How ArtPrize transformed Grand Rapids into an artful city

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – Since the launch of ArtPrize 13 years ago, the Grand Rapids art scene has grown and thrived.

Stroll through downtown Grand Rapids and you’ll find impressive sculptures and colorful murals. But you’ll also find art on gullies, barriers, electrical boxes and other unconventional canvases.

“I think one of the really cool things ArtPrize has done for the city of Grand Rapids is really opening the door to public art,” said Craig Searer, Executive Director of ArtPrize. “And that notion of art can be anywhere, and it can be anything.”

During the second competition in 2010, artist Jeff Zimmermann painted a seven-story mural on the Kendall College building entitled “You’re there.”

“This was one of the first large, impressive murals in Grand Rapids,” said Tara McCrackin, president of Ferris State University’s Kendall College of Art and Design. “Now there are literally (a) hundred murals in Grand Rapids.”

Jeff Zimmermann's You Are Here, a seven-story mural on the side of a Kendall College building in downtown Grand Rapids. The piece was installed during the second ArtPrize competition.
Jeff Zimmermann’s You Are Here, a seven-story mural on the side of a Kendall College building in downtown Grand Rapids. The piece was installed during the second ArtPrize competition.

The murals have beautified buildings, promoted education and “invite curiosity,” she said.

according to a Map compiled by grkids.commore than 100 murals are now scattered throughout the city.

“They have the murals in town, that’s a really cool thing we did. We have great sculptures: The last one Robert Indiana’s sculpture is this LOVE sculptureon Louis Campau Promenade across from Rosa Parks Circle, said Richard App, the retail retention specialist for the city of Grand Rapids. “It’s really cool to see how our landscape reflects what we do in the fall.”

Rovert Indiana's LOVE sculpture on the Louis Campau Promenade across from Rosa Parks Circle.
Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture on the Louis Campau Promenade across from Rosa Parks Circle.

“Nothing is taboo”

During the competition itself, ArtPrize has no rules as to what media artists can use.

“From a creative freedom perspective, nothing is taboo. It’s a really cool way to push all sorts of boundaries,” Searer said.

App has competed twice, first in the inaugural competition when he and a group of artists installed a sculpture of the Loch Ness Monster in the Grand River. It won sixth place.

“We wanted to put a Loch Ness monster in Reeds Lake the night before the triathlon for fun,” he said. Instead, he continued, “we were able to place it in the Grand River and it ended up on the front page of the New York Times.”

In 2017, App and artist Ryan Spencer Reed collaborated on a piece titled ‘oil+water’ who won in the installation category.

In his experience, ArtPrize has challenged artists, he said.

“You see a lot of that at ArtPrize with artists doing things that maybe they haven’t done in the past, but they’re challenging themselves,” he said. “The result is really cool things that we get to experience.”

ARTS COMMUNITY “STRENGTHENED”

When art moved into the city, so did the artists.

“I’ve seen artists move to Grand Rapids,” App said. “They looked around … People from San Francisco, from Dallas, from Boston, they come here and they say, ‘You know what, this city works, and it works for what I do.’

“Grand Rapids is growing significantly as a city, but we’re growing between 20 and 34 years. And that’s how we hit the sweet spot for a lot of artists.”

These artists join a community.

“ArtPrize is a great way to spread art in the community. There is a very vibrant arts community and ArtPrize celebrates that and recognizes the challenges that come with it,” said McCrackin.

Competitors visiting Grand Rapids for the competition come from all over the world.

“We really represented the whole world,” Searer said. “I think that opens eyes and ears to what’s going on — not just in our community, but around the world.”

The massive art competition has also attracted people from other walks of life, such as technology, and helped companies recruit. Say local business leaders. According to Rick Baker, President and CEO of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, ArtPrize has increased the city’s “brand awareness” both nationally and globally.

“On a national (and) global level, it brings brand awareness of who Grand Rapids is to people who may have never considered coming here in the past,” Baker explained. “All these artists coming from all over the world… going back and telling their circles of influence about their experiences and about our community.”

At Kendall College, which has hosted a curated exhibition since the beginning of each ArtPrize, members of the school have the opportunity to see exhibitions in a new light.

“I think it gives faculty and staff an opportunity to think about exhibition spaces in new ways,” McCrackin said. “A lot of them have solo art shows and then have a piece in the ArtPrize. … It’s a different kind of exhibition. It’s a different kind of audience.”

ART, MADE TOUCHABLE

Mallory Shotwell, the director of the gallery and artist resource center Care forsaid ArtPrize has encouraged non-artists to start conversations about art.

“One of the things I think we … love about ArtPrize is that people who don’t usually go to an art gallery, or those who do, are all talking about art and the conversation is art-focused,” she said .

Cultivate partnered with ArtPrize this year to help with that education days. Put it together three journals for students K-12 and has hosted drop-in workshops for the community.

Art on a painted barrier on Monroe Center Street near Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids.
Art on a painted barrier on Monroe Center Street near Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids.

“(ArtPrize) brings so much life and vitality and makes art accessible,” said McCrackin, the president of Kendall College. “Sometimes the most accessible art is behind a door that isn’t as inviting.”

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Click here to learn more about ArtPrize.

The competition “literally took the conversation about art to the streets,” said Chamber President and CEO Baker.

“Personally, I enjoy walking around downtown and passing by (the) diverse…audience that the ArtPrize attracts and they have conversations about art in our community. And because of that, I think there’s really heightened conversation about art happening in our community in a way that’s never happened before,” he said. “It’s really a great value to our community.”

“Art is about responding to the culture and events of our world and challenging us to think in new ways,” McCrackin said. “ArtPrize definitely does. And it brings so much life to the city.”

https://www.woodtv.com/news/artprize/how-artprize-turned-grand-rapids-into-an-art-filled-city/ How ArtPrize transformed Grand Rapids into an artful city

Dais Johnston

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