pig, 2010

Robin Protz, Myth or Logic, 2013

Adonna Khare, Elephants, 2012

Grand Rapids fully embraces having Art Prize take over the city. It generates a lot of business for the local museums, galleries, and restaurants. On top of that it also is great exposure for artists. The city becomes a museum itself. Outdoor spaces such as Calder plaza, the Blue Bridge, and Canal Street Park all have curators. In fact, each space has a curator and team that helps make sure the pieces are being exhibited correctly. Each venue has certain specifications that the artist must put into consideration when displaying their works. Such as in the Calder Plaza there is a permanent Alexander Calder’s La Grande Vitesse and each piece needs to work around that. Also they cannot be within 20 feet of the La Grande Vitesse. Artists must also be preventative in making sure that the environment and venue are not harmed. For example, the art pieces cannot leave behind any rust on the plaza.

The VandenBerg (Calder) Plaza

Local museums such as the Grand Rapids Public Museum, Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, and the Grand Rapids Art Museum are venues. These museums help display the art in a manner using their knowledge of exhibition display. Often the curators for other locations are owners and curators of local galleries like Richard App who owns the Richard App Gallery and is the one curating the Calder Plaza. When those putting together the Art Prize venues have experience in exhibition design especially when they are putting together the outdoor spaces it makes the city a museum. It is an interactive museum that is accessible to everyone. There is public transportation around the city and the artwork is all within walking distance of each other.

The transformation of Grand Rapids to a Museum and Art Center rolled into one is a great thing to witness and draws in people from all over the globe. Not only does it exhibit the great aspects of the city, it encourages and teaches the viewers to get involved in art and the various things that one can do with art. The message of Art Prize is simply “For 19 days, three square miles of downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, become an open playing field where anyone can find a voice in the conversation about what art is and why it matters. Art from around the world pops up in every inch of downtown, and it’s all free and open to the public. It’s unorthodox, highly disruptive, and undeniably intriguing to the art world and the public alike”. Art Prize demonstrates this task with flying colors and each year it gets improved upon. Thus, even though it is an unconventional museum it is effective in its methods and execution. If you ever get the chance to come to Grand Rapids, Michigan during Art Prize do not pass it by because it is truly a great experience in totality.


One thought on “A City Becomes a Museum

  1. This was a fun read! I like that you chose to write about a very non-traditional idea of a museum. I have been to several art fairs, but never thought of them as museums. It is very intriguing to take the point of you suggest and interpret the fairs as museums. I especially enjoyed the idea of each outdoor space having its own curator. Including the local museums as venues is also a great way to improve museums’ missions of public service. I wonder if participating in the Art Prize event has affected museums’ attendance rates at other times of the year. Perhaps local visitors decide to only visit the museums during the Art Prize event and the museum attendance is hurt during other times of the year. Alternatively, the Art Prize even probably brings in many museum-goers that otherwise would not have visited these museums in Grand Rapids and in that case may not affect attendance at other times of the year.


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