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How do we justify ArtPrize with all the horrible shit the DeVos family does?

August 16, 2022

So, we are approaching the beginning of the fall season and that will mean that ArtPrize will be back in full swing in downtown Grand Rapids. 

ArtPrize will mean that thousands of people from all over the world will descend upon Grand Rapids from September 15th through October 2nd. Businesses will be hoping, the hotels will be full and parking lots will be over capacity. People will be voting on artwork that artists have submitted…..for a fee, and the GRPD will be out in force making sure that tourists are safe from unhoused people or dissidents challenging the fetishized event, all at taxpayer expense.

I have been writing about and critiquing ArtPrize since it began. Last year I posted an article entitled, Artprize is back and I still hate it. In that post I listed 7 main posts why I object to ArtPrize. It was interesting to see the reaction from people and how they justified why they would attended ArtPrize and why it should be supported. I will get to those justifications in a bit, along with a list of the harmful shit that the DeVos family does, but first I think it is worth talking about how the City of Grand Rapids uses public money to support ArtPrize, without out consent.

In the August 9th Grand Rapids Fiscal Committee Agenda, there are two separate resolutions in support of ArtPrize. The first resolution begins on page 21, which provides $50,000 from the City’s General Fund sponsorship. The City of Grand Rapids justifies the $50,000 contribution from the general fund, by stating: 

A significant portion of these public art activations occur in City parks, facilities and public spaces, encouraging visitors and residents to explore the city and creating much needed foot traffic for adjacent and nearby businesses.

On top of that, the $50,000 from the City’s General Fund, is actually money the federal government provided for the American Rescue Plan Act (page 22). I think an important and reasonable question to ask is, why isn’t this public money, which was given to the City to provide COVID relief for people, not going directly to people who are still struggling to survive because of COVID?

The second resolution begins on page 23, where the City of Grand Rapids will be providing an additional $50,000 in support of ArtPrize through Mobile GR, plus $50,000 more from in kind services. This resolution justifies the $100,000 in support of ArtPrize by stating (page 25):

ArtPrize has partnered with the City of Grand Rapids Mobile GR Department as an Official Parking and Mobility Sponsor since 2012 and has agreed to feature the City’s facilities and services as a preferred parking and mobility provider in its event publications.

Therefore, the City of Grand Rapids will be providing $150,000 in public money to support ArtPrize. Add to that the amount of GRPD officers who will be assigned to patrol ArtPrize, plus the overtime, which will be thousands more from the City Budget, which the public has no real say in. Thus, the City of Grand Rapids will be spending an estimated $200,000 of public money for an event put on by a family that is worth billions. 

There was also some additional resolutions from the August 9th Community Development Committee Agenda, which are rather instructive. On pages 11 – 12, there are several items listed that the Grand Rapids City Manager must approve as it relates to ArtPrize. Some of these include pre-approved vendors in the designated ArtPrize boundaries, the use of parking during ArtPrize, signage, plus no sounds amplification systems can be used unless they are approved by ArtPrize and in consultation with the City Manager. If anyone decides to use a bullhorn to amplify messages that are not in compliance with the DeVos-run event, you will like be arrested. 

I mention these resolutions for the reasons that are already stated, but also because it is important to note that the Grand Rapids City Manager, Mark Washington, not only gets to make decisions about the use of public money during Artprize, Mark Washington also sits on the Board of Directors of ArtPrize. Seems like a clear conflict of interest, doesn’t it? 

Justifying ArtPrize

Over the years, there have been several common justifications that people use to defend the spectacle that is ArtPrize. Here are a few of the most common, with my response.

ArtPrize brings people to downtown Grand Rapids, which is good for the City. It is true that ArtPrize brings people downtown for a few weeks and it does result in significant revenues for the private sector – hotels, restaurants, bars, parking facilities, retail shops. The amount of money that is spent during ArtPrize does benefit businesses, but how much of those profits translate into increased wages for those who do the dirty work? People who wait on customers, those who bus tables, wash dishes, cook, clean hotel rooms, park cars, sit in the parking booths, etc, do you think they are making a livable wage? No. The revenue generated from ArtPrize end up in the pockets of businesses that are disproportionately owned by those who are also members of the Capitalist Class. As Sam Cummings, one of the partners with CWD Real Estate Development said early on about ArtPrize, Our long-term goal is really to import capital – intellectual capital, and ultimately real capital. And this (ArtPrize) is certainly an extraordinary tool.”

