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GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- Dressed in LaughFest gear, ArtPrize organizers stole a bit of center stage Thursday. That's because they have much to smile about.

The first ever annual report revealed double-digit growth for ArtPrize last year. The 19-day event attracted more than 400,000 visitors, who cast more votes than ever before.

"One of the great things about ArtPrize is it is unique. There is really nothing else like it and I think that is reflected in where people come from," said Christian Gaines, Executive Director for ArtPrize. "People come from all over to visit ArtPrize because there is nothing else really like it."

Gaines said he was surprised to learn that last year over 30,000 visitors came from out-of-state, 20,000 the Detroit area and about 4,000 from Chicago to visit the 19-day event.

"They even came from states like California, Florida, Texas and New York to visit," he said.

Area hotels, restaurants and retail all benefited. In all, ArtPrize brought in $22.1 million to the local economy.

"We are very excited about the economic impact that ArtPrize has in the city of Grand Rapids," aid Gaines.

He is equally excited about big changes coming to the event this year. Among them a major revamp of the award structure.

Gaines says "one of the really interesting things that exists with ArtPrize is the tension that exists between the public vote and the juried opinion."

Now for the first time winners of both the public vote and the juried vote will walk away with a $200,000 grand prize. Also new this year is the requirement that artists submit their work to one of four categories when registering.

Beginning in 2014, both public and juried winners, from each category, will win $20,000 each.That's a total of $560,000 in ArtPrize money. The Top 10 list is being substituted with a Top 20.

"It is fun to see something grow in its acclaim nationally and internationally so we are just making sure we steward that energy and that excitement in the right way," said Gaines.

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