GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — ArtPrize is like Christmas for downtown businesses every year, local leaders say.

ArtPrize first started in 2009. While the competition has had some changes along the way, including a short-lived format change to a public art event and a cancellation due to the pandemic, it has attracted millions to downtown Grand Rapids throughout the years. Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. counted 1.7 million people in foot traffic in 2021, while ArtPrize counted just over half a million visitors, organizers told News 8 last year. In 2018, ArtPrize brought a $33 million net-new economic impact, according to the ArtPrize annual report.

“The amount of people that are coming here aren’t coming here to not spend money. They’re going to buy food. They’re going to buy clothes, they’re going to buy different things here,” said Richard App, the retail retention attraction specialist for city of Grand Rapids.

The first weekend of ArtPrize 2022. (Michael Buck/WOOD TV8)

App said ArtPrize helps businesses get ready for the slower months: One business that used to be in downtown even made enough to pay rent for the entire year, he said.

“When you talk about economic impact for a business, this business said for two years in a row they made enough money during ArtPrize to pay their rent for the entire year,” App said.

Rick Baker, president and CEO of Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, compared ArtPrize to downtown Grand Rapids’ Super Bowl or Christmas season.

“We’ve heard from businesses downtown — particularly like the retail businesses that we have, which are all smaller businesses — that this is kind of like their Christmas season,” Baker said.

Art venues are able to use the competition to advertise and companies throughout downtown are able to attract customers.

“Being a venue is a new way to get people into your store or your business that may have not had a reason to come into your business in the past,” Baker said. “You look at art and then you get a little tired and it’s like, ‘Let’s stop and have something to eat and maybe something to drink and then continue on with our journey.’”

Baker said the annual competition helps build the “brand awareness” for the city and elevates it on a national and global level.

“All of those things can add up in addition to the very specific, measurable, economic impact that an event like ArtPrize has on our community,” he said. “It really does add great value to our community.”

That brand awareness has helped businesses with things like recruiting employees, he said.

“If we’re doing this correctly, hopefully what people are seeing is a vibrant city that people want to come back to and maybe even stay,” App said.

App, who was also an ArtPrize winner in 2009 and 2017, encourages people to come to downtown to enjoy the art while supporting local businesses.

“Come down, support the art. That part is free, but supporting these businesses are really supporting the neighbors,” he said.

ArtPrize brings the community together every year and greatly benefits art venues, Executive Director for ArtPrize Craig Searer said.  

“I love it when the city just kind of comes together and it really feels like a community. These businesses embrace those 18 days,” he said. “It’s beautiful chaos.”