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What is ArtPrize and Why Should I Care?

I first heard murmurings of ArtPrize two years ago from my Michigan friends. From what I understood, it was a sort of street festival with art that a lot of people liked to go to. Last year I had a friend who displayed at ArtPrize, and this year was my first opportunity to see a bit of it firsthand. First of all, I’m ticked I had to leave before ArtPrize officially kicks off this Wednesday and, secondly, I can’t believe I’ve lived in Indiana all this time and have never been. (This year marks the 5th year of ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan.)

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 is art 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.

Anyone over the age of 18 can submit a piece of art (and believe me, the art can be anything!) and through ArtPrize, venues in Grand Rapids are able to work together with artists to collaborate and create tiny little galleries and corners of art all over downtown Grand Rapids. When I arrived late Friday night, there were already some sculptures in the lobby of my hotel. Saturday night, an 11′ lit winged woman floated past the restaurant I was having dinner at. As I left breakfast on Sunday morning there were four men in the middle of the river putting together giant metal rods, as miles of painted canvas lined the Riverwalk. The best part is that this is art for anyone, the winning piece, the one that takes the $200,000 prize is decided by the public. Voting is done through a smartphone app and is geolocated, so only people at ArtPrize can vote.

First year’s attendance was around 250,000 people, and this year more than a half a million people are expected to descend upon Grand Rapids for 19 days of art everywhere. Many of the pieces are for sale and, depending on when you’re around, there’s a very good chance you could run into the artist themselves. I took myself on a little walking tour of downtown on Saturday (four days before the official start of ArtPrize) and these are just a few of the pieces I found (there was a whole lot more but most didn’t have artist information displayed yet). You can see all the entries (and past winners) here, from a 26′ dragon on wheels that breathes fire to a 72′ painting of a banana split.

  • A Tiny Peek at ArtPrize 1 of 18
    cover

    Art, art, everywhere!

  • ‘Life of Lyfe’ by Jarid Lyfe Brown 2 of 18
    lyfe

    This one was...unique. The buffalo carrying the emaciated zebra? There was certainly a lot to look at, and anyone could read everything on each of the 6 canvases and take away a different meaning.

    Find out more about the paintings here.

  • ‘Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man’ by Roger Bruinekool 3 of 18
    faces

    This one was 15 feet long and crazy to look at. The way bits and pieces of the faces came together made a much bigger impression than looking at dozens of faces side by side.

    Find out more about the piece here.

  • ‘Disciples of the Spectacle’ by Laura VanCamp 4 of 18
    butts-1

    My friends said this one looks like a locker room after Bikram yoga.

    Find out more about the piece here.

  • ‘No Title’ by Patrick McKearnan 5 of 18
    toddler

    This was a four part sculpture installation, a chubby little toddler (above), an apathetic-looking older woman and man (both nekkid), as well as a scary skinny man (also quite nekkid.) Part of me is glad there was no artist statement, which left it open to interpretation, while other parts of me wishes I knew what his intention on creating was.

    Find out more about the piece here.

  • ‘Reaction’ by (and with) Mark Schentzel 6 of 18
    reaction

    Mark was installing his piece outdoors when I asked if I could take his photo. He's a senior at Kelly and this was his first presentation at ArtPrize.

    Find out more about the piece here.

  • ‘Siberian Tiger’ (in yarn) by Stephanie Wiles 7 of 18
    tiger

    The work involved in this one is mindblowing, yet at the same time it had this feeling of an arts and crafts project. Whatever you think, I can tell you I don't have even the slightest amount of skill to pull this off.

    Find out more about the piece here.

  • ‘Sharon’s Rose’ by Lindy Crandell 8 of 18
    rose

    After visiting so many traditional art museums, comparing traditional oil paintings to some strange modern art, it was refreshing to see that the art of realistic oil painting is still alive and well.

    Find out more about this piece here.

  • ‘Moonlight Sonata over the J-Dub’ by Kyle Ragsdale 9 of 18
    jdub

    I love this one, I want a print of it hanging in my daughter's room. The colors and the whimsical nature of the bear and little girl in a tutu at the front of the room. Love. Even better? He lives in my town and is friends with one of my best friends.

    Find out more about the piece here.

  • ‘Monty, a Dog Gone Dragon’ by John Andrews 10 of 18
    dragon

    John Andrews had a dragon displayed last year as well, and this little guy (well, big guy) could easily be the most photographed piece of ArtPrize this year. I'll be following along on Instagram to see!

    Find out more about this piece here.

  • ‘Taking Flight’ by Michael Gard 11 of 18
    taking flight

    While this one will be installed for the duration of ArtPrize, the artist was walking it around downtown under a giant balloon on Saturday and it's one of the coolest things I've ever seen. I'm hoping it does well, because I've never seen anything like it.

    Find out more about the piece here.

  • ‘Who’s Who???’ By Kenn Vidro 12 of 18
    who

    This one was fun and colorful, with costumed little owls that form a riddle.

    Find out more about the piece here.

  • ‘Wall-Eye’ by Martin Schnur 13 of 18
    wall eye

    At first I just thought it was stuffed fish in a sort of port-hole.

    Then I read the title, 'Wall-Eye' and I GOT IT.

    It's an eye! A fish eye! On the wall! Punny and interesting.

    Find more about the piece here.

  • ‘Gluttony’ by Troy Fryfogel 14 of 18
    gluttony

    Skull or homeless man? You decide.

    Find out more about the piece here.

  • ‘Spheres’ by Eric Broekhuis 15 of 18
    spheres

    Paper cutting seem simple enough, but do it right and it can produce some amazing visual effects and art.

    Find out more about the piece here.

  • ‘Civil War Soldiers’ by Shayne Davidson 16 of 18
    soldiers

    This piece held my attention the longest, reading the story of each soldier and looking into the faces that Davidson had so expertly drawn from tiny little black and white photographs. Their stories were haunting, especially one about a 15-year-old boy who lied to get into the military. He was just a little boy. I hope this one gains a lot of momentum and attention far beyond ArtPrize.

    Find out more about this piece here.

  • ‘Horizon Beneath the Sea’ by Karen Turckes 17 of 18
    water

    I would hang this one on my wall. It gives me the image of the way sun shines through the water onto the sand below when snorkeling in turquoise waters. Up close it was just as good as being underwater. Lovely.

    Find out more about the piece here.

  • ‘Poverty is the Worst Form of Violence’ by Christopher Moran 18 of 18
    poverty

    Ah, politics in art. I don't really have an opinion on this one, just that it seems very accurate of where a lot of art has gone these days.

    Find out more about the piece here.

ArtPrize really is art for everyone. It isn’t stuffy, it isn’t snooty, it’s accessible, exciting, creative, and real. If you’re within driving distance, it’s a must see, and certainly worth working into your schedule in subsequent years. ArtPrize starts tomorrow, Wednesday, September 18th, and runs through October 6th. Visit Grand Rapids’ official visitor’s site to get the total inside scoop on ArtPrize!

Find more of Casey’s writing on her blog moosh in indy or her Babble Voices site Shutterlovely. She’s also available on twitter, facebook, flickr and Instagram. If you can’t find her any of those places? Check the couch, she’s probably taking a nap.

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