ArtPrize An engine for a creative economy

September 25, 2011
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The announcement of ArtPrize in 2009 was greeted in typical Grand Rapids naysayer fashion, though curiosity was strong enough to provoke thousands of people to pronounce judgment via social media votes, or look in on all the fuss about art. Even restaurants were closed — or ran out of food — the first weekend of the more than two-week event. Whether people liked it or not, they were — every one — caught up in the energy generated by an unleashing of creative endeavors. The sheer volume of entries, even in the first year, helped create a call to action, a call to come and see, to participate.

No one in Michigan or contiguous states wanted to miss year two. Business Journal staff recalls a quote from a Chicago visitor who remarked, “This place is amazing; it’s better than Millennium Park … and just as crowded.”

ArtPrize was nominated in its first and second year of operation for the Business Journal’s Newsmaker of the Year, and both years was named to the top 10, as southeast Michigan judges evaluated the long-term economic impact of dozens of regional projects and issues. Each time their test was whether ArtPrize could answer the question of long-term impact, especially with evidence of attraction of a younger, creative-class work force to these environs.

There is no doubt of its “attraction” as even pre-event art installation is now drawing crowds, and meetings with professional associations and executive groups from afar are targeted to the ArtPrize exhibition window. While the Business Journal has no quantifiable evidence of work force attraction to date, ArtPrize has been cited by C-suite executives recruited along the Medical Mile as evidence of a regional creative class. Its credibility has been sustained by new aspects of attention: The “art world” comes to this Midwestern “fly-over” zone to give their expertise to art panel juries with additional levels of art awards coexisting alongside those offering the popular votes. The young Rick DeVos has undoubtedly become an icon in their world (too).

Those who believe this to be a “marketing event” vastly oversimplify its impact. ArtPrize has now officially grown to become a business. Its sustainability has claimed much of the organizers’ time (as well as a National Endowment for the Arts grant of $100,000). The newly created position of executive director was given to Catherine Creamer earlier this year, who commented that ArtPrize will expand from the fall event to continue “the conversation” throughout the year. That event already has created year-long involvement from regional schools and colleges; it has created partnerships between area builders, iron workers, fabricators … and artists.

The best example of ArtPrize tentacles for use here, however, may be the creation by Cascade Engineering of a sustainability award offered to develop “compelling and environmentally intelligent products.” All of this ties to and provides for a continuously creative economy in this region. ArtPrize has given new energy and initiatives to the West Michigan business community, and a certain draw for its creative class recruitment.

In the first week of ArtPrize 2009, The Business Journal noted here: The elders of the DeVos family have signatured the buildings of the downtown in another form of creativity. The ArtPrize creator has given it soul.

We would add this year: It has become an engine for a creative economy.

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