ArtPrize and Innovation: does Art need either one?

ArtPrize is upon us here in River City. For lo these many months, a topical condition has developed that I have come to call the ‘Dilemma of ArtPrize.’

It could be best described with these remarks:  ‘Why are they doing it and what is it really for?” or “Hey ArtPrize: I really like what you are doing but you should do it this way” and of course “ArtPrize is great, why do you want it to fail, you must hate our city.”

So why does ArtPrize exist?

Is it just a ‘radically open art competition, giving away the world’s largest art prize’? Is it only about viewing and voting for and against visual art in some neo-populist fashion? Is there more to it? A fragment, a clue, may lie here in this blog post on Rapid Growth Media where Rick DeVos remarks:

I thought that models like X-Prize were particularly interesting as a catalyst and organizational model because they create a large incentive for attaining a particular goal, which in turn entices a large group of individuals and teams to go after that goal.

Let’s look at a study by McKinsey and Company published earlier this year on Using Prizes to Spur Innovation (free, but registration is required). The firm talks about the explosion of prizes being used to spark innovation, in particular X-Prize. Check out this 14 minute podcast with Peter Diamandis, the CEO of the X-Prize:

Also this excerpt from the report supports the premise that the ‘prize’ model is a growing trend in philanthropic activity:

Moreover, the role of prizes is changing: nearly 80 percent of those announced since 1991 have been designed to provide incentives for specific innovations rather than to reward excellence in general. An understanding of the characteristics of effective prizes and of how they are evolving would be useful for not only philanthropists but also public- and private-sector players hoping to harness their potential for innovation.

When are prizes more effective than other kinds of philanthropic instruments? Our research suggests that three conditions are paramount: a clear objective (for example, one that is measurable and achievable within a reasonable time frame), the availability of a relatively large population of potential problem solvers, and a willingness on the part of participants to bear some of the costs and risks.

What is the audacious, outrageous solution of ArtPrize? Is the current way we are viewing art a problem that needs to be solved? Is the breakthrough of ArtPrize a triad of  a competition, a commercial enterprise and a cultural catalyst for Grand Rapids?

Somewhere in the next two weeks we may start see where the truth lies.