Year Seven of the Monied Spectacle: An Indy Media Guide to ArtPrize
Year seven is upon us. Whether you like it or not, for the next month or so, the spectacle that is ArtPrize, is pretty much all you will hear about. Forget about Donald Trump, Iran or climate change, thousands of people invading downtown Grand Rapids is all that matters.
This is year seven and for seven years we have been writing about ArtPrize. Therefore, it seems fit that for year seven, we provide you with an Indy Media Guide to ArtPrize. However, before we begin, it is worth noting that our ongoing critique of this monied spectacle does acknowledge that there is pleasure, entertainment and benefits to ArtPrize. We do not see the world in some overly simplified binary world of good and bad, but we do want to see a world where those with obscene wealth and power are challenged or at the very least made to feel a bit exposed.
- Back in the summer of 2009, as ArtPrize was first being announced, we were one of the first media sources to raise questions about the intent of this so-called art extravaganza. The main issue we raised was around the larger PR function such an event would provide for the DeVos family. We asked, what impact will such an event have on any insurgent movement to challenge organized money? Like most billionaire families, the DeVos family cares deeply about its public image and ArtPrize seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring more converts to the, “where would Grand Rapids be without them,” crowd.
- By year two, it became clear that the local news media had become unpaid cheerleaders for ArtPrize. Even during the inaugural year, ArtPrize had already garnered the allegiance of local media, as we noted in our story entitled, Reporting on and Promoting ArtPrize. In that article, we quoted local property owner and managing partner of CWD Real Estate Sam Cummings. Cummings said, “Our long-term goal is really to import capital – intellectual capital, and ultimately real capital. And this (ArtPrize) is certainly an extraordinary tool.” Such a comment confirmed for us the overriding role that the annual event would play in Grand Rapids. Later that year we published the finds of a news study to make the point about how ArtPrize had become the media darling. ArtPrize trumps democracy: What the Press coverage tells us about the Press reveals that even during a gubernatorial election year, ArtPrize had nearly twice as many stories in the Grand Rapids Press as all election related stories, 153 ArtPrize articles to 87 election articles.
- In year two, we were also fortunate to have artist Richard Kooyman allow us to re-post his thoughtful piece on the danger that DeVos money and ArtPrize would pose to art and culture in general, in his piece What is ArtPrize?
- In year three, we began to look more closely at the financial aspects of ArtPrize. The mainstream news media has always run stories about how much money is “brought in by ArtPrize,” but they have never really explored who are the big financial winners, as we did we our story, When elites give money to each other: ArtPrize financials for 2010. We have also made it clear, based upon 990 documents, that Rick DeVos has been bankrolled by his parents, Dick & Betsy, to put on the annual monied spectacle. It became clear from the 990 documents that a great deal of the money was simply being passed around from one DeVos entity to another, although this was never a theme of any media reporting.
- In 2012, a GQ article about the DeVos family and ArtPrize generated some interesting conversation, but not by local news media, as we pointed out in MLive article misses the point of the GQ article on ArtPrize. The GQ article was one of the first outside media sources to discuss the political dynamics of ArtPrize, something that Rick DeVos constantly wants to distance himself from. 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.”
- In 2012, we continued to explore the money and politics of ArtPrize, we our 2 part piece entitled, The Political Economy of ArtPrize. In Part I, we explored the more general impact that such an event has on art and culture and in Part II we explore in more detail the relationship between those who finance ArtPrize to what else the monied elites finance at the local, state and federal level.
- 2012 was also the year that local activists engaged in a photo bomb campaign (called ArtLies) to visually make a point about the money and politics of ArtPrize donors, sponsors and the DeVos family.
- In 2014, artist Steve Lambert generated lots of attention and discussion around the politics of ArtPrize, with both his installation piece and his announcement that if he won the prize money from ArtPrize he would donate it to a local LGBT effort, since the DeVos family has historically funded anti-gay campaigns. What Lambert was able to do was to force both ArtPrize and the larger community to ask more fundamental questions about the political economy of this annual monied spectacle.
Ultimately, we believe that you cannot separate the funding sources of events like ArtPrize, from the political desires of the capitalist class. The DeVos funding of ArtPrize is a way to distract us and make us feel good for a few weeks out of the year, while the politics they fund bludgeon us all year round.