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Nothing but praise for ArtPrize at GVSU event

September 24, 2011

Last night, a packed audience at Grand Valley’s Loosemore Auditorium, came to hear perspectives from a panel of artists on what they thought about ArtPrize.

The event was billed as “Perspectives on ArtPrize” and was part of the 2011 DeVos Art Lecture Series at GVSU. The panel consisted of 6 artists and ArtPrize founder Rick DeVos.

From the very beginning, it was clear that the event was framed in such a way that didn’t really welcome any criticism of the local art competition. Marcia Haas, wife of GVSU President Thomas Haas, said in her welcoming comments, “Isn’t it wonderful that our city is alive with art? This is an experience like no other, for people to have a chance to explore our community.”

The panel was then introduced and moderated by GVSU Director of Galleries and Collections Henry Matthews. The first words out of his mouth were, “can you feel the excitement?”

Matthews asked Rick DeVos to begin the conversation by saying that the overall structure of ArtPrize is pretty much the same as previous years, with voting and no categories.  He also said there were awards being judged and an exhibition center at St. Cecilia Society, which included music and other performance art.

The first question asked by the moderator was, “For those who participated last year, how are things different or better?” Jason Quigno, a Native American artist from Michigan said it was hectic, but he likes seeing the excitement on the street. Cyril Lixenberg, an artist from Amsterdam, said he also thinks it is exciting and knows many other people who have told him they were excited. Cynthia McKean, an artist from Saugatuck, said there is confusion, but that this is part of the fun.

There were two Argentine artists on the panel, both from Buenos Aires. Juan Batalla said it was an interesting experience. “It allows art to be talked about, since there is no one who determines who gets to exhibit and who doesn’t. The real joy begins when people begin to talk about the art.” Danny Barreto said he was impressed by the size of the event, the beauty of the city and the variety of art. “It is not only for enlightened people, but for families and regular people who have a chance to look at art in a different way.”

Hubert Massey, an artist from Detroit, said he was impressed by the size and the interaction of the people with the art. “It has a real large impact on the community. Art changes lives and people’s behavior. This should be happening all across the country.

This was the consensus all night, with panelists falling over themselves in praise of ArtPrize. Questions and comments from the audience were not much different in that people wanted to thank Rick DeVos and asked questions like, “Could this be replicated in other cities and what are the lessons learned from this event?” DeVos responded to the lessons learned by saying he thinks that we need to “just get out of the way and allow people determine what happens. He thinks that the collaborative relationships that develop are critical and more of that needs to be developed. The artists and the venue people are putting lots of energy into the whole experience.”

Another audience question asked how many people have been employed by this event? It spoke to the general belief that ArtPrize is good for the local economy, but upon further investigation it seems that a narrow sector of Grand Rapids really benefits – hotel, restaurant, parking lot and club owners are the big winners. DeVos’ response to this question was that the real goal of ArtPrize “is building a deeper and richer culture of experimentation of expression.”

When the artists on the panel were asked about how they felt about their work being voted on, they all responded favorably. DeVos said, “it wasn’t about the Prize, it was the participation of the people.” Really, I wonder how many artists, especially the first year, would have participated if there were no prize money. It seems like a pretty big carrot in motivating artist participation.

The only critical question asked all night was by a young Latino man. He wanted to how this art competition affected the poor people in the community? Cyril Lixenberg responded by saying “get the kids involved.” DeVos agreed and said that he talked to students who got excited about what they were seeing. “It opens up the possibilities for people. ArtPrize is like a treasure hunt, since they get to explore parts of the city they haven’t seen, especially people of lesser means.” No one really answered the young man’s questions and no one could use the word poor, just terms like “disadvantaged” and “lesser means.”

Matthews wrapped up the panel discussion by asking DeVos what was next for ArtPrize? DeVos said he had no “world conquering” plans.

After sitting through the brief panel discussion (only 1 hour), I was left feeling frustrated that: 1) there was no one on the panel who had a critical, different or dissenting opinion; 2) the only question with social implications was skillfully diverted and dismissed, and 3) the event was really an opportunity for Rick DeVos to promote himself and his art competition.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2011 5:17 pm

    Thanks for the report Jeff.

  2. Jeff Smith permalink*
    September 24, 2011 5:23 pm

    Richard, it was painful on many levels and a ridiculous display of not wanting to talk about ArtPrize in a critical way. The event seemed so scripted and sanitized. I just wonder how many people there really believed what DeVos and the artists were really saying.

  3. kswheeler permalink
    September 24, 2011 5:33 pm

    “….we need to “just get out of the way and allow people to determine what happens.” Who is he kidding?

    I’d like to see the DeVos family just get out of the way and allow people to determine what happens. We might not have a quarter-mill to give out to artists, but we wouldn’t be under threat of our local government being taken away by the One Kent legislation…we wouldn’t have a governor that the DeVos family bought and installed to carry out their make-the-rich-richer robber baron policies in Lasing…we wouldn’t have to worry about the DeVos influence succeeding in breaking our public educational system in Michigan in favor of charter and private schools…and we wouldn’t have to watch these clowns buy everything from the UICA to the Rapidian so that they, like all good dictators, can control every message that is put forward in this community.

    Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Rick.

  4. justin permalink
    September 25, 2011 11:23 am

    Overall, good article. Can’t expect much from a lecture series named after the DeVos family, but still interesting to hear what they had to say.

    However, I am troubled by the fact that you chose to identify the race of one of the audience members that spoke. You wrote: “The only critical question asked all night was by a young Latino man.” I think that is out of line. You don’t mention any of the other speakers race and it isn’t relevant to the overall story.

  5. Jeff Smith permalink*
    September 25, 2011 11:30 am

    Justin, I don’t think by identifying the race of the person who asked the only critical question was out of line. The room was mostly caucasians. I did mention that one of the artists was Native American and that 2 other artists on the panel were Argentinian, thus Latinos. The question of how the art competition benefits the poor was the most relevant question asked all night in my opinion and the fact that it was a young man, a young Latino man was very relevant. More to the point, the way that DeVos and the other panelists dismissed him underscored its relevance.

  6. September 25, 2011 1:13 pm

    I think race is extremely relevant to the whole ArtPrize story. AP is first and foremost a economic development plan for downtown business. How was the three mile boundary drawn? Does it include the black community of GR?
    It is the business owners and who decide the content of art they want to show. How many minority businesses are included in the boundary?


  1. New Economic report underscores the money making function of ArtPrize « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

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