‘Exciting year of evolution.’ Grand Rapids preps for launch of ArtPrize 2023

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — ArtPrize is returning to Grand Rapids this week, and city leaders gathered Tuesday to promote the city’s signature festival that brings scores of visitors downtown to explore — and vote on — hundreds of entries.

This year marks a new milestone for the event.

It’s the first time the event, which launched in 2009, is being held without founder Rick DeVos leading the ArtPrize Board of Directors. After his departure, announced in late October, a trio of public partners, led by the city of Grand Rapids, announced they would keep the event going under the banner of ArtPrize 2.0.

Related: Your guide to ArtPrize 2023

“This is an exciting year of evolution for ArtPrize,” said Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, speaking at a press conference at the former UICA building at the corner of Fulton Street and Division Avenue. “As it comes under a new structure, I’m really proud the city of Grand Rapids is one of the key partners.”

This year also marks the return of large cash prizes for public vote winners.

The public vote, grand prize winner will bring home $150,000. That’s below the $200,000 awarded in 2018 but far above the $50,000 prize in 2021 and $12,500 prize last year. An announcement of the top 25 entries is also returning after being nixed the past two years.

“That’s something that I think people really missed,” Bliss said. “With the public vote component, I think people feel like they’re a part of ArtPrize. That’s what I’m hearing people are excited about, and I hope people come out and vote.”

ArtPrize 2023 runs from Sept. 14 to Oct. 1.

A community celebration commemorating the kick-off of the event is happening at Ah-Nab-Awen Park from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. The event is set to include food trucks, games, art installations, fireworks, and a performance by the “renowned visual and musical spectacle Squonk.” Information on other events happening throughout the festival can be found at artprize.org/events.

Launching ArtPrize 2023 was no easy task.

Since the formation of ArtPrize 2.0 —other members include Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and Kendall College of Art and Design — a new executive director, Catlin Whitington, was hired. In addition, more than 20 staff has been brought on board, and fundraising for the $400,000 in prize money and other operational expenses has been underway.

“It’s been a long six months — I’m not gonna lie,” said Whitington, who was hired in March to lead ArtPrize after working at the Long Center for the Performing Arts and South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. He moved to Grand Rapids this summer.

As it has taken on a bigger leadership role in the event, the city of Grand Rapids has upped its financial assistance to ArtPrize. It’s providing $200,000 ($50,000 of that is in-kind services) this year, up from from $150,000 ($50,000 was in-kind services) in 2020 and 2021.

Other governments have donated too.

The Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority has provided its first donation to ArtPrize, $150,000, and Kent County doled out $75,000. The Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority provided $50,000.

Related: ArtPrize 2.0 gets $150K from arena board, fireworks celebration and drone show unveiled

As of July, ArtPrize 2.0 had raised about $1.3 million, according to a Kent County memo.

This year’s ArtPrize will be smaller than past years.

Just under 700 entries will be on display at 150 venues throughout downtown Grand Rapids, including museums, parks, businesses, offices and more. All entries can be viewed free of charge.

In 2011, by comparison, there were more than 1,500 entries on display.

Despite the smaller scale, organizers say they’re pleased with the caliber of art that will be on display, and that they’re hopeful visitors will feel the same.

“Our team is very proud and excited to welcome the world to Grand Rapids and to discover art together, and also to welcome Grand Rapidians to this iconic cultural phenomena as it goes into its 14th year,” Whitington said.

Visitors will find an array of events to participate in throughout ArtPrize, ranging from concerts and artist receptions to dance performances, mediation sessions and family yoga.

Related: ArtPrize announces ‘Oasis’ concept, opening party details

There’s also a host of community events happening in conjunction with ArtPrize.

That includes Tech Week Grand Rapids (Sept. 18-23), the Grand Rapids African American Art and Music Festival (Sept. 15-16), the Confluence Festival (Sept. 22-23), the Art of Food Festival (Sept. 15-17).

“September is about to be one heck of a month in Grand Rapids,” said David Green, director of communications for the city of Grand Rapids.

With a new organization and leadership team in place, ArtPrize 2023 is seen as a transitionary year for the city’s signature festival. Once this event wraps up, work will soon begin on planning the event’s 15th anniversary in 2024.

What that will look like remains to be seen, but Whitington said he and his colleagues are envisioning it as “a great celebration of our 15th anniversary.” That will include discussions about how the event can be “a year round presence for creativity and artistic expression throughout the year here in Grand Rapids.”

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