Grand Rapids has always been a cool city, but never more so than during the magical time when ArtPrize takes to its streets. The annual spectacle, entering its sixth year (September 24 - October 12), is a feast for the senses. It’s no wonder Time magazine named it one of the world's top five festive events.
What makes ArtPrize such a spectacular concept is the way that it makes art so accessible to everyone. First of all, as a free event, no one is economically barred from enjoying these creative expressions. You can wander through the streets of the city soaking up the atmosphere and checking out world-class works of art without buying tickets or paying an entry fee.
Another unique aspect is that anyone over the age of 18 can compete as an artist. With a $200,000 grand prize, winning the competition can be a life-changing event, and any adult, from anywhere in the world, working in any medium can compete for that honor. These days there is both a public vote and a juried competition, each with the same astounding top prize.
The event is also not restrictive when it comes to venues. Museums participate, but they are definitely not the only ones. Any space within the ArtPrize district can be a host venue…and they are. From masterpieces in the river to creations in the police station, art is simply everywhere.
In fact, this year, 1,537 artists from 51 countries will display their work throughout the streets, sidewalks, shops, parks, pubs and parking lots of downtown Grand Rapids. In some cases you'll see artists on site creating new work or talking about their inspirtation, and others may even involve you in the art.
For nineteen days each fall, art actually becomes the primary topic of conversation throughout the city, and everyone has a voice. Not only can you enjoy the pieces and discuss them with friends, neighbors, and passers by, you can also actively participate in determining which are worthy of financial rewards and honors.
The public voting is one of the most unique aspects of ArtPrize, and getting started is simple. First, create an Artprize account. Then you will be able to register to vote, which must be done in person each year to ensure that voters actually have experienced the art, and it doesn’t become an online popularity contest.
You can register by checking in at the ArtPrize HUB or any Voting Site, and by downloading the FREE ArtPrize mobile app for Apple or Android devices. If you use the mobile app, GPS will be used to verify your location. After that, simply enjoy the art and cast votes for the entries you find most deserving of honors.
The app will also allow you to search artist entries, or use the intuitive search to find artists by name or venue. You can also use map and list views to help you find nearby venues with walking directions from your current location.
Once on site, make use of ArtPrize Pathways to explore the city and the event. These designated pathways are pedestrian-friendly routes that will take you within one block of 90% of ArtPrize Exhibition Centers and venues. Each Pathway is 2.4 miles or less.
Biking presents another great option. There are nearly 1,000 bicycle parking spaces in downtown Grand Rapids and all shuttles and Rapids buses are equipped with bike racks. Bring your own, or rent one from Central District Cyclery.
Buses and shuttles are also available to transport you around downtown and between the district and outlying areas. An ArtPrize Wristband entitles you to unlimited rides on the Downtown Area Shuttle and The Rapid bus system.
Maps, event guides, and ArtPrize wristbands are available at the ArtPrize Hub, any Exhibition Center and seven participating Meijer stores.
One day is better than none, but if you want to truly experience ArtPrize, consider spending a few days in the area. If you book a hotel package of at least one night, you'll also receive a complimentary event guide with a map. If you plan to spend the night, room reservations are highly recommended. After all, last year’s event drew 389,400 visits.
That last statistic is arguably the second most impressive aspect of this newer Michigan tradition. The first is that, according to a study commissioned by Experience Grand Rapids, this unique festival of art had a $22 million economic impact on the area last year alone. That kind of positivity can turn any local entrepreneur into an art lover.
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