It’s that time again here in Grand Rapids! Art Prize!
Ok. There are literally hordes of visitors. Expect to find the buses, hotels, stores, streets running amok with people. Weekend trips downtown can be positively overwhelming.
But… The art. The experience. It’s absolutely unique. The city is littered with installations, paintings, sculptures, performances, and more. I don’t consider myself highbrow, cultured, or any other form of pompous windbaggery. I just enjoy a good wander. And so, with innumerable sights and destinations, Art Prize is the highlight of the Grand Rapids calendar.
I cannot recommend this weeks-long event enough.
So, here’s the deal:
Essentially, hundreds of artists make agreements with local venues to display art installations during a three-week period. These installations can be anything from traditional sculpture and painting to contemporary performance and interactive pieces. The venues can be anywhere: restaurants, stores, hotels, parks, museums, the river. Anywhere. When the event begins, visitors become voters. Registering is easily done with the Art Prize smartphone app. Simply download and activate once you’re in the “grid” downtown GR. Each work of art is numbered with a five-digit code. Vote throughout the event for your favorite pieces. At the end, the winning artist is awarded a $200,000 prize. There are also prizes awarded to semi-finalists and special prizes awarded by the “jury” of proper critics. But, the coolest part for me is that we participate in the decision of “what makes great art.”
In my experience, a couple things might make your experience a little easier:
1. The weekends are very, very busy. Some of the venues are practically sardine-cans. I suggest avoiding the popular venues on the weekends. The BOB, the museums, the Meijer Gardens to name a few. If you can, plan your visit during the week when you can have more time and space to yourself.
2. Moms and Dads of young kids: the above suggestion applies to you even more so. The first time we went, I felt my stroller being pulled in a different direction, simply as a matter of the crowd. It was terrifying for me. If you must attend during one of the overcrowded times, consider baby-wearing or using a leash. I know, I know. A leash? But, think of it as a third hand on your kiddo. Not a creepy restraint.
3. Another feature they offer that tends to make things easier: our local bus service, the Rapid, offers free rides to anyone who purchases the Art Prize armbands. For $5, you get 2 armbands so you and a guest can ride the buses fare-free during the event. With our award-winning bus system, you can park outside the hubbub and get a free ride in or out.
4. When possible, use the mobile app to register and vote. It’s much easier than going online or waiting in line at one of the registration sites. The only downside is that you would have to pay $2 to get the official map and guide, but I haven’t found it incredibly helpful yet anyway.
5. Divide your time and space. There is simply no way to see it all. But, you can get more out of your time if you divide the venues geographically. If you want to see the “must-see” venues, you will need to go to the GRAM, the KCAD, the UICA, the BOB, the GRPM,and the Gerald Ford. All those abbreviations aside, we have found our favorites in previous years in other locales. You can create an experience of your own. My family prefers the outdoor pieces, so we spend more of our time exploring the streets and parks. In fact, I’ve never seen the winning pieces before they were announced because we haven’t bothered to go in many of the major venues.
6. Bring refreshments. Water, snacks, etc. It’s a lot of walking. And, these early weeks of fall can be deceptively warm. Especially on the city streets. It’s not as though refreshments aren’t available on every street corner, but save some money for a proper meal and bring snacks and drinks for your meandering.
7. Speaking of proper meals, plan to eat during your tour. Grand Rapids is home to great restaurants and breweries that double as venues during the event. Stop in to Stella’s Lounge for a burger, San Chez Bistro for Tapas, Founder’s Brewery for a beer. Eat, drink, be merry.
Check out the Art Prize website for a more thorough look at the event.