On Friday we announced some big news that has been in the works for a while, a multi-faceted partnership with ART21, the New York based non-profit that produces Art In The 21st Century, an award-winning PBS series on contemporary art. The partnership centers around our Juried Grand Prize, which for the first time this year will award one artist $200,000. Susan Sollins, director and chief curator of ART21 will head the committee of three jurors who will determine the award, along with two artists featured in the upcoming season of ART21, Leonardo Drew and Katharina Grosse.

We’ve been working behind the scenes on this for months, and there are still details to figure out. While reflecting on this, I realized that in a certain way the process leading to this partnership began much earlier. Five years ago, as we were preparing for the first ArtPrize in 2009, I pitched an idea for a post to the ART21 blog. They had initiated a series of posts called "Art 2.1: Creating on the Social Web” all about how social networking, which was still rather new at the time, was affecting the art world. 

At the time, ArtPrize was little more than a social network. We had a website with plenty of artist and venue profiles, but the first event hadn’t happened yet. The post I ended up writing, "ArtPrize: An Experiment in Decentralized Curation and Competition,” is fun to revisit in several respects. For one, it’s all written in a speculative future tense. We knew what we were planning to do, but the event didn’t really exist yet. It’s also fascinating to see that the post does a pretty good job of describing what the event turned out to be. The comments on the post function as a time capsule of many of the questions and anxieties ArtPrize caused when it first appeared.

When I recently revisited this post, I recalled why I decided to pitch it to ART21 in the first place. At the time, I didn’t know anyone affiliated with the organization. I was a fan of the show and the blog, and the Art2.1 series seemed like a good occasion to talk about what we were doing. I also wanted more people in the art world to know what ArtPrize was going to be and the thinking behind it. 

There’s another reason I chose to pitch that post to ART21, and it’s essentially the same reason we pursued this partnership with them this year. ART21 and ArtPrize are similar in that they’re both unconventional art organizations that don’t seem like they should be able to exist, but do. If I had never seen an episode of ART21 and you told me that there was a television show that featured short documentaries about living artists that highlights their work and process with remarkable intelligence and clarity, I probably wouldn’t believe you. It’s just not the type of thing you typically see on TV, but it exists, and it’s miraculous. ArtPrize, from a similarly skeptical point of view, seems like it shouldn’t work. Why would artists from all over the world come to Grand Rapids? Why should the general public be trusted to vote on the winner of such a large prize? Why would masses of Midwesterners and tourists flock to see work by living artists, many of them unknown? As improbable as it all seems, it works.

ArtPrize and ART21 are both committed to the work of bringing contemporary art to new audiences. We’re not museums, so we’re able to approach this task in ways that go far beyond counting people at the door. Through the internet, broadcasting, and partnerships, we’re bringing artists and people together.

By Kevin Buist on