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ArtPrize is Back and I still Hate it

September 15, 2021

So, ArtPrize is back, and I still despise what it is and who primarily benefits from it. 

Here at GRIID, I have been writing about the monied art spectacle that is run by the son of Dick & Betsy DeVos for the past 12 years. With that, here is a list of why I still hate ArtPrize.

  1. They exploits artists. ArtPrize gets artists to create art to be displayed in order to attract people to come and spend los of money on food, beer, parking and hotels. However, artists are not compensated in anyway. This year, ArtPrize has made some grant funding available to certain artists, but that still means the bulk of submissions will not be compensated for their time nor the supplies needed to create their art.
  2. ArtPrize gets public money from the City of Grand Rapids to promote the event. Why should any public money be given to an event that is run by a billionaire family, especially since the City already provides lots of other in kind services that costs taxpayers money, like the use of police during the monied spectacle.
  3. The local news media spends entirely too much time and energy on ArtPrize, essentially becoming a PR agent for an event that is run by a billionaire family. I mean, WOODTV8 even has a special studio inside the Grand Rapids Art Museum, created just to broadcast live about ArtPrize. In 2010, GRIID conducted a 56-day study of the Grand Rapids Press, to compare how much coverage there was on ArtPrize and elections in Michigan. The 2010 election include a Governor’s, Congressional races, State races, County races, candidates for the Michigan Supreme Court, and several statewide ballot initiatives. During the 56-day study period, we found there were 87 election articles, but 153 ArtPrize articles. For the full findings go to this link.
  4. Most of the sponsors of ArtPrize are either other members of the DeVos family or members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. This group of people fund Republican candidates from the local level all the way up to the likes of Donald Trump. This would provide a perfect opportunity to boycott or disrupt the monied spectacle, yet liberals and progressives would rather attend ArtPrize that challenge their funding sources and the politics behind it.
  5. Early on in the ArtPrize experiment, one of the members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, Sam Cummings, provided us with an honest reason why ArtPrize exists, when he said “Our long-term goal is really to import capital – intellectual capital, and ultimately real capital. And this (ArtPrize) is certainly an extraordinary tool.” ArtPrize has always been about bringing money to the downtown elites. We wrote The Political Economy of ArtPrize – Part I and The Political Economy of ArtPrize – Part II a few years back to make the point about who the primary beneficiaries of the money being spent during ArtPrize.
  6. ArtPrize is primarily about Whiteness. Sure, there are Black, Indigenous and other people of color that come to ArtPrize or submit their art. However, there are so many BIOPC people who have shared with me that they don’t feel safe during ArtPrize, nor do they feel like it is an event that centers their lived experience. We wrote about this dynamic is an article entitled, Grand Rapids, ArtPrize and Whiteness.
  7. In 2015, the State Policy Network (a far right policy network) was being hosted at the Amway Grand Plaza at the very same time that ArtPrize was being held. The founder of ArtPrize, Rick DeVos, presented at the far right conference, with a session entitled, ArtPrize: Unorthodox, Highly Disruptive, and Undeniably Intriguing. Here is a list of other session being offered at the same conference, which should tell you something about how Rick DeVos views ArtPrize:
  • Get States to pass Right to Work Legislation
  • Get States to adopt austerity measures that will hurt workers, the public sector and public services.
  • Attack Public Education by redirecting more public funds to Charter Schools and other “Schools of Choice.”
  • Privatize Higher Education.
  • Promote more Ag-Gag laws, which attack community based efforts around food production and silences animal rights groups challenging the industrial animal industry.
  • Attacks on Green Energy Legislation.

Lastly, one of the things that I hate most about monied spectacles like ArtPrize, is that they deceive us into a certain narrative about our lives, which is to say a Capitalist narrative. I want to live in a world where artists don’t have to worry about having their basic needs met and can create art that they don’t have to worry about people being offended by or censored. I want to live in a world where art is not a commodity. I want to live in a world where we all have plenty of leisure time to make art, to play, to learn another language or do whatever brings us joy. I don’t want to live in a world where the same people who exploit and oppress us are the same people that host art events that kill our souls, while they try to convince us it’s a fun. 

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