By Jami Miedema

Grand Rapids, MI is currently hosting their 2nd annual ArtPrize festival. During this two week event, the city is turned into an art gallery, bringing together the community with artists from all over the world. This year, 192 local venues, including museums, office lobbies, hotels, parks, and restaurants, have showcased work from 1,713 artists. The general public can then vote for their favorite piece, and the winning artist is awarded $250,000 while the artists who round out the top 10 receive cash prizes totaling $199,000.

The artwork is truly amazing. I consider myself a fairly left-brained individual, so it helps that each piece has a description about the work and the artist. One of my favorite sculptures was the Steam Pig Experiment, a hard-to-miss flying pig that was reminiscent of early flying machines. I also was impressed with Lure/Wave, which featured thousands of coils of hand-spiraled red thread suspended from the ceiling at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art. The project depicted an ancient Chinese legend about love and fate. It’s always interesting to see what inspired the artists’ creativity.

Not only is ArtPrize a way for artists to gain exposure, but it is also a way for numerous venues to attract business and increase sales. According to the ArtPrize website, last year’s event brought over 200,000 visitors, and the location that displayed the winning piece hosted more than 80,000 people! The site also states that restaurants were quickly running out of food, and that the downtown hotels were filled to capacity during the event. What a boost for the local businesses! This year seems no different as the streets were packed with people late on a Wednesday night. Even the restaurant in which I ate dinner had a line out the door well past 9pm. The town seemed vibrant and exciting – a welcomed sight for the local residents and businesses as we emerge from these economically-trying times.

What events does your area coordinate to bring together the community and increase traffic to local businesses?