Soul of the community exposed in spirited ArtPrize

September 21, 2009
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ArtPrize will certainly dominate this community over the coming weeks, and that alone accomplishes the goal set by its creator Rick DeVos. When he announced plans in April for an art competition, the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art board member noted the goal was to create a community conversation about art.

This week, artists from 22 countries and twice as many U.S. states converge with varied forms of art, from a giant “Furniture City” creation atop the Blue Bridge to paintings in local institutions and galleries. They are all vying for a piece of the $449,000 in prize money, to be determined by voters using social media and who must register in Grand Rapids to cast a ballot.

The list of renowned dignitaries coming to Grand Rapids to witness the event is no less stimulating.

Many in this practical and industrious business community will measure hotel occupancy, restaurant patronage and other monetary gains, but none of those measures can come close to the opportunity for this community to market itself and to expose those attributes that under-gird its success for all to see.

AIGA Executive Director Ric Grefé was in Grand Rapids from New York City last week and carried a similar message to design professionals (see the story on page 4).

Grefé said, “Looking at West Michigan from a distance, it’s got an immense amount of creative talent. There are incredible case studies in West Michigan that ought to see the light of day that are examples of how design is used to create value.”

Business owners have to stop working long enough to tell others.

Other community leaders have suggested that ArtPrize could have a galvanizing impact on those who call West Michigan home. One can hope that it will drive greater participation to the artistic institutions that call Grand Rapids home, and create a desire to participate on nonprofit boards, not just in the line of the community’s expectation for involvement, but for the passion the individual has for the mission of those boards.

Others will measure the impact by increases in membership to local cultural institutions by local residents. And some find in it hope that K-12 educational institutions will see what value art has in teaching children how to think creatively and thereby learn to solve problems.

That is exemplified along the Medical Mile and the expanding Van Andel Institute. The VAI building itself, created by architect Rafael Vinoly, is often inspiration to the scientists and researchers within, who share their excitement about working “in the light” rather than in a basement laboratory.

The elders of the DeVos family have signatured the buildings of the corridors of the downtown in another form of creativity. The ArtPrize creator has given it soul.

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