Nine hundred twenty-eight presenting artists, $200,000 in grants, 153 venues in and around Grand Rapids and an impressive $400,000 in prizes—even after a decade since its inception, ArtPrize continues to see new changes and edits each year. Like a time-based installation that takes over all of Grand Rapids, ArtPrize can never be a completely finished piece. Instead, our perspective can change, its intention can reform, and new faces can emerge.
“I’ve had a chance to get to know the community and really discover what ArtPrize means to the community and its legacy here in Grand Rapids,” said Catlin Whitington, the new executive director of ArtPrize since its recent reorganizing. “A lot of what we’re focusing on this year is building a foundational iteration for future years.”
ArtPrize has now been clearly defined as a collaboration between Kendall College, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and other leaders in both the public and private sector who have shared interest in promoting this year’s reboot of the event and Grand Rapids’ art scene. This art scene rivals that of large metropolitan markets in the sense that it is so multidisciplinary. Grand Rapids’ artists and ArtPrize competitors have never been resigned to just the page or canvas.
In Grand Rapids, the artwork becomes a part of the city.
“ArtPrize is a perfect opportunity to create an environment by which artists can explore and try new things in a way where they might not normally be able to,” Whitington said. “The reason is because there’s that philanthropic arts patronage that supports it.”
As executive director, Whitington aims to grow ArtPrize’s year-round presence moving forward, not just in GR but in the national and international art communities as well. Competitors from all over have always made the trip to West Michigan and contribute pieces toward the festival, but more and more grants are being sponsored through Whitington’s team members to help finance the major hurdles that can keep some artists from delivering their artwork, installing pieces, or even participating at all.
“The community out here is invested in art,” Whitington said. “There’s a long history of local civic leaders that are committed to bringing art here, especially public art. I think that legacy, as well as the legacy of ArtPrize, can really be seen on the walls and streets of downtown Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids as a whole.”
New pieces are not limited to just the ArtPrize competitors, however. For the first time ever, ArtPrize will be partnering with West Michigan’s own Merchants and Makers group to host a joint artisan market on September 23 and 24 at Ah-Nab-Awen park near the Grand River downtown. At this free-entry event, customers will be able to meet over 80 regional vendors and explore their homemade products and art pieces. ArtPrize’s opening ceremony on September 14 will also take place at Ah-Nab-Awen, featuring performance arts group Squonk and the debut of their newest opera, “Brouhaha.” Their style of unbridled visual spectacle mixed with live rock music has been entertaining audiences around the world for over 25 years, and now they’ll be showing off their newest creation for the delight of ArtPrize visitors.
“It’s over the top, it’s whimsical, it’s performative,” Whitington said. “In terms of large-scale arts activation, imagine eight-foot-tall flugelhorns and plenty of audience participation. They’re a really awesome and entertaining experiment.”
If that’s not enough outdoor performance for you, then closing out ArtPrize on September 29 at Rosa Parks Circle will be retro R&B and pop band “The Dip” from Seattle, Washington. Their ensemble band will bring a joyful funk sound to the end of ArtPrize 2023 that you won’t want to miss.
ArtPrize may have started as a wild, new concept in 2009, but its experiment has continued to improve and grow over time. If the last ten years are any indication, then the next ten will surely be another grand success.
“Come for a little bit and stay all-day,” Whitington said. “We are excited to share this year’s ArtPrize with Grand Rapids and the world.”
ArtPrize | Grand Rapids | Sept. 14-Oct. 1 | artprize.org