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Photo bomb challenges the politics of ArtPrize , with online campaign

September 23, 2012

Last year we posted a two-part piece on the political economy of ArtPrize. In part II, we identified ArtPrize sponsors, based on the 990 records they submitted to the federal government, which lists the ArtPrize budget, expenses and sponsors and how much they gave.

The article from last year talked about some of the sponsors and the hateful campaigns they have funded, particularly anti-LGBT campaigns.

Some of this funding has gone to support efforts to defeat marriage equality and domestic partner benefits or to religious groups, which preach that, “homosexuality is a sin.” Despite this kind of homophobic policy funding, I have seen nothing in writing or heard anyone discussing these issues while ArtPrize has been going on. Look at it this way, what if neo-Nazi groups or the KKK were sponsors of ArtPrize? Do you think there would be some discussion of this, maybe even rage? Do you think that the African American community and its allies would be avoiding or even calling for a boycott of ArtPrize? Sure seems likely. So why is it that when institutions that make it a priority to deny people who identify as LGBTQ their basic rights, why are people not outraged? Just because the foundations that fund anti-gay policies don’t wear white hoods, doesn’t mean they don’t do harm to vulnerable population.

Starting today, a group of local activists are now trying to shed light on the anti-LGBT funding from some of the ArtPrize sponsors. Using public information, the activists have found a few examples of anti-LGBT funding and are posting photos and information at a Facebook page called ArtLies.

For example, the Edgar & Elsa Prince Foundation gave $75,000 to the 2004 Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment in Michigan. Edgar and Elsa Prince are the parents of Erik Prince and Betsy DeVos. The Edgar & Elsa Prince Foundation gave $450,000 to California’s Prop 8 to ban Gay Marriage, in 2008.

The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation donated $100,000 to the Florida4Marriage campaign in 2008, to defeat a campaign to get marriage equality in Florida.

More recently, the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation donated $500,000 to the National Organization on Marriage for its efforts across the country to defeat Marriage Equality. This large amount of money to defeat Marriage Equality across the country has led to a campaign to Boycott Amway, since Doug DeVos is the current President.

In addition, the local activists pointed out with some signs in their visual campaign other funding issues with some of the ArtPrize sponsors. For example, Richard DeVos contributed $250,000 to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to defeat the recall campaign earlier this year, since Walked has been attacking working people and labor policies in that state.

Another issue one of the signs points to is the funding that the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation and the Edgar & Elsa Prince Foundation have given the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The Mackinac Center is a far right think tank that supports Right to Work laws, privatizing public services, privatizing public education and deregulation of any restrictions put on the private sector by the state. The Dick & Betsy DeVos has given $80,000 between 2002 – 2009 to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Edgar & Elsa Prince has provided $195,000 during the same time period.

Lastly, the activists point out in one sign that the Dick and Betsy DeVos foundation has contributed millions of dollars to promote the privatization of education, which undermines public education funding across the country. One researcher even refers to Betsy DeVos as the 4 – star general of the pro-school privatization movement.

In their photo bomb action today, some of the activists even stood next to one of the WOOD TV 8 signs by the Grand Rapids Art Museum, where the channel 8 station has been broadcasting live since ArtPrize began this year. They stood their with these illuminating signs about ArtPrize sponsors to make the point that commercial media in this community has ignored the politics of the ArtPrize sponsors.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. diane-archist permalink
    September 23, 2012 10:51 pm

    Better they should fund artprize!

  2. Randy Marsh permalink
    September 24, 2012 2:56 am

    “Look at it this way, what if neo-Nazi groups or the KKK were sponsors of ArtPrize? Do you think there would be some discussion of this, maybe even rage?”

    It is understandable for the gay community to strongly dislike the DeVos family. Obviously. Go ahead and protest ArtPrize. But show me a death camp set up by the DeVos’. Show me crosses burned by them. Yes, they are ideologues, but they also build children’s hospitals. To deny this is dishonest.

    They are not neo-Nazis or KKK. That is a serious fallacy.

  3. A. Skinner permalink
    September 24, 2012 11:18 am

    So because they aren’t running death camps, only funding groups whose goals are to ensure that tHe LGBT community has no equal makes it okay? Too hard? I’ll simplify it for you. They are humans with the intentions of oppressing other humans.