ArtPrize provides an opportunity for LGBTQ, the disability community and those who are part of the BIPOC community to showcase their art. Again, like the point about bringing people to downtown, this is a true statement. However, to me, this is a strange way to look at the work of artists that are queer, disabled and/or BIPOC. How about we question the homophobic, transphobic, ablest and White Supremacist society that we live in, which are the primary obstacles for queer, disabled and BIPOC artists getting the exposure they deserve. In addition, the DeVos family is ideologically, politically and financially committed to undermining a great deal of what the queer, trans, and BIPOC communities are demanding and are generally only supportive of them if they embrace a Christian, nationalist and Entrepreneurial ethos that the ArtPrize-created/funded family is all about.

ArtPrize provides an opportunity for people to win a lot a money, which could change the future for the artist who gets the most votes. Again, I get the sentiment here, but for me, the most honest question to ask would be, “What does it say about our society where people have to play the lottery, have to hope to win ArtPrize or get selected for funding from Start Garden (another DeVos creation) in order to feel financially secure?” Or to put it another way, why do we live in a meritocracy where only some people are financially rewarded and huge sections of the population are forced to live in poverty? If the basic needs of everyone were met and we lived in a society that valued real equity, then artists would not have to perform for people to be valued.

The DeVos family has done so much for Grand Rapids, and ArtPrize is just one example of how much they care about this community. This one always puzzles me, since it is an oversimplification for how the DeVos family influences what happens in Grand Rapids. The DeVos family does own a great deal of property in downtown, with a near monopoly of the hotels, a bar and they have all of their foundations and investment firms located at 200 Monroe – in that newly developed complex on the corner of Monroe and Lyon. All of their properties have primarily benefited their family, not the community as a whole. Then there are the entities that they have either created or sit on the board of directors of. Grand Action was a creation with a tremendous amount of DeVos influence and they have not only proposed projects – the arena, the downtown market, the soon to be amphitheater – they financially benefit from those projects. The DeVos family also is involved with the West Michigan Policy Forum, the Acton Institute, the Right Place Inc, the GR Chamber of Commerce, the Econ Club and so many other entities that are primarily driven by financial interests that primarily benefit those who are already part of the Capitalist Class. The DeVos family does not do anything that does not support their financial, political or ideological interests. 

The harm done by the DeVos family

I could tell you to just read the document GRIID has created, We Do What We Want: A DeVos Family Reader, but here are a few of the ways they use their wealth and influence to do tremendous harm.

First, the DeVos Family Foundations, which are numerous, are a mechanism (as are all foundations) to hide their wealth from taxation. In addition, the DeVos Family Foundations have give millions to Religious Right groups, which zealously oppose gay marriage and trans rights, along with opposing people’s right to have an abortion. Their foundations also fund think tanks like the Mackinac Center, the Acton Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. These groups zealously defend the economic system of Capitalism and fight against those who challenge it, such as worker unions and those fighting for a living wage. The DeVos Family Foundations have also inserted themselves in local education systems, which has also resulted in those schools adopting a more pro-Capitalism framework, along with injecting religious beliefs into the public sphere. 

Second, the DeVos Family has contributed more campaign money to the Republican Party than any other family in Michigan. Since the early 1990s, the wealthiest family in West Michigan has contributed over $100 Million to the GOP, specifically for the purpose of adopting public policies that harm worker wages, the right to unionize, to undermine public education, to attack LGBTQ rights, the limit Civil Rights for BIPOC communities, to limit the taxation of corporations, to use public money to fund private businesses (subsidies) and to promote economic policies that continue to destroy eco-systems and promote Climate Catastrophe. The DeVos Family has contributed more than any other entity to get Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker elected. Chris Becker has made it clear to the public that he will honor a 1931 law that prohibits abortion in Michigan. The DeVos Family collectively has been the largest donor (so far) to the campaign of GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Tudor Dixon, who not only embraces the same ideologically-drive far right policies that the DeVos Family support, Dixon also believes that the 2020 Election was not legitimate. In 2020, the DeVos Family was a significant donor to the re-election campaign of Donald Trump. This means that after all of the heinous shit that Donald Trump did during his presidency, the DeVos Family decided to funded the neo-fascist president in 2020. 

A whole lot more could be said about the real harm that the DeVos Family has done ever since the Amway Corporation put them on the map, but to me it boggles the mind that people can somehow engage in some sort of mental jujitsu to justify the existence of ArtPrize. How can people separate the oppressive policies that the DeVos family has funded and then walk around downtown GR and think that ArtPrize is just an art competition? For me, there is no fundamental different between people participating in ArtPrize – knowing what we know about the DeVos Family – or attending a county fair hosted and funded by the KKK.

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