ArtPrize2011 037The third annual ArtPrize is underway here in Grand Rapids, and this year there’s plenty to see and do. With almost 2,000 pieces of art on display throughout the downtown area (plus a few other venues), art is almost literally – everywhere you go. The event kicked off on September 21st and continues through October 9th.

ArtPrize is a unique experience for many reasons – but mainly because it’s the public who determine which artists take home the cash prizes. ArtPrize is also completely free to attend – even venues which normally charge an admission fee are free during ArtPrize. This makes it a great choice for families who are looking to save vacation dollars, and also is the perfect time to stop by and see the wonderful museums here. Not only can you get in for free, but with the added ArtPrize pieces, there’s even more art to see! The entire downtown becomes an art gallery itself and there’s something to see even just when you’re walking down the street.

ArtPrize2011 022

This year ArtPrize brings more than just artwork to downtown Grand Rapids. For example, you can take carriage rides or Segway tours, and a local news channel is live broadcasting from a temporary studio downtown, allowing the crowd to get into background shots, similar to what you find in Times Square for the major network studios, but on a local level. Area restaurants, hotels and shops offer specials during ArtPrize, an event which brings tens of thousands of extra people (and their spending money) to Grand Rapids, boosting the local economy.

But it’s the art that takes center stage, and in every medium imaginable – and many that you’d never likely dream of. There are paintings, sculptures, drawings, performance art, music – plus art created from fabric, fiber, paper, sand, glass, plastic, rocks, metal and more. There are even some pieces that the public helps create, such as Pamela Alderman’s ‘Braving the Wind’ entry, which includes a set of watercolor paintings along with a Healing Tree, where “the viewer is also invited to become a part of the story. By writing the name of a loved one—who has battled cancer—on a Hope Card and hanging it on the Healing Tree, we honor their struggle”.

ArtPrize2011 043

So far I’ve made it downtown once – a ‘Girls Night Out’ trip with a friend, sans kids. We had a blast wandering through a few of the larger venues, stopping into some of the smaller ones, and checking out the artwork located everywhere else along the way (and we even made it into a couple of crowd shots on the local news). I plan to take my kids there once or twice this week -here are a few tips to help families navigate ArtPrize and get the most out of the event:

  1. Do not expect to see everything in one trip, especially if you have kids with you. It’s easier to plan several shorter trips (especially if you’ve got kids with you) and decide which artwork/venues are the most important to you ahead of time if there are specific pieces you want to see. Otherwise, just find a parking spot and wander – the beauty of ArtPrize is that art is everywhere!
  2. Some of the larger venues can get crowded especially on weekends. Try to hit these areas during non-peak hours if possible since it’s easier to view the art if you’re not fighting to get through a crowd.
  3. ArtPrize involves a lot of walking – don’t forget the sling or stroller for babies and toddlers, and plan out lots of rest stops for older kids to keep them from getting whiny and complaining every 30 seconds that their feet hurt.
  4. For the most part, ArtPrize is fairly family-friendly. However, there are pieces of art which are not G-rated and if you’re not careful your kids may get an eyeful. Scope out the venues you plan to see beforehand – you can see which artwork is located at each venue at Or check out the Kids Guide to ArtPrize, or the ArtPrize section at Kids On The Grand for kid-friendly activities, events, walking tours, and even a fun ArtPrize Treasure Hunt that makes the whole experience a lot more interactive for kids.
  5. Don’t forget to register to vote – it’s free and open to anyone 16 and over with a valid government ID. Remember that although you can register online, you must activate your registration in person at the event – there are several registration locations to choose from.
  6. There are also several ways you can vote – either online at, by text message (send the artist’s Up or Down number to 808080), with a mobile device (sign in to and enter the artist’s 5-digit number into the box), or if you have either an iPhone or Android phone – yes, there’s an app for that! During the first week of ArtPrize (through September 28) you can vote any piece of art either ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’, then after the Top 10 pieces are announced on September 29th, you are allowed only one vote for one of the Top 10 during the second round of voting. The winner will be announced on October 6th.
  7. Michigan weather in the fall can be fickle – expect anything from sunny and 80 degrees to cold, wet and 40 degrees. Dressing in layers is recommended and don’t forget an umbrella. The forecast for the next week does include a lot of rain. But even if it does rain, there are plenty of indoor venues to keep your ArtPrize experience going strong.

You can find out more about ArtPrize at, plus you can check out the ArtPrize Facebook Page or follow @ArtPrize for updates and information. See ArtPrize photos on Flickr or videos on YouTube. I took photos of many of the pieces of art I saw out with my friend on Friday night and created this video to give a little more of an idea about the experience of ArtPrize.