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The funding scheme of ArtPrize

May 28, 2017

Yesterday, MLive reported that the City of Grand Rapids has a new event policy, which changes the payment structure for events held in Grand Rapids. 

The MLive article states:

The change will impact ArtPrize the most, which will now be paying at least $9,000 in new fees to the city this year, said Tom Almonte, managing director of public services.

The change was a part of a large new fee structure the commission passed in order to make it easier for smaller community events to afford permit applications. However, the change doesn’t fully account for the lowered cost as $75,000 from the city’s general fund will be used to cover the difference.

The MLive article frames the issue as if entities like ArtPrize are being penalized for having an event with large crowds, when the reality is just the opposite. Like most coverage of ArtPrize, there is no critical inquiry and no context for actual costs.

First, the City of Grand Rapids is saying that they are contributing $75,000 of taxpayers money. Does this use of money from the general fund also include the cost of having members of the GRPD police the event?

Second, the additional $9,000 it will cost ArtPrize might seem like a lot of money to the public, but to the DeVos family, this is simply a drop in the bucket.

According to the most recent (2015) 990s for the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation, it states:

In addition to this loan, the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation contributes money to their son Rick’s annual event. Again, according to the 2015 990 document for the foundation, his parents gifted $750,000 and an additional $400,000 in two separate line items.

The Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation has assets listed at $55 million and change. Foundation money is a way for rich people to hide their wealth from being taxed. However, if the Dick & Betsy Foundation want to pay the $9,000 fee the City of Grand Rapids is now asking, that is essentially like asking the rest of us to pay 90 cents.

In addition to the large sums of money that the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation provides, several other family foundations make sizable donations to ArtPrize, along with dozens of other sponsors.

Then there is the fact that each individual artist must pay $50 to register the art they have created for ArtPrize. In 2015, there were 1,742 artists who entered ArtPrize, which at $50 a pop comes to $87,100.

To top it off, while a few artists win cash prizes, all of them give their labor for free. Imagine having several thousand artists create all kinds of art pieces, in various mediums, and not get compensated one penny.

It seems that the DeVos family has figured out another way to redirect public funds to cover some of the cost of ArtPrize, use non-taxed foundation money to underwrite the event, have sponsors pony up thousands more and get 2,000 artists to give free labor and pay money to enter this damn contest. Isn’t capitalism wonderful!

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