Creative soul drives the allure success of ArtPrize

October 11, 2010
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Business owners, government entities and Experience Grand Rapids, the convention and visitors bureau, this week will put pencil to the experience of ArtPrize, but the sum total of Rick DeVos’ “social experiment” to “start a conversation about art” defies balance sheets.

ArtPrize last year was named one of Grand Rapids Business Journal’s top 10 Newsmakers, though the judges awarded Newsmaker of the Year to the Van Andel Institute expansion and its recruitment of another 500 researchers from around the world.

One of those judges, Michigan Future Inc. President Lou Glazer, was most specific. He cautioned that the long-term economic impact of an event would be measured by whether it helped bring the creative class to Grand Rapids — whether the event could project the city as a creative place in which to live and do business, and elevate the education level and therefore income level of the community, as was more obvious with the VAI expansion.

In fact, a couple of those in the medical community recruited from New York City in the past year noted that, as they were weighing the decision of whether to take positions in Grand Rapids, ArtPrize was being reported in The New York Times. They were impressed, and made the move.

The Business Journal this week reports that downtown retailers are now referring to ArtPrize as “better than Christmas,” especially in a year in which retailers nationwide have reported flat numbers through the third quarter. Those retailers, too, are beginning to see the longer reaching consequences as residents of the region “venture out” to downtown and return in the resulting discovery of its vibrance. Surely the Grand Rapids Art Museum and other nonprofit venues will be continued recipients of long-term impact. The GRAM, for instance, hosted 127,000 visitors through last Wednesday as a result of ArtPrize. The marketing of its November show of Princess Diana’s personal belongings is likely to draw them back.

While it is fundamentally important that those living in the region continue to support the city’s venues and varied entertainment district, it is an added bonus that every major media from California to New York has flat out touted such a grand experiment. “CBS Sunday Morning” and NBC’s “Today Show” more than once aired affiliate footage of ArtPrize, and the celebrities flying in to give it witness also helped put Grand Rapids on the Creative Class map.

That said, we can’t put a number to the real boost: It challenges and stops the terrible perceptions of the entirety of Michigan as a rust belt state unable to compete on the world stage. Indeed, ArtPrize brings the world to Grand Rapids. And more, it brought a smile to the collective faces of the community painted with such a broad brush. If the concept and impact of ArtPrize last year was an unknown quantity, its long-term impact was surely evident this year, and it made a whole state smile.

In this space last year, the Business Journal noted that the elders of the DeVos family have given signature to the concrete buildings downtown in another form of creativity. Grandson Rick DeVos has given it soul.

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