GQ’s take on ArtPrize and the DeVos Family
Within the past 24 hours, I have had friends message me to see if I had seen the recent GQ article on ArtPrize and Rick DeVos.
My first reaction to the Matthew Power piece in GQ, which was written based on his visit last year, was that it was nice to see such a mainstream publication willing to talk about the political dynamics of ArtPrize.
Early on in the article, Power lets his readers know that he wants to know the motives behind ArtPrize, a question many of us have been asking since it was first announced.
It was also refreshing to see the article include information on the politics of the DeVos family. The GQ article does not give enough details on their political and economic influence, but that the writer even dared to go down that path is important since none of the commercial media in Grand Rapids has been willing to utter a sound about the influence of the DeVos family and ArtPrize. In fact, the local media as we have noted on numerous occasions has been nothing short of a PR engine for the event. We have also noted that local news outlets have demonstrated that reporting on ArtPrize is more important than reporting on electoral politics.
It was equally refreshing to see Matthew Power include critical comments from two local artists, Paul Amenta and Michael Pfleghaar. Amenta and Pfleghaar both do not mince words when talking about what they find objectionable about ArtPrize, which is important considering that the event itself has not been very interested in providing a forum for critical discourse. Last year this writer attended a panel discussion on AtPrize at GVSU where not one of the panel members was willing to provide any critical comments about the annual event; and, when one audience member did, the panelists danced around his question.
Pfleghaar should also be saluted for saying that the “DeVoses were oligarchs who treated Grand Rapids like a playtown, and he also suspected ArtPrize was somehow part of their shadowy conservative cultural agenda.” Pfelghaar also stated, “Rick’s money is their money to me. He was born into this fortune.”
This last comment cuts to the core of the issue in many ways, despite Rick DeVos’ attempts to distance himself from his family’s political legacy. According to the 990s we have looked at for ArtPrize, Dick and Betsy DeVos gave their son $1.7 million in 2009 to help him make his dream become a reality. His parents have continued this trend, along with other DeVos family members and the Prince family, providing hundreds of thousands each year to underwrite some of the larger venues.
Rick DeVos’ desire to distance himself from the family politics was reflected in this comment in the GQ story where he says, “I don’t even want to weigh in on any of the political stuff. I just prefer to stay away from that.” Sorry Rick, but you do not get to stay away from that since the political stuff is woven into the very fabric of ArtPrize as we have noted in a previous posting entitled The Political Economy of ArtPrize.
Does Rick really believe that he can separate his activities, such as ArtPrize or Start Garden, when they can only happen because of the family money? He can no more distance himself from his family’s politics than any other child of a billionaire family unless they reject the wealth, which ultimately means rejecting how that wealth was acquired and what kind of influence and power that wealth buys. Rick cannot distance himself from the anti-LGBT, anti-Union, anti-public education and pro-privatization policies that the DeVos family has financed and lent their name to for decades.
This influence was reflected in the GQ story when the writer pointed out that some people he spoke with said that many artists are hesitant to submit critical pieces or voice criticism of ArtPrize. Powers states that this form of “self-censorship” was due to “all the funding the DeVoses provide for cultural institutions.” Indeed, it is extremely difficult for the cash-strapped nonprofit world to slap one of the biggest hands that feeds them.
Lastly, the GQ article was instructive in its observations about Rick DeVos and his family, with references to a bodyguard-protected family car waiting for them in the alley to the bodyguard hovering near Rick during the ArtPrize awards ceremony last year at the convention center. If Rick is afraid of being assaulted or kidnapped for ransom, he might consider that animosity towards his family is not just because of their politics, but because there are millions of people living in utter poverty while his family owns their own island and Grandpa is consistently one of the top 100 wealthiest people on the planet.