Second ArtPrize draws superlatives from downtown business owners

February 6, 2011
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As far as downtown merchants and restaurant owners are concerned, the single biggest economic boost they received last year came from the second annual 19-day event called ArtPrize.

“Last year (2009), it was great. This year made last year look non-existent. Our sales numbers are through the roof, compared to last year. I couldn’t ask for anything better, and I can’t emphasize that enough,” said Doug Bickel, manager of Groskopf’s Luggage & Gifts, in October. “ArtPrize is the best event downtown has ever had.”

Mark Sellers, who owns and operates five downtown restaurants with his wife, Michele, agreed. “Our sales are almost double what they are during that three-week period. For instance, in the first year HopCat was open, we did X amount. In 2009, which was the first year of ArtPrize, we did X plus about 60 percent. Then in 2010, we did X plus about 80 percent. That three-week period has become really important to our bottom line throughout the full year,” he said.

Jason O’Brien and Mike Rizzo, two economics majors at Grand Valley State University, gauged the economic impact of the 2010 ArtPrize by interviewing more than 850 adults. They estimated it added between $3.8 million and $8.1 million to the economy. “While these figures are not large compared to the West Michigan economy, much of the local cultural and economic impact of ArtPrize will occur over the long run,” read their report.

ArtPrize released a few year-ending figures in December. Expenses totaled roughly $2.8 million. Revenues weren’t revealed. But the 192 venues paid $100 each to participate, while the 1,713 artists each paid a $50 registration fee. The total for both came to $104,850. Plus more than 140 businesses, individuals and foundations sponsored the event across six sponsorship levels, with the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation serving as the presenting sponsor. The foundation covered the difference between expenses and revenues and also put up the $449,000 in prize money. Other groups covered the cost of the juried awards.

But for the event’s founder, Rick DeVos, and his right-hand man, Executive Director Bill Holsinger-Robinson, the event is about more than money and economics.

“The engagement of the community continues to be at the forefront of ArtPrize’s success. It is amazing to learn of school programs that are being developed and the local outreach aimed at inviting artists to the city from all over the world,” said DeVos. “It’s all about creating, trying new things, not being afraid to fail and, ultimately, succeeding together.”

But as DeVos and Holsinger-Robinson found out shortly after the event ended in October, the impact of ArtPrize extended beyond the downtown businesses and the arts community, making an indelible impression on City Hall. At a city meeting in October, 1st Ward Commissioner Walt Gutowski gave both men a miniature version of “La Grande Vitesse,” the Alexander Calder stabile that has become the city’s symbol.

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

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