Judith Braun- As Above- Final 20 2-D Finalist

The Interesting, Mostly Unknown History of ArtPrize

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This guest post is authored by Christian Gaines, Executive Director, ArtPrize

ArtPrize Eight, the most attended public art event on the planet, kicks off September 21 and ends October 9, 2016.  The interesting thing about ArtPrize, the brainchild of Grand Rapids web entrepreneur Rick DeVos, is that it began in 2009 as an experiment. Like all experiments, whether it would succeed or fail was unknown at the time. However, the idea was exciting and different enough to get core support from the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, and local business and foundation support soon followed. That initial support allowed us to announce a spectacular cash prize – the largest art prize in the world.  It also allowed us to develop proprietary technology to power the event and produce and deliver an event at a high level.

What existed was a  hope and desire to create a signature event for the city of Grand Rapids, while challenging and disrupting the way the general public had been conditioned to approach and understand art, and the way that the formal contemporary art world was serving it up to them — with curatorial reverence. We said: “what if instead of making people understand the importance of art, we made the people important to the art?”

We were expecting, in that first year, a few dozen venues and perhaps a few hundred artists. No one expected 159 venues and over 1,200 artists, let alone nearly 200,000 visitors! That first year, restaurants ran out of food and had to close down! Since then, we have been on a path to total financial sustainability.  Today, thanks to supporters like the DTE Energy Foundation, around 65% of our funding comes from corporate sponsorship, around 20% from grants and foundations and the rest from earned income in areas like membership and merchandise.

As we’ve matured (we will be celebrating our 10th anniversary in 2018), we have doubled down on what works and we haven’t been afraid to change in order to make sure that we disrupt patterns of predictability to keep ArtPrize fun and fresh and as relevant as possible to the community and its many stakeholders. We do this in part by holding true to a mission and a set of guiding principles.

For more information about planning your trip to Grand Rapids, ArtPrize Eight’s featured artists, how to vote for your favorite art when you get there, and more, visit artprize.org.

Editors note: DTE Energy Foundation is a Leadership Sponsor of ArtPrize Eight.