Arts & Entertainment, Economic Development, and Travel & Tourism

Newsmaker: ArtPrize paints picture of spending downtown

January 11, 2013
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Do artists make money during ArtPrize?
ArtPrize is the world's largest art prize, and the largest art competition to decide its awards by public vote.

Editor’s note: The Business Journal is recognizing 10 nominees for its 2012 Newsmaker of the Year Award, based on their long-term economic impact on the region. One nominee will be featured each day on — leading up to the Jan. 21 announcement of the 2012 Grand Rapids Business Journal Newsmaker of the Year.

ArtPrize’s artistic merit often spurs a good debate, but one thing is certain: The 19-day event leaves a ginormous economic footprint on downtown Grand Rapids.

2012 was ArtPrize’s fourth year, and the annual open art competition showed no signs of slowing down. With 162 venues participating, 1,517 artists vying for $560,000 in prize money and attendance soaring with an estimated 400,000 visitors, the contest is becoming a relied upon fall staple for restaurants, hotels, boutiques and other retail stores — and even businesses hoping to be discovered by passerbys who may think of them for services later.

Anderson Economic Group conducted a study of the 2011 ArtPrize competition and reported that it had an estimated economic impact of $15.4 million. It generated 204 jobs and more than $4.6 million in new earnings for local households. The study reported that $10.1 million of the total amount came from new-attendee spending and that $1.9 million was spent on event operations.

Though the economic impact of the past year has yet to be fully tallied, Brian Burch, director of public relations for ArtPrize, said he is expecting the total impact to be within range of the $15.4 million garnered in 2011.

Opening weekend numbers easily reflected that likelihood.

Even a rainy opening weekend didn’t prevent art revelers from wandering city sidewalks and spending money downtown. Several restaurants reported 45-minute waits, up from the typical 15-minute delays they see on other fall weekends. Places like Sweet Yo’s, MadCap and Kilwins had lines out their doors as people patiently waited to make purchases.

Dan Verhil, owner of One Trick Pony and Cottage Bar, said both of his establishments saw a 50-percent increase in sales compared to a typical weekend.

BarFly Ventures owner Mark Sellers reported a 15-percent increase above last year’s opening weekend sales at his restaurants, Hop Cat and McFadden’s. Even Stella’s Lounge, which does not participate as a venue, experienced a 30 percent sales increase thanks to the competition.

On that following Monday, the effects of ArtPrize could still be felt; restaurants were experiencing above average patron levels at lunchtime and into the mid afternoon.

Dave Reinert, president of Rockwell and Republic, said that September is typically a slower month for his restaurants and the industry at large. That’s because people are re-establishing their back to school and end-of-summer routines and going out less. ArtPrize has significantly bridged that gap and made that slower time prosperous for the restaurant community.

Artwork sales also do well, according to Burch, who said previously that 30 percent of artists sell work during the competition. Because artists pay their own way or have to raise funds to participate, however, it remains questionable if the artist community receives its equal share of the profits and overall benefits from ArtPrize’s draw, but they certainly are spending money downtown.

ArtPrize also has spawned additional events, competitions and gallery shows both during the competition and later in the year, enhancing the duration of its economic impact. This year, ArtPrize partnered with Spotlight616 for Fashion Force Challenge, a fashion design competition that took place at The Establishment, a venue on Grand Rapids’ west side. Frederik Meijer Gardens just concluded its ArtPrize-inspired show “Body Double: The Figure in Contemporary Sculpture,” which included 26 ArtPrize artists, and, recently, the Grand Rapids Art Museum announced “ArtPrize 2012: Encore!” The exhibit will feature 13 works of art from seven different ArtPrize venues.

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