Former champ delighted by return of ArtPrize


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The New Year’s Eve announcement that ArtPrize will return this fall was a surprise to everyone, including former winners.

Organizers say the three-week art competition, the largest of its kind in the world, will return to downtown Grand Rapids Sept. 16.

That will mark three years since the last ArtPrize in 2018; the competition was replaced by a public art event in 2019 and the 2020 competition was canceled due to coronavirus concerns.

“It was a great surprise,” former ArtPrize champion Anila Quayyum Agha told News 8 Monday. “I’m really thrilled that ArtPrize decided to come back because for the last 10 years, ArtPrize has done some wonderful things for Grand Rapids.”

“The people in the downtown area, the restaurants, everybody benefited,” she continued. “Also, the fact that everybody also learned so much about art and what contemporary art is all about.”

One of the big remaining questions centers around who is running ArtPrize. While most previous ArtPrize staff members are gone, the organization says it currently has five full- and part-time employees planning this year’s competition. That includes former executive director Jori Bennett, who got back on board in November and will stay into February, and several former board members, including Marc Schwartz, who is serving as the acting executive director.

“I hope that some of those people do come back,” Agha said. “With the new people that will be in key positions, I’m sure it will take a new direction, which could be really beneficial. But I do feel that institutional memory has a lot to offer; meaning what happened in the past, the experiences, the people who actually conducted all the visitations or arranged for the jurors or arranged for the programming. I think that maybe if the new people at least talk to the older staff members, it would be helpful.”

The competition format remains unclear, but the announcement says there will be $450,000 in grants and prizes. ArtPrize also teased that more artists than ever before will have the opportunity to win. We’re still waiting to learn exactly what that means.

“We know that additional resources will be needed to make ArtPrize 2021 the best event ever,” ArtPrize spokesperson Jaenell Woods said in a Monday statement. “We should have a better idea of what those needs will be in late February or March.”

Agha won ArtPrize 2014 for her entry Intersections, a massive laser-cut cube that cast intricate shadows on the walls of and visitors to the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

She said the win propelled her career forward. She was named a Smithsonian American Art Museum fellow for the 2020-21 academic year and is currently at Augusta University in Georgia.

“It put me on the world stage,” Agha said. “That’s the goal every artist has. For me, it did so much. I’ve been so busy since then. It was 2014, so it’s been six years and I have not stopped working.”

file ArtPrize 2014 Intersections Anila Quayyam Agha_1537494446998.JPG
Intersections by Anila Quayyum Agha displayed at the Grand Rapids Art Museum during ArtPrize 2014. (File)

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