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The Future of ArtPrize: Get the Public sector to do the bulk of the work plus funding, while the private sector reaps the rewards

November 20, 2022

It is fairly well known that Rick DeVos is relinquishing control of ArtPrize and has decide to discontinue the regular art/tourism money making spectacle that happens every fall in downtown Grand Rapids.

Recently, WOOD TV 8 media personalities, conducted an interview with Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, to discuss the future of ArtPrize and what people can expect for next year. The interview was posted online on November 15th, which you can find here.

The WOOD TV 8 media personalities first asked Mayor Bliss, “why was it so important for the City of Grand Rapids to keep ArtPrize going?” The response from Bliss was instructive, particularly in terms of what was most valuable to City officials about the annual event.

Here are the things that the Mayor centered on why ArtPrize was so important for Grand Rapids:

  1. ArtPrize put Grand Rapids on the International map in terms of art.
  2. ArtPrize is a huge economic driver for Grand Rapids. Small businesses rely on it, it is a mechanism for tourism, and it highlights the city across the globe.
  3. ArtPrize will continue to be a public/private partnership, which is what Grand Rapids is known for.
  4. They are getting feedback from the public, the artists, and the venues, which will inform how to move forward.

These four items are a way of gauging the lens in which ArtPrize is seen by those who run the city. First, it is mentioned in point one and again in point number two that the event brings people in from across the country and around the world. 

The second point that is mentioned by the Mayor, which is really the driving force behind the value of Artprize, is how much money it brings into the City of Grand Rapids. This was the point that Sam Cummings, a member of the GR Power Structure and partner with CWD Real Estate Investments, had made back in 2010 about the value of ArtPrize. “Our long-term goal is really to import capital – intellectual capital, and ultimately real capital. And this (ArtPrize) is certainly an extraordinary tool.”

In the third point, Mayor Bliss not only stressed the public/private partnership aspect of Grand Rapids, but went as far as to say that this is what Grand Rapids is known for. Lets be clearly, when city leaders talk about public/private partnerships, what they really mean is that the private sectors benefits from making a great deal of money from ArtPrize, while the public sector uses public money, with little or no input from the public and they only public benefit is that Grand Rapids get more recognition and tourism, which ultimately means more money for the private sector.

The fourth, and last point, was the required feedback from the public, artists and the venues involved, which usually means the loudest voices in each of those arenas, but really means that the venues (which are primarily businesses) will have the most influential voice in the process.

At one point, one of the WOOD TV 8 personalities said, “Everyone looks forward to it,” which is to say that no one in their right mind thinks that ArtPrize isn’t the greatest thing since indoor plumbing.

Later in the interview, another WOOD TV 8 personality asks, “with all of the new hotels and hotel expansion, how important is ArtPrize for the area.”  The Mayor responds by saying that during COVID so many businesses were asking when ArtPrize was happening again. She also said the event is important in terms of attracting people to the city and drawing national attention. Again, the economic benefit is centered, as is the PR benefits for the city, which usually about money as well.

One last question from a WOOD TV 8 personality asks, “what are the next steps?”Mayor says they are in the process of identifying additional leaders to be on the board of directors, then get dates set, so we can get the word out about ArtPrize 2023. Additional leaders? This usually mean people who are either members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, those who work for organization run by the GR Power Structure or those who at the very least defend the function of the GR Power Structure. 

We do know that as of right now, the three entities that will run the future ArtPrize are, the City of Grand Rapids, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and Kendall College. 

It is also worth mentioning the things that the Mayor did not mention or did not center in her comments. Artists are only mentioned once in the interview, and that was in reference to getting feedback from those who have participated. The public was only centered once, again as an entity to get feedback from. No where does the Mayor talk about the cultural and social impact of ArtPrize, nor does Mayor Bliss mention equity or if/how such an event can benefit the most marginalized in Grand Rapids or work towards creating racial justice, something the Mayor and City officials claim they are working towards.

In the end, one can expect that the future of ArtPrize will continue to be a benefit primarily for the private sector, to be a tool used for generating tourism and positive PR. The only real difference that I can see with Rick DeVos no longer running ArtPrize, is that he got the City of Grand Rapids to take it over. Ultimately, this means City funds, City resources and City staff time will be spent on an event that will primarily benefit the private sector. It’s sort of like a reverse austerity measure, where instead of privatizing a public service, the private sector gets the public sector to underwriting and promote ArtPrize, yet the private sector is the primary beneficiary of the monied art spectacle.

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