Art All Around: A Guide to ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan | Midwest Living
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Art All Around: A Guide to ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Every autumn, some 400,000 people come to explore Grand Rapids’ famed ArtPrize. Experts tell us how to navigate the sprawling exhibition like a pro.

A basket of metal flowers—black-eyed Susans, Oriental lilies, daisies—stands as tall as the visitors outside the Holiday Inn. A mechanical pig with fangs and a barrel for its belly guards the multilevel entertainment venue known as The B.O.B. And elaborate windsock-like pieces in vibrant red, orange and gold catch the wind on the Blue Bridge. These are the faces of Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize, one of the most popular public art competitions in the world, drawing about 400,000 visitors over 19 days.


RoboPig, from 2010's ArtPrize. Photo by Johnny Quirin.

The annual multivenue art competition, held in 2016 from September 21 to October 9, infuses Grand Rapids, Michigan, with fresh public art installations. (So the pig from the past might be a steel chicken, an impressionistic painting of a three-layer cake or something else entirely this year.) Everyone is welcome to explore the 1,400 works of art spread over 3 square miles of downtown and cast a vote to determine the $200,000 Public Vote prizewinner. And, perhaps best of all, the exhibit doesn’t cost a penny to explore.

The Guide to ArtPrize

1. Think big. “Some people show up thinking it’s an art museum or a single-venue event,” says Justin Smith, a volunteer who has attended every ArtPrize since its inaugural 2009 show. So he points them to a map at the The ArtPrize HUB (on Sheldon Boulevard in downtown Grand Rapids) pinpointing the placement of every piece in the competition. A smart starting point, the HUB is a place to register to vote for favorite pieces and get ArtPrize maps, as well as advice on where to eat and drink.


Photo by Johnny Quirin.

2. Expect unexpected locations. Featured art hangs in the museums, galleries and art school, of course, but also in abandoned buildings and auto body shops—“every possible vacant or underutilized space, indoors and out,” says Todd Herring, ArtPrize director of creative and communications. The venues are just as much a part of the experience as the art, adds longtime volunteer Dee Tokarski, and many (like the windsocks on the Blue Bridge) are intertwined.

3. Come as you are. There’s no dress code, says Todd, even though you might end up in an upscale restaurant or a corporate headquarters. And you won’t find signs reading, Quiet, Please. Feel free to talk, laugh and discuss.

4. To save time, focus. Short on time or limited in mobility? Don’t let the scale keep you away. Justin recommends using the ArtPrize mobile app and following one of the five self-guided tours, called pathways. If you’re attending with kids, focus on outdoor art (so there’s room to run) and consider joining a family-friendly ArtPrize Lab (a hands-on creative activity).

Photo by Johnny Quirin.

5. Make a connection. Many of the artists hang out near their art, and they’re often happy to talk about the inspiration behind their entry. Want to support the artist beyond a vote? Some have pieces available for sale on-site and online.

For more information: artprize.org

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