ArtPrize v. Festival: Is there a difference?

Festival of the Arts

Last night while walking through The Old Federal BuildingFestival of the Arts came up. For those not from River City, it’s our annual 3 day event featuring the best local Art, Music, Film and food in the West Michigan 7 county region. The first Festival began in 1969, the year we installed Le Grande Vitesse. The icon at left was created by Calder for that event. A line has been drawn from 1969 to now. After this first week of After this first week of ArtPrize is there an intersection of intent?

From the Festival website:

Always held the first full weekend in June in downtown Grand Rapids, Festival of the Arts is a community celebration featuring arts, entertainment, food and fun activities for the entire family. All performances, exhibits and activities are free, thanks to generous donations by local organizations, companies and individuals.

Now ArtPrize:

At ArtPrize, any artist—from established to emerging—has the chance to show work. Any visitor can vote. The vote will decide who wins the largest art prize in the world. We also took the unusual step to allow people in the city to open a venue and choose the artists to show in their space. There is not one official curator or jury for the competition.

On the face of they sound very different. But are they?

This past week, crowds in the 10’s of thousands walked biked, bussed and trollied throughout the 3 square mile ArtPrize district to look at art, eat food, take in the day. This past June, 10’s of Thousands of people walked around downtown to look at art, Listen to music, eat food, take in the day.

ArtPrize has a $250K people’s choice award. Festival’s is only $500. Both events had over a thousand entries. Both get people talking about Art.

The selection process of Festival is more rigorous on the one hand with only a third of its entries being chosen for the exhibit.  Although very local in flavor, the overall quality offers a decent sense of the ‘best of the region’ by  those people who love to make work be they are paid or not.

What I saw this past week in ArtPrize, was that the bad are very bad and the good are very good. Of the very good works created elsewhere, they help expand the local sense of what is Art. I also saw that many local artists can hold their own against national work.The sad part is much of it is rarely seen locally, except in the classic gallery setting. Will the ArtPrize public continue to step out for that after next week? They say it is part of their mission to promote an ongoing dialogue about Art. We shall see.

When I was a boy, my family would go to Festival and I would always go to the Visual Arts and Film competitions first. I spent hours walking the halls of art and especially watching short films. Often returning many times; amazed that someone I might know could make a movie and show it to other people. Now as an adult, I work as a creative professional, I write, I support the creative endeavors of my wife and two boys. I can draw a line from Festival to now. Will my sons be able to say that about ArtPrize? We shall see.

A lot of the local Art professionals like to grumble about the caliber of work in Festival. Same goes for ArtPrize. I don’t disagree. I have real issues with both but I still go, family in tow and find value in both. If you are going to live here and make here, then step up and own Festival, own ArtPrize, own this town. Don’t sing public virtues of ArtPrize and grumble in the comfort of friends. If you don’t like something point it out, offer a solution. Also make sure to give praise when it’s due.

The general public often remarks they don’t always understand Modern Art. Or they may say ‘I could do that.’ And that classic: ‘Art is in the eye of the beholder.’ Not good enough. There are some great works out there but please, do your homework. Crack a book, rent a video, google an artist, attend some of the great lectures that UICA, ActiveSite and other venues are hosting this week and next. Own your vote by being informed.

Tomorrow night, Friday 10/2, UICA is hosting a discussion on the ArtPrize Top 10. 7-9 PM. Come out and step up.

4 thoughts on “ArtPrize v. Festival: Is there a difference?”

  1. I've been grappling with how to compare Festival and ArtPrize and I'm not sure they should be compared. Festival has been around for 40 years and ArtPrize is new. Festival has food, entertainment, activities for kids, art sales tents and more, as well as the art. ArtPrize has art – lots of it – and that's mostly it other than events surrounding the art. Festival is limited to a seven county area while ArtPrize is international.

    There are many more differences, as you've noted. All I will add is that our community is extremely lucky to have both ArtPrize and Festival. I think Festival has learned a few things from ArtPrize this year and perhaps ArtPrize learned a few things from 40 years of Festival too.

    To those who comment about bad art… art is subjective and what one likes, another may not. And that is the beauty of art.

  2. You mean Andre Brut, which can be quite good when enjoying mimosas amongst friends which then leads to conversation. Throughout there is never any confusion as to what you are drinking. What are you drinking?

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