Happiness Highlights: Art in Grand Rapids

The music thumped off the smooth walls and wood floors, the echoes of the lead singer softened only by the throng of bodies flooding the wide hallways. The Crane Wives were rocking out, but the local band wasn’t what had brought people to a museum in downtown Grand Rapids last Thursday night. The crowds had come for the art — and specifically to find out which art was voted the best out of nearly 1,700 entries in ArtPrize 2011.

ArtPrize – by the Artists, for the People

ArtPrize is a public art contest founded and largely supported by the families that started Amway – yes, that Amway. Any artist is welcome to enter for a chance to win the grand prize of $250,000, an honor chosen by a public vote. No judges or experts discuss artistic merit behind closed doors; real people go look at real art and decide what they like best.

As someone who makes their living through creative endeavors, I was impressed by the buckets of cash being offered to my artistic brethren. It’s nice to be reminded that there are ways to get paid to do what you love, even if doing what you love is welding sculptures out of old car parts. Over 300,000 votes were cast during the first round of voting to help determine which artists would make the top ten and be guaranteed at least $7,000 in prize money.

“It’s not about the art. It’s about the discussions people have about art.”

During the announcement of the Top Ten, founder Rick Devos explained that the real mission of ArtPrize is to get people talking about the art, or “fighting about something besides football.” By that measurement, there’s no doubt the experiment is working.

I’ve spent a lot of time in art museums over the last four months and I have never seen so many people clustered around paintings and circling statues. Old men and young girls stood side by side in front of abstract sculptures, twisting their necks to get a better glimpse at the artist’s perspective. People gushed in soft whispers and shook their heads with disgust. Men in football jerseys stepped close to oil paintings while women in brightly colored tights sat quietly on upholstered benches.

I was amazed at how many people cared.

About art.

About, in many cases, abstract art.

Five Miles of Free Art

ArtPrize brings the city of Grand Rapids alive. Installations can be found on street corners and in buildings all over town, the venues as eclectic as the voters. Restaurants and bars as well as law offices and hotels offer up space to artists from all over the world. The Michigan town has a strong art culture all year long, but during the 19 days of ArtPrize it becomes a giant art museum — one with few walls and no admission fees.

One of the things I miss most about living in an RV is the absence of art in my home. I’ve become more aware of public art and am grateful for cities that encourage beauty in common spaces.

I found happiness in Grand Rapids this week because passion inspires me and I was surrounded by it during my visit. I saw it in the artists I met and in the people who crawled through the exhibits like treasure hunters in search of a mysterious prize. I saw it in paper hearts hanging by colored thread and in black and white duct tape. And I saw it, mostly, in the people who ventured out into the cold and rain to be inspired, too.

Win Your Own Piece of Inspiration

I was given a really cool gift from Experience Grand Rapids, the organization that brought me to Western Michigan and with which I’ll be working as a paid ambassador for a few months. It’s an actual piece from one of last year’s top ten ArtPrizes. It’s beautiful in both thought and execution and I wish I had room for it in my life right now. Alas, I barely have room for my underwear, let alone art.

I hate to let something pretty go to waste, so I’d like to pass it on to you. Leave a comment on this post and tell me something about your favorite kind of art. I’ll randomly select a commenter to receive the artsy swag. It’s not $250,000, but it’s nice to look at.

So, let’s hear it. What’s type of art inspires you?

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  1. Nanna says:

    I am always amazed at artwork created out of ordinary objects, like plastic picked up off of beaches. Garbage, you know? Something “ugly” transformed into something “beautiful” simply by someone’s perspective and vision.

    And your photos. They make me cry and gasp.

  2. Cat says:

    All kinds of art inspire me- I think I would love ArtPrize because it sounds like it attracts such an eclectic mix (I love mixes!). More than anything, it’s when I see or hear something and go “Wow, this person was inspired to bring this crazy/wonderful/beautiful idea to life.” The spark jumps out from their work and into my soul and I want to do something too.

    • KDrausin says:

      I agree with Cat. ArtPrize sounds like an event I would love to bring my family to. We are all artists and create from the uniqueness that is inside us. Ideas-visions brought to life like Cat wrote. It’s inspiring to me.

      It seems that letting the people vote and not having art professionals vote is following the same idea as letting the public choose which books they want to read instead of having “gatekeepers” decide which will be published and critiqued. Self publishing is no longer deemed unprofessional. Freedom to choose could bring a willingness to learn.

  3. Kristin says:

    Do you know had it not been for the Art History class that Carrie and I were in together when we were in college, you and I may not have gotten as close as we did! LOL! I love art, you know this, ALL art! Warhol, Dali, Picasso, the list is neverending! I love all mediums as well. I wish you’d have told me this is what you were in Grand Rapids doing, I so would have taken a couple day and driven up to see you and these things as well!

  4. leanne says:

    A few things come to mind… my kids’ artwork… not just because my kids made these things (though that certainly is a part of it), but even more so because they are working on their creativity. They are learning to be creative, sometimes to make mistakes, learn that it doesn’t have to be perfect, and to try again and again, and learning to love the creative process.

    Also, I love looking at photos… they inspire me to want to go places and do things and see things and see people.

