The Thing About ArtPrize

West Michigan is a kind of okay place. There are a lot of people who love it, a lot that don’t and many who are somewhat neutral about it. I am, for the most part, quite neutral about it here – and find that the saving grace of west Michigan is ArtPrize.

Art Prize, 2011

I make no attempt to hide my love of ArtPrize – I love how the streets are filled with people and with art, and I love wandering around with my camera capturing what’s out there. I love it. I love every moment of it. And when one year is over, I look forward to the next year. This is its third year, and I was even more eagerly anticipating ArtPrize this year than last.

So why am I so mad right now?

Well, I don’t know. And I do know.

The Top Ten for this year was announced Thursday evening and it was… mostly disappointing. I say mostly because there were a few pieces in the Top Ten that I love. One of them being the one pictured at the top of this post. One being this one right down there.

Rain By Lynda Cole


There are pieces in the Top Ten that have me scratching my head wondering what the hell people are thinking? And I’m not the only one. And because so many people are outraged, there’s talk of the “elite” – the art critics who think they know better than anyone else what constitutes art, and that this outrage over the popular vote is implying that somehow the population of West Michigan is just not bright enough to be trusted to vote.

Art is tremendously subjective. This I know.

I love ArtPrize because it takes art, in so many different media, and makes it accessible to everyone. Those of us who don’t go to museums the rest of the year (admittedly, I am not a frequenter of our museums), may be more likely to go during ArtPrize. I love to see the lines outside of the museums – and the families walking around looking at the various pieces. I love taking my kids to see the different venues and talking about art, and what we like and why, and how do these pieces make us feel.

ArtPrize is a conversation starter. It opens up a dialogue that we might not otherwise be having.

And that’s great.

And because it’s so subjective, is it really for me to say that those pieces that are in the Top Ten that I loathe (yes. loathe) are not art? Are they less worthy because I don’t like them? Do they have less merit?

I don’t know.

I just get so frustrated when I think of the amazing pieces that fell through the cracks.

That once again photographer Ryan Spencer Reed’s work was not recognized. His series on the Sudan left me sobbing in the hall of the convention center where it was displayed. His work last year – photographs of the ruins in Detroit – were equally breathtaking, haunting, and phenomenal… and yet, somehow some piece of driftwood gets the recognition that these photographs are not? {There are other examples – though Reed’s photographs are the first that come to mind – and you really should take a look because they are amazing.}

023 | 365

None of these exhibits are on equal footing and I think that’s the fundamental problem with ArtPrize and the voting process. Not all venues are created equal. Naturally, pieces displayed at bigger venues are going to have a bigger audience.

The museums didn’t open until noon – and so it shouldn’t surprise me that many of the pieces selected were not pieces displayed in museums. Surely, it creates a logistics problems for the museums (who are already facing a higher volume of traffic – and not charging admission), so I get it. But… apples to apples or apples to kumquats.

LADY OF DANCE by Kim Rudolph

Ultimately, I guess that while I’m not thrilled with my Top Ten choices, there is definitely one piece that stands above the rest for me, and I will vote for that piece and I will cross my fingers that that piece wins and not some “crazy crap” (thanks for those eloquent words, o ye king of ArtPrize).

I hope that changes take place before next year’s event. I hope that maybe there was a bit of growing pains that they can work through to maybe level the playing field for the artists somewhat. What the answers are for that, I don’t necessarily know.

While I am frustrated, I am ultimately still head over heels in love with ArtPrize. There’s really nothing else like it here, and whether or not everyone else takes the time to really walk around and look, really look, at what’s out there… I do. And I love it. I love it, my kids love it, and I promise to hold off on being a hater until I see what next year brings.

It’s a great thing for an okay town, and it needs to keep being great. I hope it will be great again next year.

About sarah

Sarah is a book nerd, a music lover, an endorphin junkie, a coffee addict. Oh, and a goof ball. She writes, she tweets, and she sings off key.


  1. I love the mural up the side of the building in the first photo.

  2. I see what you’re saying and I heard that they are rethinking the voting for next year- maybe making it top 2 from each neighborhood so that the more “hidden” entries have a better chance. I happened to like a LOT of pieces that weren’t in the top ten and honestly, after all the hype about Rain, it wasn’t in my personal top ten. I am so excited to hear the winner!


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