The board of ArtPrize, a popular contemporary art competition regularly held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has revealed that it is concluding operations as its members scatter to the wind. The event launched in 2009 as an annual affair presenting hundreds of works in venues across the city’s downtown each fall and asking visitors to vote for their favorite. At the end of each iteration’s eighteen-day run, a large cash prize was awarded to the artwork deemed the best by the general populace, with smaller amounts awarded accordingly to runners-up; juried prizes were given out as well, beginning in 2010. The inaugural edition of the event drew roughly 200,000 visitors and amassed some 300,000 votes, with the top prize of $250,000 going to Ran Ortner’s Open Water no. 24, a colossal sea-themed canvas.
In recent years, however, buzz surrounding the event faded, and attendance dwindled accordingly, as did available prize money. After switching from an annual to biennial format in 2019, ArtPrize was canceled in 2020 and its entire staff furloughed as the Covid-19 crisis spread across the globe. The grand prize at the 2021 iteration was $50,000; this year, it was eliminated altogether, with the top amount awarded taking the form of a $12,500 grant. Additionally, far fewer works were exhibited this year than in previous years.
The organizers of ArtPrize in a press release said that they were planning a “new partnership for a new experiment that will build upon the legacy of the international art competition, effectively ‘ArtPrize 2.0.’” This effort will be jointly led by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., the City of Grand Rapids, and Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University. Notably absent from future proceedings will be Rick DeVos—son of former education secretary Betsy DeVos and grandson of Amway cofounder Rich DeVos—who established ArtPrize and served as its chair since 2009. The DeVos family had been a crucial funder of the event and of its prizes. What impact this loss will have on the revamped ArtPrize, whatever shape it takes, remains to be seen.