Arts & Entertainment, Economic Development, and Marketing, PR & Advertising

ArtPrize shift causes marketing disruption

Experience Grand Rapids to adjust strategy with art organization’s debut of Project 1 in 2019.

June 29, 2018
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ArtPrize
ArtPrize 10 will take place this fall, but Project 1 will replace ArtPrize in 2019 and every other year after. Photo Johnny Quirin

The city of Grand Rapids will have to change its marketing strategy thanks to the new biennial ArtPrize structure. 

Starting in 2019, ArtPrize will implement “Project” years that will feature a single artist or up to about five artists, according to ArtPrize Artistic Director Kevin Buist. ArtPrize still will take place this fall and every other year after that.

The announcement has caused a disruption in the way Experience Grand Rapids has marketed events. 

"We've used ArtPrize as an amenity event should a convention want to come (to Grand Rapids) during those three weeks, they will have the opportunity to enjoy it," said Experience Grand Rapids CEO Doug Small. “So, any group that is looking into a September or October timeframe, we really push that ArtPrize is a part of that time, and it would be an advantage for them to have their group here.”

Usually, conventions and other events are booked up to three years in advance. Although there are events that are already booked for next year with some intent of seeing ArtPrize, Small said he is optimistic and reassured people who visit still will be able to see art exhibits on display for Project 1. He said it could be exciting for different groups of people who visit and draw an entirely new audience, which will strengthen the Grand Rapids brand.

Buist said he believes it still will be an ideal time to visit Grand Rapids.

“It will be great because what we are doing is a large scale multi-sited (art event), and it will have a really distinct visual feel to the city during the project time,” he said.

In addition to artwork for Project 1, Small said Experience GR also will market the yearlong celebration of La Grande Vitesse’s 50th anniversary, the sculpture by Alexander Calder that sits on the Calder Plaza. 

“There is an opportunity to tie in the yearlong celebration of the (sculpture) existing with Project (1),” Small said. “So as an organization, we are going to look at beyond just the time Project 1 is going on; we are going to look at it as a celebration of Grand Rapids’ art scene on an annual basis in 2019. Now what we do 2021, ask me in 2020.”

Last year, the art festival welcomed more than 522,000 people who generated $33 million in annual economic impact.

“For the last decade, ArtPrize has infused the city of Grand Rapids with unparalleled energy, staging world-class exhibitions that have engaged over 3 million visitors from near and far with contemporary art,” Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said. “This next evolution of the event will generate new ways for us all to be inspired and challenged, to come together as a community and deepen our connection.”

Despite the major impact ArtPrize has made in Grand Rapids, Buist insists ArtPrize is an art organization first and foremost; economic impact is not why it exists. 

Project 1 will be based on a commission model as opposed to a competition model, where the organization will use resources such as grants — mostly prize money — and collaborate with artist(s), whether local, national or international to continue to further their artwork.

The artist(s) who will be featured in the citywide art exhibit during the project year will be established, which Buist said will be beneficial to them because they will be able to work with them earlier and much longer, since Project 1 will be over the course of about two months, to help in building educational programming and community involvement.

“We love the ArtPrize competition and it is not going away, it is just alternating every other year, which is a great way to generate an outpouring of artists. But we are also excited to see what we can do in alternating that with this commission model because when we run ArtPrize, the ArtPrize organization is in the position of a referee,” he said.

“It is a competition and a lot of money on the line, a lot of people vying for that through the public voting, juried awards, so our role in that is that we have to be neutral officiators of that competition. The really exciting thing about Project 1 is we get to switch roles and we no longer have to be a referee. We can be a collaborator and we can invest more directly in what artists are doing and work closely with them to develop projects that are really attentive to history and what we are doing here.”

Aside from artwork being showcased during Project 1 in September and October, there may be panel discussions, lectures, performances, film screenings and concerts, but Buist said they still are in the planning phase. 

Nevertheless, there will be an educational component similar to what takes place during ArtPrize, which includes field trips, self-guided tours, hands-on tours and collaboration with after-school programs. 

Buist said the ArtPrize organization will give grants to its venue partners like institutions and museums that have ArtPrize exhibits, and it will host education days for kids.

With ArtPrize 10 still to come, Buist said they are planning the details of Project 1. As a result, Experience GR will have to wait and see how Project 1 pans out and adjust its marketing of Grand Rapids, especially art-related conventions and other events planned during the months of September and October.

“It is yet to be seen how an art exhibit not associated with a vote will fair in comparison to one that is looked at as the ‘American Idol’ of art, (but) I hold confidence in the ArtPrize organization in that if they thought that ArtPrize, as we all know it now, is the answer every year, my guess is they would continue it,” Small said.

“I think that they are looking at an opportunity to try something really different on every odd year, and I am excited to see what looks like.”

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