The last ArtPrize event, held in 2018, marked a full decade since this radical concept — which turned the traditional top-down approach of the art world on its head — was first announced. ArtPrize gave the public the voice and power to decide what is good art. It broke down the barrier between viewer and art, viewer and artist — allowing access and connection and conversation on a level that was once unheard of.

Over the past 12 years, we’ve seen a community grow comfortable in public and private art spaces where they may not have felt welcome before. We’ve heard people discussing artworks’ merits on the streets and in bars, with their loved ones and strangers alike. We’ve seen art fill every space imaginable throughout our city, and take over the prime time air waves, reaching households throughout West Michigan and beyond. We’ve seen artworks capture the hearts and minds of the public and jury alike — a collision once thought improbable, perhaps even impossible. We’ve seen kids grow up attending this citywide public art event, immersed in and creating their own contemporary art every year both at ArtPrize and in the classroom.

ArtPrize is and has been so many things to so many people. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe it stands as a beacon of hope — for the possibility of connection, energy, excitement, activity, gathering (safely), collective expression, community support, revival. For the possibility to be transported for a few hours to a time before the pain and anxiety and stress of the pandemic fell upon us. For the opportunity to show our support to creatives and businesses alike.

As it has for so many, this past year has offered the ArtPrize organization the opportunity to pause and reflect, to examine where it came from and consider where it’s going.

Today’s announcement revealing the new format for ArtPrize 2021, which shifts the competition away from the traditional public vote, has been months in the making, and is part of a broader intention and desire for the 2021 event to become a means of Support, Connection, and Fun for our community.

  • Support for artists and creatives to realize their ambitious, intentional, challenging works, especially for artists from underrepresented backgrounds who are the most marginalized in art spaces.
  • Support for artists as they seek to sell their work and build relationships with current and future buyers, as they seek knowledge to better market and price their work.
  • Support for businesses and organizations in Grand Rapids that have had an incredibly difficult time over the last 13 months.
  • Connection between artists and visitors, as artists dig deep into their souls to create the work and make an impact on an audience.
  • Connection between visitors and our community, as we rediscover our city and celebrate all that our community is capable of surviving and thriving together.
  • Connection with family and friends. With strangers. With each other.
  • And Fun. Because you deserve it.

It’s in this spirit and with these core elements in mind that we’ve been carefully and thoughtfully planning for ArtPrize 2021, a format that will allow us to refine, grow, and deepen the ArtPrize experience for all stakeholders in the years to come.

We built a suite of grants totaling $200,000 to support a stellar outdoor exhibition and work created by artists from underrepresented communities. And we’ve opened up nearly 20 outdoor spaces — from parks and bridges to parking lots and more — for curators to activate with stunning artwork. All to create an outdoor urban art adventure throughout downtown Grand Rapids.

We formed a partnership with Miedema Auctioneering Inc to create a platform through which 2021 artists can sell or auction their work — backed by a marketing push and educational campaign to encourage sales and show visitors why they should buy artwork and support artists financially.

And we’re working to create a mobile app that will enhance the IRL ArtPrize experience for visitors and artists alike — encouraging visitors to go beyond simply "liking" an artwork, giving visitors the opportunity to support artists financially when they award the prizes themselves, and opening up the possibility that more artists than ever before will take home a portion of the $250,000 in cash prizes.

With 130+ venues and over 1,000 artists already registered for this eleventh iteration of ArtPrize, we’re looking ahead with hope and anticipation to 18 supportive, connected and fun-filled days together this fall.

Artist registration is open through June 10, and ArtPrize will return to Grand Rapids from September 16-October 3, 2021.

By Jaenell Woods on