After months of anticipation and preparation, ArtPrize, a citywide art competition in Grand Rapids, Mich., opened its polls on Sept. 23. The colossal undertaking includes 1,262 pieces of art displayed in 159 venues around the city, including restaurants, storefronts, vacant warehouses, parking lots, pedestrian bridges and parks.
Unlike a juried art competition, ArtPrize - a new endeavor for the city - is entirely democratic. Entry was open to all, provided an artist could secure a Grand Rapids venue, and the winners (who receive generous cash awards) will be chosen by popular crowd vote. And, yeah, ArtPrize has drawn plenty of comparisons to American Idol.
The competition drew entries from around the world, with the heaviest concentration naturally coming from Michigan. I've been casually monitoring the contest's progression since its announcement early this spring and a cursory glance reveals that quite a few Florida residents are participating in the competition, including Liesa Robarge of Big Pine Key, Robert Lebron of Viera and Eric Elliot of Naples, among others.
Full disclosure: I first heard about ArtPrize because I lived in Grand Rapids for six years before moving to South Florida this past January. The project interests me, in part, because it has utterly transformed and overtaken my former hometown, but primarily because it has started a massive conversation about art.
It's also worth noting - in light of Kelli Bodle's recent Perspectives entry about the decline in mainstream and traditional resources for arts journalism - that ArtPrize and art have consistently made headlines in West Michigan in the months leading up to the implementation of this project. Does this coverage focus more on the "hype," than scholarly critique? Sure. But how else would a (mostly) positive story about the state-of-the-arts get such press coverage?
Without seeing the execution of ArtPrize in person, it's difficult, if not impossible, to formulate a fair and accurate judgment of the success of the event or of the overall quality of the entries. Regardless, one can certainly contemplate the larger, more universal questions raised by the project, such as:
What qualifies someone to be an artist? What constitutes art?
Is the general public capable of choosing "the best" entry from the hundreds of options?
Does such a contest - in which voters can cast votes via Twitter and the like - cheapen art, or does it serve to heighten the importance of art in everyday life?
I can see why the event has attracted some naysayers, but it's hard to look down on something that has the power to motivate lots of people to create, look at, experience, talk about and think about art. Granted, the quality of the individual entries might be all over the place, but would people's time be better spent at home, with the latest episode of Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami instead of exploring a city and viewing lots of art?
What are your thoughts on an open art competition of this nature? Please feel free to leave comments below. We're especially curious to hear what artists have to say about ArtPrize and the notion of voting for the "best" piece.
Watch a video of last minute preparations for ArtPrize
An easily digested, firsthand synopsis of the event
Scenes from ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Mich. Both images belong to Plounsbury. Use of these photographs does not, in any way, constitute an endoresment by the artist, who retains full rights of these images.