  5. my favorite kind of art makes me feel happy. doesn’t have to be pretty or old or hanging in a museum or shiny or need a big ole explanation, but when something makes me smile i can’t help but love it.
    downtown pittsburgh has a few pieces in particular that make me smile…one is the side of a building that is alive (http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/ariel-schwartz/sustainability/pnc-bank-building-largest-green-living-wall-us) and the other is a transformer like robot made of bridges (http://onlyinpgh.com/2011/04/public-art-contest-arch/). each of these get me every time i see them. then again, the dinosaur purchased from “dinomite days” years ago, the art institute’s creation rex, probably warms my heart the most…he has been dressed up as santa, batman, lady gaga, darth vader, in pop tarts, mr. rogers, with a bagpipe for st. patrick’s day, and in so many more fantastically fun costumes which make it always fun to drive down the boulevard and look for the massive t-rex sticking out from the school’s window (http://www.carnegiemnh.org/online/dinomite/butler.htm).
    ok, done rambling. except to say that if i win i am giving the art piece to aunt kate and uncle butch.

  6. Lee says:

    I love black and white photography. All from landscapes (Ansel Adams) to portraits.

  7. I love found art – or art made from recycled objects, especially when it includes words or phrases. I also love anything bright and colorful like many types of Mexican art.

  8. daniel says:

    “tell me something about your favorite kind of art.”

    “What’s type of art inspires you?”

    Those are not necessarily the same thing. Fantasia is my favorite film, because I view it as a piece of art. The visuals and music together, to me, are on equal footing at a Monet or Van Gogh. I like animation, but but I definitely don’t consider it one of my favorite art forms. Music can certainly be considered art, and that is what inspires me the most. I actually have some visual art pieces in mind if I ever get the time (HAHA) to do them based on music. But that’s a completely different topic.

    I’m assuming you’re going with visual arts, sculpture, paintings, photographs, etc. I suppose in that regard my favorite type would be impressionist paintings, as a “genre” but I also love some of the early abstract stuff by Picasso, Klee, and even Chagall. I’m sticking with impressionists though. Something about how they paintings can reveal new layers when they are revisited, and how they look different from different angles, or viewed at different distances. I also love how the same scene can be painted by the same artist multiple times, and yet the result is so vastly different.

  9. Heather says:

    My favorite kind of art makes me…stop, think, and feel… no matter the medium.

  10. [...] JW has partnered with ArtPrize to offer visitors a special package during the public art contest. The package starts at $249 per [...]

  11. Dawn says:

    There are a lot of things that are my “favorite” things about art — depending on what the art is. It’s always a different thing.

    Anyway, that’s not why I commented. I’ve continued to read your blog, but haven’t commented in a long time.

    All that to say, I realize that you don’t have the space right now (underwear is MUCH more important) so you can send me the piece that you got… and, when you’re back in a home that doesn’t have a steering mechanism, hopefully with a bit more space (!), I’ll gladly send it back to you as one more happy memento of your year on wheels.

  12. Amy says:

    Art Prize is such a wonderful time for MICHIGAN! We travel almost an hour to visit the art and have made three trips this year. I love all the art. There are so many different types of art from the performance pieces to the paintings to the sculptures and those pieces that are hard to define. This year I was happy to see so many pieces that were made out of recycled materials.

  13. Heather says:

    I love art that makes me think. I have no particular genre that commands my attention. Right now I’m really into black and white photography. If it stops me makes me smile, it’s done it’s job.

  14. Bre says:

    Art is the cement that binds humans together. It is the common language.

  15. Carly says:

    I guess the totally honest answer is simply art that I like is the art that inspires me, wherever I happen to encounter it. I think in particular, I am inspired architecture, graffiti and sculpture more often than other ways of creating art. I love architecture probably because I love homes and the idea of home, even though I also have a bit of a wanderlust. Graffiti is just cool because of the rebellious quality of it, and when it’s truly art not just gang tags…it’s really cool, especially in a city that endures a LOT of precipitation. And sculpture is great because you can walk around it, and sculptures that move me tend to have an aura of energy that 2D doesn’t seem to have.

    I really enjoyed this post, I had never heard of ArtPrize before.

  16. Dayna says:

    Being so completely un-creative myself, most art just amazes me. People that can manipulate the settings and angles to get an amazing photograph, mix paints on a canvas without making the colors mix to mud, compose or play music, dance…I could go on and on. But my absolute favorite since I was a very young girl were Impressionist paintings. I’ve definitely expanded my likes since then (mid-century modern, abstract art, etc.), but my hubby just took me to Paris for our 10th anniversary (I’m a very lucky girl) where we saw amazing art everywhere. And I can now say that the Impressionists still stir me the most. Especially after spending a day at Monet’s home in Giverny where he painted the Waterlilies. Even with my no-talent camera skills, I came away with some unbelieveable shots of the gardens and waterlily pond.

    I had never heard of ArtPrize either. We have a top national Art Show/Contest in my little hometown every year that is a lot of fun. But this sounds even better!

  17. Rhona says:

    I love all kinds of art and creativity. One of my favorite activities is to walk through a museum or store and look for pieces that make me stop, pause, consider, experience. I look for pieces that connect with my spirit in some way and cause me to think outside myself.

  18. Jen says:

    I’m so excited to read that you’re here in Grand Rapids! I follow you on Blog Lovin’ and live in GR myself. :)

    I love collages. I love the variety of textures, colors, and shapes that can come with a collage. I used to create large collages on the doors of the rooms or apartments I rented.

  19. DeannaBanana says:

    Sculpture. I love sculptures.

  20. melissa says:

    I’m inspired by art with a story behind it, or art that speaks of possibility, or art that reflects the artist’s passion. And my sister is an artist — I’m inspired by her work, too. :)

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