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What does it take to become an ArtPrize venue

September 23, 2012
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ArtPrize 2012 is in full swing and the city of Grand Rapids is enjoying the influx of residents and visitors the competition brings annually to the city. With 1,517 entries, the competition is one of the largest art events in the world and requires detailed planning and logistical considerations that venues must begin preparing for early in the year.

St. Cecilia Music Center, which is host to 99 entries this year, began preparing and devoting resources to its participation during the spring. When ArtPrize officially kicked off last week on Sept. 19, the venue already had devoted hundreds of hours to preparing for the nearly three-week long event.

Serving as an exhibition center and as the primary performing arts venue, it will host 79 musical entries and 20 visual arts submissions.

“We want as many of the musical artists to perform live during ArtPrize here at St. Cecilia, so we have scheduled 58 live performances from Thursday through Sunday,” said Cathy Holbrook, executive director of St. Cecilia.

“Every half an hour a new group takes the stage, and that is a pretty big undertaking. So the logistics of the stage, the sound system, sound engineer, the stage manager and tents, these are all the things that happen just to make the production work. Then you have to communicate with everybody and schedule them, find a slot for them that works, and they need a parking pass and to be here at a certain time. We need to find out what equipment they need. It’s a pretty big undertaking.”

This is St. Cecilia’s second year as a performing arts venue, and Holbrook said it did many things well the first year that it will replicate this time around, including how it works with the musicians and the many volunteers necessary for the event.

“I think what we learned about handling a large number of musicians is that we do need to do what we did last year, which is that they need parking passes that have specific times on them, that they really need to know exactly what is expected of them, that we hire professional people to handle the sound and stage management,” Holbrook said. “That is not a volunteer situation; it needs somebody who is a professional in that way. I think that we did pretty well last year.”

Holbrook noted that St. Cecilia’s participation in ArtPrize requires thousands of dollars, as well.

“St. Cecilia’s probably takes on more cost than some exhibition centers might, because we’re basically throwing a four-day music festival in the parking lot, which is close to $5,000 a day just for the stage, sound system, personnel, tents and chairs, and all of the things it takes to set up a live musical performance for that many days. It is pretty expensive.”

In addition, this year St. Cecilia’s decided to create an added incentive for musical performers to participate. It is providing $10,000 in prize money for the top performer in each of five musical genres, based on the ArtPrize popular votes. The winner in each genre will take home a $2,000 cash prize, which the venue raised specifically for the competition.

Besides four days of live music, St. Cecilia’s has built 20 listening stations with iPod Nanos for ArtPrize visitors to listen to the artists’ compositions.

Holbrook said that last year, the organization was able to get some of the cost covered for the iPods.

In addition, St. Cecilia’s Terryberry Gallery, located on the lower level, is displaying ArtPrize entries from visual artists. It works with the artists to meet the specific needs of their artworks, which involves its own logistical challenges and coordination.

“We worked with Voss Lighting to find the right cool spotlight to replace our warmer lights with, and it has made a huge and happy improvement to the gallery and all of the colors on the walls,” said Cheri McClain-Beatty, graphic designer at St. Cecilia.

Beatty said the gallery uses a hanging system of cables that are hooked into the ceiling molding, but occasionally, artists request different installation accommodations. This year, Steven Fessler’s piece, “The Tree Blooming Birds,” was stretched directly across the wall using grommets, which required extra assistance from the building staff to install.

“It’s an expensive venture that we do because we want to be part of this important event and it brings a lot of people through the facility, which is really good for us,” Holbrook said.

The B.O.B., another large ArtPrize venue, includes both indoor and outdoor spaces and requires many logistical considerations to accommodate more than 100 artworks along with several food and drink tents.

In previous years, the venue has hosted some of ArtPrize’s largest pieces — and Top 10 vote getters — in its outdoor space, which means it easily sees between 2,000-3,000 visitors per day.

“We have to have clearance for the fire department for capacity. So you have to have at least four feet in every aisle-way. We make sure we are in compliance with fire codes,” said Kim Lemmen, catering director of promotions and special events for The B.O.B.

Lemmen said that spacing is very important indoors, as well. In the past, artwork was installed in the restaurant space, but management quickly understood it was intrusive to diners and has since nixed placing artwork within those areas.

Besides the large crowds, Lemmen said the venue’s greatest challenge is the fluctuating fall weather.

“We had pieces that were easily destroyed by weather, that weren’t real durable. That one year, when we had the bad weather and the wind, we lost a fair amount of art because it wasn’t strong enough to withhold the wind. So those kinds of pieces, I think, (owner) Greg (Gilmore) is staying away from.”

As far as costs incurred, Lemmen said for The B.O.B. it is mostly a labor cost. In addition to all the staff required during the installation and the competition, the venue has around-the-clock security for the artwork, which is provided by its regular security staff.

Although hosting such a large number of artists requires a huge commitment of labor and resources, the venture pays off for St. Cecilia’s and The B.O.B., as well as other large venues, in increased foot traffic.

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