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Rant: ARTPRIZE

While I believe ArtPrize is a great event, it is far from perfect.

My complaint: the crowds. First, a ridiculous amount of visitors crowd into the city. This increases the traffic exponentially. Grand Rapids is relatively traffic-free. It’s not that waits don’t occur, they simply pale in comparison to regular rush-hour/construction/weather-related/seasonal jams elsewhere. If you have ever sat on I-696, I-96, or US-23 in metro-Detroit on a Friday afternoon in the summer when everyone has decided to leave work an hour early to beat the traffic; you know what I mean. If you have ever been on I-75, I-4, I-95 when the sudden influx of snowbirds have migrated south in their silver or gold Lincolns and Cadillacs and Buicks, complete with beaded seat covers and lack of turn-signals and proportionally deficient maximum speed-limits; you know what I mean. If you have ever been tailgated, cut-off, or passed with a baleful look and colorful language by a rear-wheel drive sportscar in a complete whiteout and zero-visibility, only to creep by the very same vehicle mere miles but unfortunate and irritating hours later as it is towed across the now-closed outer two lanes from the median ditch; you know what I mean. If you have permanently affixed an unkindly gesturing hand out your driver window as the well-coiffed in their import vehicles have ignored the “Left Lane Closed in 2 Miles… 1 Mile… 1000 Feet… 500 Feet” to favor a self-indulging zipper merge; well, you know what I mean. So, when I claim that Grand Rapids is relatively traffic-free, it’s a real, apparent blessing.

Therefore, with the mass influx of visitors during ArtPrize, the city undergoes a traffic transformation that can be extraordinarily frustrating on a typical commute. Simply finding parking can be an enormous challenge as “Lot Full” signs litter an otherwise easily-navigable city.

And the traffic frustrations are not limited to vehicular crowding. The foot traffic is outrageous. Waits in lines become regular. At the grocery store, pharmacy, post office, park, funeral home, wherever. It seems that whenever you have an errand to attend to, hundreds of other folks have decided to do so at the exact same time. The bus system is overloaded even with specially-provided extra routes. Restaurants are on a consistent wait. And with the time spent in check-out lines, you should be able to bone-up on every celebrity scandal and miraculous-appearance-of-Jesus-in-toast from the past ten years.

All of which are minor complaints respective to the claustrophobia imparted by the ArtPrize proper visitors. The venues can be so stifling, it’s absolutely anxiety-producing. Even the outdoor installations can be so surrounded that the horde is impassable. I mentioned the experience of feeling physically separated from my stroller, an altogether not unusual experience in an environment of such extreme population density.

But, I could really get past the presence of all the new people, if they weren’t “those” people. Ugh. Art can bring out all sorts of people, families, spectators. It is known, however, for attracting a certain set. Those folks with their air of superiority. Free-trade-coffee-carrying, hand-dyed-scarf-wearing, bobbed-gray-hair-rocking, haughty-gazed, supercilious “art folks.” The judges and jurors with their perplexing critical favorites. The tourists with their imperious make-believe grasp of bewildering artist statements. And, especially, the artists themselves; with their unrealistic and arrogant view of the significance of their work and the correspondingly-expected promise of the respect it should garner.

For example: yesterday, Duck and I explored several more venues including our traditional riverside route. Outside of the Gerald Ford Museum was a musical art installation. It was essentially a large-ring xylophone or glockenspiel, if you will. The observer was invited to take a hammer-mallet-thing and hit the metallic bars as they ran around the ring. In doing so, you would produce the song “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Of course, as Ducky witnessed several people perform the melodious route, she clamored for a turn. We got in line. We waited. She picked up a hammer-mallet-thing and approached the installation- instrument. And, the artist came over, took her hammer-mallet-thingy away, and advised me that it was not a device for toddlers. Inevitably, Duckers started throwing a fit. The artist told me he was making a sign to that effect, but it simply wasn’t meant for the younger-than-ten-crowd. Usually, I can respect the requests people make of me as the parent of a toddler. You want to enjoy your dinner at a restaurant? We try to keep her quiet and entertained. You want to watch that movie? We won’t bring her to the theater until we can reasonably expect her to behave. You want to hear the gospel? Churches have actually have a kid-friendly room, just for us. But, there is a point at which I am no longer expected to make your life conveniently free of my hip-high nuisance. You, sir, are an asshole. You created a large-scale, outdoor installation in a park. That installation is essentially a giant, interactive, musical instrument. That instrument plays a childhood-favorite, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Yes, I can totally see how it was not meant for toddlers. (I’m looking at you, Tom Kaufmann, dumbass creator of the Music Go-Round).

This is only one instance of a pervading pretentiousness that shadows the ArtPrize experience. While I tore my screaming child away, I’d wager that I received only a couple of sympathetic glances. The rest of the spectators assumed condescending shrugs of disapproval. Of my child’s behavior. Of my inability to control her in such an preeminent and ostentatious environment. The ArtPrize habitat breeds highfalutinry. Almost every piece includes “DO NOT TOUCH” signage, if not blatant barriers. Even the 3-D installations. Made of unique materials. Outside. So, what you’re saying is: the elements can wreak havoc on it and birds can crap on it, but my two-year old can’t touch it? Well, that’s dumb. Just dumb.

Art is a sensory experience. Oftentimes, the experience could be enhanced if you would just let us “see” your piece, in every sense. I understand that you fear damage, but let’s assume that the crowd you hope to attract is respectful and avoids making any mistakes. I’m not suggesting you subject your beautiful canvas to the whims of the masses. I’m simply suggesting that your large, outdoor, indestructible, metal dragon should be enjoyed, photographed and, well, fondled if your audience chooses to do so.

Your audience. Because that’s what is too often forgotten by the artsy-fartsy. ArtPrize is for everyone. It is designed as a social experience that includes the entire public. The appeal of the event is inherent in the idea that popular opinion matters and that art isn’t just served to us by the critical elite, to be digested as directed. ArtPrize is a great event… But the highfalutinry has got to go.

Lest I give you the impression that the event is nonetheless anything but enjoyable overall, a few more favorites from yesterday:

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Birch Grove by Judy A. Steiner can be seen at the Courtyard Marriott

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The Wind by Gil Bruvel at the Grand Rapids Public Museum

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Further proof that ArtPrize is fun… For everyone.

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Rave: ARTPRIZE

It’s that time again here in Grand Rapids! Art Prize!

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One of my early 2014 favorites found at the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art, Bio Interloper by Crystal Wagner

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.

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Some favorites from previous years.

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.”

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Another 2014 favorite, The Chimes They Are A Changin by Jenny Heissenhuber, on Oakes Street

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.

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An entry of my own. Duck in the Wild. Obvi.

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