ArtPrize in Grand Rapids used to be like the World’s Biggest Ball of Yarn. It was fun because it was large and bizarre and a good excuse to stretch your legs after a car ride.
The past couple years have shown some changes. Along with the oddities, there has been an increase in beautiful, museum-worthy installments.
Although, in my opinion, finding trash on the street and pondering if it's art is a joke that never gets old.
If you’ve been on the fence about taking the trip, now is the time to go. ArtPrize is Sept. 21 to Oct. 9. Here are some tips from my many years of experience:
MOST EFFICIENT: If you want to get the most into one afternoon, I suggest checking out these venues: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, Grand Rapids Public Museum, The B.O.B. and Devos Place Convention Center.
These are all packed with crowd-pleasing art, the most bang for your buck if you’re walking around downtown. The yard right outside the Grand Rapids Public Museum tends to host some of the bigger sculptures. The B.O.B. is full of restaurants, so it’s a little harder to get around, but Devos Place is stroller friendly.
The Ford Museum had a lot of the popular votes last year. It has hosted both of the grand-prize winning mosaics by Ann and Steven Loveless – which has caused the creation of a new rule limiting the number of times an artist is qualified to win.
JUDGE WORTHY: If you’re looking for the pieces that appeal to judges, go to: Grand Rapids Art Museum, Kendall College of Art and Design and the UICA.
These venues lean toward thought-provoking pieces. For instance, in 2014 the GRAM had one of my favorites, called Intersections. It’s the only time judges and public have agreed on a grand prize. Artist Anila Quayyum Agha filled a room with light and shadows that made the viewer a part of the art.
Kendall College of Art and Design hosted last year’s juried award-winner for three-dimensional art, called "The Last Supper." Artist Julie Green painted a series of ceramic plates in a style that reminded me of plates my grandma owns, but on closer examination, I realized each one depicted the last meal request of convicts on death row.
CHECK OUT THE RIVER: Grand Rapids has a nice river walk and footbridges that are integrated into ArtPrize. The Blue Bridge is a music venue this year, and nearby in the river will be an LED sculpture using light and water. The Gillett Bridge is hosting an abstract river creature.
GET AWAY FROM DOWNTOWN: For the most part, ArtPrize is very walkable, with a concentration of venues and parking ramps that are connected by sidewalks and walking paths. But if you’re willing to drive a little extra, there is more to discover.
SiTE:LAB was a big hit last year. It took over a block in Grand Rapids, turning unoccupied buildings and vacant lots into one big art experiment. Artists were challenged to be inspired by the space and use what was available. It returns this year to 333 Rumsey St. S.W. with new artists.
There’s also Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, which will host ArtPrize artists. From what I understand, the art will be in the lobby, with the café and gift store. If you want to see the year-round sculptures and gardens, you’ll have to pay to get past the gates.
EXPLORE: While I’ve named some of the tried and true venues, there’s always more to explore. Last year, 250 Monroe and Spiral hosted some great art (both were also honorable mentions in the 2015 venue award) but they aren’t open this year. You’ll have to find where the hot place for 2016 will be.
Part of what made 250 Monroe special last year was an exhibit put together through the Curatorial Fellowship program. It was very well done and it makes me wonder what the new fellows will have this year. There will be four of them: (Re)Compose at 130 Ottawa (Breanna Baurichter), Music for Elephants at 50 Monroe (Alison Erazmus), City Flux at 50 Monroe (Julia Victor) and This Space is Not Abandoned at 912 Grandville Ave. (Stefanie Rosalez).
EAT EAT EAT: All that walking is a good excuse to stop and eat multiple times. My preference is to grab an outdoor table at Angel’s Thai Café, which offers a view of the GRAM and Rosa Parks Circle, a prime people-watching spot.
It belongs to a triangle of shops where you can find a couple other quick and easy places, like the Dog Pit and Electric Hero.
Last year, there was a collection of food trucks and stands known as the Grub Hub outside of The B.O.B. (those who went to ArtPrize years ago will remember the space as where the big sculptures used to be).
If you want to go more upscale, downtown offers San Chez Bistro, Founders Brewing Co. and Stella’s Lounge.
The East Hills area of Grand Rapids is more of a trek (you’ll probably want to drive from downtown) but offers some of the hippest restaurants in the area: The Green Well Gastro Pub, Marie Catrib's, The Winchester and Electric Cheetah with Uncle Cheetah’s Soup Shop.
Or, there are plenty of coffee shops to stop at: Mad Cap Coffee Company, Palatte Coffee & Art and Lantern Coffee Bar and Lounge.
BRING THE KIDS: I’ve been going to ArtPrize for five years now with my friend Elizabeth. It started with Elizabeth and a baby who was just learning how to sit up on her own. Over the years it has become a toddler and a baby bump, to a toddler and a baby, to a preschooler and a toddler and my little sister (she’s in her mid-20s and taller than me, but she’s still my little sister).
Is it easy? Not always. It helps to go on a weekday, as well as having a stroller (although I have found that mothers don't appreciate it when you let go of the stroller while on a ramp to see how fast it goes with a child inside). The best bit of timing was when we could tire the toddler out, then hit the GRAM with a sleeping kid.
Some of the art will catch a kid’s attention — a giant, animatronic sock puppet comes to mind — and sometimes they’ll be looking at people or the carpet instead of what’s on the walls. If you’ve got a camera that you don’t mind being dropped, like a disposable camera, it’s a good way to keep kids occupied with the world around them, although be prepared for lots of photos of buttons and trash cans.
For an extra hilarious time, train the toddler to say "How pedestrian" while looking at art pieces.
We’ve never had a problem with the kids trying to get interactive with any art that wasn’t meant to be interactive, although there was one terrible time when the sound of a crash was followed by wailing. We were on the second floor of the Devos Place Convention Center and could look down at the lobby. Some doll-like pottery pieces had been set up on a floor display that was too open. Both the kid and the mother were crying as management came out, and I think venues learned a lesson about public art.
For the most part, though, we keep the kids moving, taking breaks in parks or finding restrooms. The B.O.B. and Devos Place Convention Center both have public bathrooms.
Last year, during a bathroom break, I waited for Elizabeth near the hand-dryers, guarding the stroller with the kids. They were being cute, and I took a picture with my phone.
A woman passing by commented there was all this interesting stuff outside and I was taking a picture in the bathroom.
She was probably joking more than scolding, but it irked me. I can’t make kids be sweet on demand.
So my final ArtPrize advice would be: Don’t lead with expectations. Be flexible, be spontaneous, enjoy the journey. If there’s a good moment happening, then embrace the moment, even if you’re in the bathroom.
- Ann Rather of Battle Creek, African Masks at B.O.B., 20 Monroe Ave. NW
- Michael Ingle of Battle Creek, Guiding Lights at J.W. Marriott Grand Rapids Hotel, 235 Louis St. NW
- Stanley Skopek of Battle Creek, Flight in Wind at GRCC Spectrum Theater Lobby, 160 Fountain NE
- William Williams of Battle Creek, Mitten Brewing Company, 527 Leonard St. NW
- Kimber Thompson of Marshall, Michigan Rocks at Swift Printing & Communications, 404 Bridge St. NW
- Stephanie Colwell of Marshall, Wander - (Film Photography) at Courtyard Marriott Downtown, 11 Monroe Ave. NW
For more information, visit ArtPrize.org.