GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids is getting ready for the start of ArtPrize, the massive art competition that takes over downtown each year.

Ryan Schmidt’s no stranger to ArtPrize — this is his seventh time competing. His untitled sculpture is outside the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.

“It’s made out of stainless steel, noncorrosive stainless,” Schmidt said. “The piece is formed from basically three planes of sheet metal: the two pieces that were cut out on the side, welded in the center, then I stretched them together to open up on a triangular form.”

Voting for ArtPrize 2023 begins at 5 p.m. Thursday, at the same time a kickoff event starts at Ah-Nab-Awen Park. Organizers expect to top last year’s crowd estimates of over 750,000 during the 18-day event.

The Grand Rapids Police Department has a plan to keep those visitors safe. Chief Eric Winstrom said officers will be working mandatory overtime.

“You’re going to see a lot more police officers downtown on bike, on foot and in squad cars,” he said.

They won’t be just handling traffic control. ArtPrize comes at a time the city has experienced an uptick in crimes that start out as impromptu car shows but turn violent. Earlier this summer, a drag race ended in a crash that injured a woman. Alana Vasquez was shot and killed during one of the gatherings earlier this month. Winstrom and other local law enforcement officials recently announced an aggressive approach to ending these gatherings, targeting organizers, before anyone else gets hurt.

“Alana’s murder put a highlight on how important it is for us to take enforcement action, to impound those illegally operated vehicles, to make arrests, to take the illegal guns off the street,” Winstrom said. “That’s what the marching orders to police officers are.”

This marks a transitional year for ArtPrize, with the city of Grand Rapids, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and the Kendall College of Art and Design taking over from the public-private partnership that dissolved in 2022.

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Some $150,000 from the city’s general fund was set aside for ArtPrize this year. The city has also absorbed the cost of police overtime, garbage collection and other city services since ArtPrize launched in 2009.

More funding is being provided through Mobile GR, the city’s mobility and parking department. Mobile GR’s income is from parking and other fees collected, not tax dollars.

While the city is good at clearing roads in the winter and having a fire truck show up at your door when you call 911, putting on a major art show isn’t in the city charter. Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said the city’s involvement is more about cutting through red tape.

“We have to figure out how to get to yes, even if an idea that comes forward is a little bit crazy,” Bliss said. “We have to figure out how to work together with that creative idea to make it happen and make sure it’s safe.”

According to a Grand Valley State University study, ArtPrize generated $34.6 million in revenue in 2022.