GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In a major twist, ArtPrize is moving its Grand Rapids art competition to every other year starting after ArtPrize 10 this fall.

Organizers announced the change during a news conference Thursday, saying it was made in hopes of reinvigorating the competition.

During off-years, ArtPrize plans to hold an alternative city art event. The first one, dubbed “Project 1 by ArtPrize,” will take place next year.

“With Project 1, ArtPrize will temporarily step away from officiating a competition and will instead commission immersive public artworks,” ArtPrize Artistic Director Kevin Buist said.


Project 1 will be funded by ArtPrize and its donors and sponsors. In contrast to the competition, the art project will involve a single artist or small group of artists. Following the ArtPrize philosophy, it will include multiple downtown sites and tap into the city’s history and culture.

Buist said Project 1 will “invite visitors to slow down and engage with cutting-edge public art on a grand scale.”

The first project will start in September 2019 and run six to eight weeks. It will include events, performances and educational programs — all of which will be free and open to the public.

“Project 1 will be a major shift in the way our organization cultivates and presents art. But it will also serve as an amplifier to the ArtPrize years in the future,” ArtPrize Executive Director Jori Bennett said. “By moving ArtPrize to a biennial timeline, ArtPrize will become even more special and provide our community space and oxygen to be creative and ambitious.”


ArtPrize officials say the event schedule will be as follows:

  • 2018: ArtPrize 10
  • 2019: Project 1
  • 2020: ArtPrize 11
  • 2021: Project 2
  • 2022: ArtPrize 12
  • 2023: Project 3

ArtPrize co-founder Rick DeVos was on hand for Thursday’s announcement, saying Project 1 is the next step in the organization’s evolution.

“A decade of groundwork has been laid, allowing us to unleash the remarkable potential that Project 1 by ArtPrize offers,” he said. “…This is another turning point for our city and will help us continue our legacy as an emerging epicenter for contemporary art.”

The announcement was held at Belknap Park atop Grand Rapids Project X, an earthen and asphalt sculpture that marks an important milestone in art history. Buist said ArtPrize chose the location because the piece is about “shifting perspectives and requiring your involvement.”

“You can’t experience this artwork unless you climb it and stand among it,” he said.

>>App users: Watch the press conference


Joseph Becherer, vice president and chief curator at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, an ArtPrize venue, told 24 Hour News 8 that he was only partially surprised by the switch-up. He is used to the international competition adding new quirks.

“Change isn’t something to be feared, it’s something that opens new windows,” Becherer said. “It doesn’t close doors.”

He has a positive outlook on the biennial format and addition of projects on the alternate years.

“It’s not that there’s going to be a lull. It’s not that there’s going to be really a moment of quiet. It’s just going to be a different way of looking at and thinking about art,” he told 24 Hour News 8.

Becherer also explained that most international art events are on similar schedules.

He doesn’t see the move as a downgrade, as some may speculate.

“If they (ArtPrize officials) would’ve gone in and they would’ve said, ‘Well, you know, we’re just going to do it every other year; that’s it,’ then I think that maybe some of the sentiments could be justified,” he explained.

Rick Baker, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, had similar feelings.

“We naturally go to negative, like it’s a loss, but I think this is really a gain for us as a community because now we still have ArtPrize and now we have something new,” Baker told 24 Hour News 8.

ArtPrize has attracted more than 3 million visitors to downtown Grand Rapids since its inception in 2009, according to Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. But with Meijer Gardens is off the downtown ArtPrize path, Becherer doesn’t see the change slowing its fall momentum.

“We are never impacted in terms of attendance in the way that people are in the ‘diag’ — what I call it down there (downtown),” he said. “We never have that kind of traffic. We have increased traffic for sure, but it’s not to the same degree of intensity.”

—24 Hour News 8’s Marvis Herring


Some local bars and restaurants are less optimistic, worried about seeing less foot traffic and therefore lower revenue during competition off-years.

“We get a lot of people in here, from artists to people coming in to see art. We usually have art in here and we see a huge increase in sales during that time, so it will definitely affect us,” said Elizabeth Galloway of J. Gardella’s Tavern on Ionia Avenue just south of Fulton Street.

“It’s the biggest art festival in the world. To me, that’s confusing that they would minimize it to that point,” Mark Soisson, a bartender at Artesian Distillers Hemingway Lounge next door to Gardella’s, said. “Generally, any of the industry that I’m in feels like it’s a great influx of people with ArtPrize because you’ve got outside people coming in.”

The editor in chief of online arts magazine culturedGR, Holly Bechiri, has been following ArtPrize for years, also working there and submitting her own art, and said she saw something like this coming.

“I feel like we knew something was happening,” she said. “There’s been a lot of shifts in leadership and it’s the 10th year, so it’s a good time to look again at how things are running and whether everything is sustainable, what’s worked and what’s not.”

Like the Meijer Gardens curator, she pointed out that most art festivals are held every two or three years, easing the strain on artists and organizers.

“I often explain ArtPrize as it’s like Christmas. It’s the best time of the year, but it’s also overwhelming,” Bechiri said. “On the one side, they’re missing an opportunity to meet more people, to show them their work, show them what they’re doing; but on the other hand, it will probably be more sustainable on an energy level to only do it every other year. That’s more common in the art world.”

That may be true, but the annual competition will still be missed.  

“It’s a huge bummer,” Galloway said. “I love going to ArtPrize. It’s a kickoff to fall. And it’s something that I think not only Grand Rapids people look forward to, but around the state and even the entire county.”

—24 Hour News 8’s Zach Horner


ArtPrize 10 will take over Grand Rapids Sept. 19 to Oct. 7. This year’s competition is expected to involve more than 2,100 artists or artist teams at more than 190 venues across the city.

Inaugural ArtPrize winner Ran Ortner will serve as this year’s grand prize juror.