Yesterday, artist Steve Lambert, whose entry “Capitalism Works for Me” is nominated for the $20,000 Time-Based Juried Award and the $200,000 Juried Grand Prize, took to social media to explain what he’ll do with the money if he wins, and his reason why. You should read it yourself, but the summary is that Lambert has pledged to donate all winnings to the Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s new Our LGBT Fund, established to “provide a safe, welcoming and healthy environment for the LGBT community in West Michigan."

Naturally, speculation has been swirling since last night about what ArtPrize’s response to this would be. In short, we think it’s great.

Lambert’s ArtPrize entry is not the first, and certainly won’t be the last, to have a direct tie to a social cause. Since the first ArtPrize, there have always been artists who share what they’ll do with the money if they win. Often, this doubles as a promotion strategy during first-round voting, to the chagrin of many ArtPrize attendees. "Shouldn’t the vote be about the work," they ask, "and not about a social cause, however noble?" The current case with Lambert’s work is different from that promotional strategy in one important way. Round one voting is over, and Lambert is not eligible for a public vote prize; he’s eligible for two juried prizes, which have already been decided but not yet announced (suspense!). So Lambert’s announcement isn’t a plea for votes, it’s a political statement, and we welcome it.

ArtPrize is a place where artists’ voices are amplified and free expression is paramount. We agree with 2013 ArtPrize Juror and Director of Creative Time Anne Pasternak when she said, "there’s no door that [artists] shouldn’t kick open.”

Another reason we welcome this development is Lambert’s choice of where he’ll donate the money. First of all, an artist who is not from West Michigan pledging to use potential winnings to give back to our community is a wonderful and generous thing. But it’s even better than that. The Grand Rapids Community Foundation, the organization behind the Our LGBT Fund, is an ArtPrize sponsor. Earlier this year we were proud to announce that the Community Foundation awarded ArtPrize a $50,000 gift toward ensuring that everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or socioeconomic status, can join the conversation and have their voices heard at the world’s largest art competition.

In his blog post, Lambert states that the source of ArtPrize’s funding is the driving factor for his decision. This is fair, but we noticed that the ensuing social media conversation has been filled with quite a bit of confusion about where ArtPrize gets its funding. As a non-profit organization, this is public info, but by way of summary, here’s the current 2014 breakdown of where we get our money:

  • 31% comes from foundations. This includes our founding sponsor, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, as well as about a dozen others, including the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.
  • 5% comes from federal, state, and local government sources (thank you, taxpayers!).
  • 55% comes from corporate giving. This is a long list of local and international brands, led by Meijer, PNC Bank, Kendall College of Art and Design, and Amway Corporation.
  • 9% comes from our individual and family membership programs, ArtFan and ArtClub. 

As we said when we began ArtPrize, we welcome the conversation. We’re glad people are talking.

By Kevin Buist on