  4. September 24, 2012 2:24 pm

    The DeVos family think they can buy everything and everyone with their money. When judgement day comes, they won’t be able to buy their way into heaven. They claim to be Christians (as do I), but they act as if “they” are God and can tell people how to run their lives and live the way they feel is the right and only way. Instead of giving their money to causes and politicians for the rich, why don’t they help the poor and struggling people as Jesus would have done? I agree they have done good things for Grand Rapids, but I don’t agree with their “better than thou” attitude of their everyday living.

  5. Aleks permalink
    September 24, 2012 3:17 pm

    Well the Nazis built many children’s hospitals, schools and roads, guess they weren’t so bad.

  6. SitInnverter permalink
    September 24, 2012 6:25 pm

    A pictures worth 1,000 words.

  7. T Edson permalink
    September 25, 2012 11:17 am

    They (DeVos, Prince, etc.) have a right to support the causes they believe in. I don’t believe the causes they do and support equality of marriage but that doesn’t mean I am better than them but different than they are in how I think. You have a right to protest and they have a right to support those ideas they believe in. The majority of the country is finally swinging towards equality for all so no matter how much $$$ some people throw at causes, sometimes sanity just wins. Make sure you vote this year…and not just for Art Prize. It’s time to be the change we seek.

  8. September 25, 2012 12:33 pm

    T Edson, thanks for your comments. The DeVos and Prince families do have a legal right to fund anti-gay campaigns, just like corporations have the legal right to pollute the water, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be resisted. I am not sure that the majority of the country is swinging towards equality, but we see this action as one tactic among many, just like voting, that is necessary to bring about justice for the LGBT community.

  9. Calvin Thomas permalink
    September 25, 2012 2:16 pm

    I should note that I am a teacher who has worked in multiple arenas of learning… public and privately funded.

    I had issue with the proposal in California not because I am a bigot but because I want the state out of marriage entirely. Instead of expanding the inappropriate relationship our government has with a private matter why not work to emancipate all people from its grip.

    Should I then be protested against and all my endeavors thrown under the bus because we have a disagreement???

    Should the rights of conscience held by congregations and pastors be protected or cast asunder? If a pastor refuses to marry a couple because they have morale/religious objection will they have a right to not go through with the ceremony or will they be prosecuted by the state, lawsuits, etc? If anyone has concern with that matter should their perspective be cast aside without discussion.

    On another note I think it is short sighted for this photo bomb to be so against the Mackinac Center. There are many faults with them sure, but they are one of the leading advocates in the state of Michigan against corporatism…. are you guys in favor of that? The Mackinac Center are also leading the charge to better our state’s indigent defense system…. Do you guys like our current system? They also worked WITH the MEA to end subsidies to Hollywood…. are you guys a fan of the state’s old ways of cronyism??? Not to mention they led the charge to help that poor kid in Holland start and keep a hot dog stand in Holland…. Do you like keeping kids from having hotdog stands???
    Oh and I almost forgot your signs spelled their name wrong, it is a “C” not a “W”

    Why should parents who choose to privately instruct their children be penalized by funding the public school in addition to their own family’s endeavors? Why prop up teacher organizations who have blocked any dialogue for innovation. Shouldn’t parents be given more choices not less. If our current approach to public education is so good why has expenditures dramatically increased while results haven’t? If forcing students to go to schools based on geography is such a good plan why not extend the principle to other endeavors such as where one gets their groceries, buys clothing, housing, or where one vacations etc…

    It is true that some of the artprize sponsors and I disagree on some socio-political topics but why in this age of disagreement are we all always at against one another? Why can’t we use something like a giant art exhibition to bring everyone together to celebrate our right to free speech by having conversations instead of polluting the beauty of art?

  10. September 25, 2012 2:47 pm

    Is this the famous right wing pundit Cal Thomas???? The action done by people with the photo bomb was not necessarily advocating that the state should be involved in deciding who gets married or not, but to point out that some of the ArtPrize sponsors were funding campaigns to limit the desires of some in the LGBT movement who want the legal right to marry.

    On the matter of the Mackinac Center, they are hardly against corporations and are the leading force behind the shock doctrine now being applied to Michigan. The Mackinac Center wants to privatize many public services, eliminate government unions, make Michigan a Right to Work state and privatize education. See and

    Lastly, your suggestion that people not protest and enter ArtPrize as a way of not polluting the “beauty of Art” is ridiculous. Why not relegate all dissenting points of view into ArtPrize entries so that all dissenting views can be neatly packaged into a 3 week slot and the rest of the year can be left to bread and circuses.


  1. Year Seven of the Monied Spectacle: An Indy Media Guide to ArtPrize | Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy
  2. 10 years of ArtPrize critique and resistance | Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

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