The 'real' deliberations begin regarding ArtPrize

October 12, 2009
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ArtPrize went out with a bang, but it continues to generate plenty of the conversation its organizers expected.

Ran Ortner, an artistic surfer from Brooklyn, with his entry “Open Water No. 24,” glided away with the $250,000 top prize, but businesses and event coordinators were busy tallying the take from a two-week ignition of the local economy that was nowhere (at least not publicly) in the community’s plans at the start of the year.

Part of the chatter certainly has focused on the event’s longer-term impact on the arts community. A Business Journal online survey last week asked whether the competition’s ability to attract thousands of visitors to (primarily) downtown Grand Rapids will have a significant long-term impact on raising awareness about the arts community and its role in Grand Rapids. It’s obvious from the response that the jury’s still out.

As of Friday morning, 40 of the 68 respondents (58 percent) indicated the event will not have the desired long-term impact. While 18 respondents (26 percent) believed the activity would provide a long-term boost to the arts community, 10 (nearly 15 percent) agreed it will be too difficult to gauge the impact until the event is staged for at least one more year.

Affordable and artsy, with good teeth

Grand Rapids has often made the top 10 list of cities with the most affordable housing, but its move up to No. 5 last week was noted on the NBC “Today” show by National Association of Realtors representative Barbara Courtland. The “Shark Tank” co-star noted Grand Rapids was an “innovative” city — the “first to fluoridate its water,” and then noted the ArtPrize competition with photography of some of the entries, likely provided by its local affiliate.

Good for Michigan: Lansing held national rank as No. 3 on the most affordable housing list, with Courtland saying that Lansing was a community “big on small business” (we think so, too, in a taxing way) and noting the legislative tax incentives for the film industry. Saginaw also made the list at No. 10; Courtland appraised it as “an old lumber town” that had reinvented its downtown.

A distinguished honor

It’s not often a happy warrior gets recognized, but one recently was.

Dick Wendt, a legal counsel for many municipalities in his successful career and a longtime partner at Dickinson Wright, was honored by the Michigan Association of Municipal Attorneys last week for his significant contribution to “municipal governance and to the understanding and practice of municipal law.”

“You are a business partner in the truest sense of the word. I think of you as kind of a happy warrior,” said Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong to Wendt last week.

Wendt, currently counsel to the Downtown Development Authority and the Convention and Arena Authority, has helped put together more than 1,000 municipal bond issues in his career, including those that helped build Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place.

“I can’t think of anyone more deserving than Dick Wendt,” said former City Attorney Phil Balkema. Balkema relayed congratulations from past three-term mayor and attorney John Logie, who called Wendt a “solid counsel” and someone who has “tactful finesse with people.”

The MAMA award recognizes Wendt’s lifetime commitment to municipalities. “The MAMA doesn’t give many awards and it is with pride that we give this to Dick today,” said Bill Matthewson, association secretary and treasurer.

The day Wendt received the honor marked almost to the date his hiring as an assistant city attorney 35 years ago, back when Abe Drasin was Grand Rapids’ mayor.

“I have had the very good fortune to work with some great people who have made me smarter,” said Wendt. One of those people has to be Patsy Hooker, Wendt’s longtime assistant at the law firm. “I told Patsy that when she retires, I’ll retire,” he said.

Wendt received the award in a packed room at City Hall filled with his friends, colleagues and municipal officials. “It’s a recognition well deserved, and the (city) commission congratulates you, as well,” said Mayor George Heartwell.

The Silver Tsunami

As the baby boomer generation begins to exit the workplace, Andrea Harris, president of the North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development, says it means more than just jobs opening up.

“A lot tomorrow won’t look the way it did yesterday. We have to find different ways to harness the entrepreneurial interest and talent that our young people have. The workplace is going to change,” said Harris. “I happen to be a part of that age group that was born between 1946 and 1964, so I’m part of that baby boomer generation that’s retiring now. I have a friend who … calls us the Silver Tsunami.

“When you look at this Silver Tsunami who planned to retire in mass beginning last year, and because of the economy, might wait around just a little bit longer — but as this group retires, one of the challenges we have in this country is: How do we replace those skills, but also, what does this mean in the workplace? What are the opportunities that present themselves when you are able to connect more globally?

“When you have this large and growing older population that’s still engaged, is living longer and has a different set of needs, there are also market opportunities there. There are market opportunities in this diverse population that you have.”

Harris will be the keynote speaker at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Minority Business Celebration.

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