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ArtPrize moves into Week Two

ArtPrize has taken over our town and wonderfully so.  Grand Rapids is packed with young and old, families, old folks using walkers, groups and singles.   The diversity is palpable.

For example on Friday I visited the tony Grand Rapids Art Museum, the massive white  Modernist box filled with impressive stuff—most of it big. There I saw mixed with the expected artsy and creative folks,  people who looked like they mostly hung out in sports bars or bowling alleys.  Nothing judgmental about that…… just unexpected and marvelous.

Many of the artists were there ready and eager to talk about their work.

For example,  Jimmy Descant, the fellow pictured above, combines photos of JFK in Grand Rapids, shot 50 years ago by Jimmy’s late father, with his creation of rocket ships from found materials.  I spent 15 minutes talking to him and still didn’t really get the connection, but enjoyed the whole experience.

ArtPrize can be enjoyed on a lot of levels.  Artistic vision and pure pleasure of something beautiful. Disturbing images and controversy.   The skill and talent involved.  The message the artist is trying to communicate.    Connecting with people you know and meeting new friends.

The creativity is amazing. For example, at the Women’s City Club this piece is created  out of layers of duct tape. It looked like a photograph  to me at first.

Who can’t help but enjoy  the twenty two painted pianos on the streets, the creation of Luke Jerram.  “Play Me, I’m Yours” is a project that has reached almost three million people in cities stretching from London to Sydney.  How terrific that we can enjoy them here.


One of my favorites is the Evaporative Building  at UICA by Alex Schweder La. Mystical images are projected in a mist created in the loading dock of the building.  You have to experience this one.

And how could someone come up with the idea of submitting art work created in in the back of a truck by pencils strung from ropes? Dave Ford from El Paso, Texas did.  The huge piece on the wall at U.I.C.A. was created on his drive from Texas to Grand Rapids.

Yes, ArtPrize is promotional.  Artists actually stopped me on the streets, handing me cards, asking me to vote for them.  The purists sneer at this, but I think the interaction is great.

I am interested in the discussion about  Artprize and the ways that people look at it. For example, Grand Rapids artist Rick Beerhorst was quoted in an Detroit Free Press article saying, “I believe that Art Prize  is rewriting the DNA of the city.  We’ve always been a conservative, traditional place, but the city is just giving itself over to artists for 2 ½ weeks.  It’s like the Nile overflowing every year and leaving sediment behind.  It might take 10-15 years, but this can be the kind of place where creative people are not just tolerated but celebrated.”

My friend, Peggy, an artist and retired art educator said,  “It’s like Grand Rapids is getting tattooed.”

At a party for Tom Clinton, a Grand Rapids artist, I discussed the opportunities for photographers with Diane Carroll Burdick, a professional Grand Rapids photographer.  We have worked together over the years at the Grand Rapids Press, becoming friends.

I asked her about her approach to photographing ArtPrize.  One approach is to simply and accurately document the art, capturing it for viewers.  The other is to take the piece and make your own art out of it.  Both are great fun for her and those of us who like to get behind the lens of a camera.

Since she teaches photography at Kendall College of Art and Design we talked about how stimulating it would be to host a workshop for photographers where the goal would be to create art from ArtPrize entries.   I am imaging photographers  and wannabes like me out stalking the streets, capturing images, creating art with their lenses and digital software, and then having wonderful conversations about the results.

Sign me up.  I’m there.

Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    Melanie Rogers
    Sep 28, 2010 Reply

    Another great article, Susan. Your blogs always make me want to interject into your conversations, like “I didn’t get the JFK connection at all, glad it wasn’t just me”, or “Love your quotes regarding how this project will change the face of our city”. I really admire Rick DeVos for moving the branding of this city away from his and the other dozen or so families with names on buildings, towards the diversification we need to become nationally viable. I appreciate all the efforts that he, you, everyone who participates in any way, are making to improve this burgeoning “cool city”.

  2. posted by
    Margaret Cheff
    Sep 29, 2010 Reply

    I, too, enjoyed your perspective on ArtPrize, Susan. The first venue I visited was the GR Museum and I was so impressed by the quality of art, I would find it difficult to vote many of the pieces there with a “hands down”. Can’t wait to take in more over the next week!

  3. posted by
    Georgia Gietzen
    Sep 29, 2010 Reply

    After having made my first “tour sweep” yesterday – I’m giving your blog piece and insights to ArtPrize a “thumbs up”.

  4. posted by
    Sep 30, 2010 Reply

    Thank you. ArtPrize is a visual feast. It is lots of fun to write about and to photograph.

  5. posted by
    Feb 4, 2011 Reply

    “For example, Jimmy Descant, the fellow pictured above, combines photos of JFK in Grand Rapids, shot 50 years ago by Jimmy’s late father, with his creation of rocket ships from found materials. I spent 15 minutes talking to him and still didn’t really get the connection, but enjoyed the whole experience.”

    Hahahaha… “…didn’t really get the connection…” REALLY???

    Look…Yeah, when I first looked at Jimmy, I thought, “Uh…What am I going to talk about to this guy?” But I did, and darned if that didn’t melt away in an instant. And maybe…just maybe…that was the point. One of the points, anyway.

    But to get back to the original quote…It’s this simple (Though if I have to explain it to you, it’s like explaining a joke…another art-form (Hopefully LaughFest is like ArtPrize in another form) to somebody)…

    They don’t make ’em like that anymore…But if you can pick up a little something good from the past, perhaps you can spread a little something good to the future.

    26 minutes ago · LikeUnlike

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