City gives ArtPrize founder an award

October 19, 2010
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After ArtPrize founder Rick DeVos presented the event’s top award to Grand Rapids native Chris LaPorte for his “Calvary, American Officers, 1921” pencil drawing, last week Grand Rapids city commissioners decided to return the favor — with a highly respected work of art.

They presented DeVos and ArtPrize Executive Director Bill Holsinger-Robinson with a miniature version of “La Grande Vitesse,” the Alexander Calder stabile that has become the city’s symbol.

First Ward Commissioner Walt Gutowski, who sat in for a vacationing Mayor George Heartwell at the presentation, called the award the highest honor the city can give.

“You basically have taken us to the next level,” said Gutowski when he presented the award to DeVos. “You have not only given us an art gallery, you have also given our city manager a platform to borrow to transform the city.”

DeVos told commissioners he had no idea ArtPrize would turn into such a big event, and he gave credit to others for making that happen. “We’re just the catalysts,” he said. “It’s really the artists and venues that make this a success.”

The city, the Downtown Alliance and the Downtown Development Authority all were active in ArtPrize, as all three were community partners in the event. For instance, the DDA sponsored or co-sponsored seven public venues. The board designated $25,000 to ArtPrize this year, about twice the amount it gave last year.

“On a contract basis, we engaged two professional curators to manage the selection and installation of the art for these public spaces, and (we) will be reimbursing some of the artists for a portion of their installation expenses. Staff was also involved in problem-solving various issues that arose at these public sites,” said DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler. “We also arranged to have the landscaping improved in two locations to help the overall appearance of downtown and the art.”

The DDA has joined Experience Grand Rapids and the economics department at Grand Valley State University in an attempt to measure ArtPrize’s economic impact for the city. Last year, that impact was estimated at roughly $7 million, but attendees were not interviewed about how much they felt they had spent during the event. Fowler said this year GVSU students spoke with at least 80 attendees in hopes of getting a better grasp on consumer spending. A preliminary report, which hasn’t been verified, had ArtPrize drawing 450,000 people downtown during its 19-day run.

“It’s difficult to determine the economic impact,” Fowler said. “We will be meeting shortly to begin understanding the data and to begin the follow-up work to improve data collection for next year.”

Kent County Commissioner Jim Talen, who represents the county on the DDA and the downtown district on the county board, told the Business Journal last week that he wasn’t completely convinced last year that the DDA should have supported ArtPrize financially.

“This year I was more comfortable with it. Now I think it’s essential for the DDA to step up to the plate on an ongoing basis. I’m not sure that we can do it; it’s not brick and mortar. But it’s certainly as big a boost to downtown as anything else I can think of that we do,” he said.

“Everyone I talked to that was involved with a downtown business reported record sales, tips, etc. If the organizers can keep up the momentum, it has the potential to be huge in making Grand Rapids an attractive place to live and visit,” added Talen.

Progressive Urban Management Associates President Brad Segal, who is conducting the DDA’s plan for future investment in the district, sent one of his associates here to get a handle on ArtPrize and the affect it had on downtown. And the report he received was very positive.

“It wasn’t just the art; it also was what it does to your downtown,” said Segal, whose firm is based in Denver, of the broad and family-oriented demographic that came downtown. “It was the type of event that cities are looking for. It was a special event.”

Experience Grand Rapids Marketing Vice President Janet Korn said the bureau would be getting the data on hotel occupancy for September from Smith Travel Research this week. But she wasn’t certain how many of the room nights could be attributed to ArtPrize because hotel operators normally don’t ask guests what brings them here.

“We had several large conventions and lots of convention and group business during ArtPrize. But our hotels are all reporting really great September business,” she said, adding the bureau would have the October occupancy and revenue numbers in mid-November.

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