GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Since ArtPrize launched 13 years ago, Grand Rapids’ art scene has grown and thrived.

While walking through downtown Grand Rapids, you’ll find impressive sculptures and bright-colored murals. But you’ll also find art on storm drains, barriers, electrical boxes and other nontraditional canvases.

“I think one of the really cool things ArtPrize did for the city of Grand Rapids is really open up the door to public art,” Craig Searer, executive director for ArtPrize, said. “And this idea of art can be anywhere, and it can be anything.”

During the second competition in 2010, artist Jeff Zimmermann painted a seven-story mural on the Kendall College building, titled “You Are Here.”

“That was one of the first big impactful murals in Grand Rapids,” Tara McCrackin, the president of Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University, said. “Now there are literally (a) hundred murals in Grand Rapids.”

Jeff Zimmermann's 'You Are Here,' a seven-story mural on the side of a Kendall College building in downtown Grand Rapids. The piece was installed during the second ArtPrize competition.
Jeff Zimmermann’s “You Are Here,” a seven-story mural on the side of a Kendall College building in downtown Grand Rapids. The piece was installed during the second ArtPrize competition.

The murals have beautified buildings, encouraged education and “invite(d) curiosity,” she said.

According to a map compiled by, more than 100 murals are now scattered throughout the city.

“You have the murals in the city, that’s a really cool thing that we’ve done. We’ve got great sculptures: The last Robert Indiana sculpture is that LOVE sculpture” at Louis Campau Promenade across from Rosa Parks Circle, said Richard App, the retail retention attraction specialist for city of Grand Rapids. “It’s really cool to see our landscape reflecting what we’re doing in the fall.”

The LOVE sculpture by Rovert Indiana at Louis Campau Promenade across from Rosa Parks Circle.
The LOVE sculpture by Robert Indiana at Louis Campau Promenade across from Rosa Parks Circle.


During the competition itself, ArtPrize has no rules on what mediums artists can use.

“From a creative freedom standpoint, nothing is off limits. It’s a really cool way to push all sorts of boundaries,” Searer said.

App has entered the competition twice, first in the inaugural competition, when he and a group of artists installed a sculpture of the Loch Ness monster in the Grand River. It won sixth place.

“We were going to put a Loch Ness monster in Reeds Lake as a joke, the night before the triathlon,” he said. Instead, he continued, “we were able to put it in the Grand River and wound up being in the front page of New York Times.”

In 2017, App and artist Ryan Spencer Reed collaborated on a piece titled ‘Oil+Water,’ which won in the installation category.

In his experience, ArtPrize has challenged artists, he said.

“You see a lot of that with ArtPrize with artists is they’re doing things they may not have done in the past, but they challenge themselves,” he said. “The result is really cool things that we get to experience.”


As art has moved into the city, so too have artists.

“The thing that I’ve seen is artists have moved to Grand Rapids,” App said. “They’ve looked around … people from San Francisco, from Dallas, from Boston, they come here and they’re like, ‘You know what, this city works, and it works for what I’m doing.’

“Grand Rapids is growing significantly as a city, but we’re growing between ages and 20 and 34. And so we’re hitting the sweet spot for a lot of artists.”

Those artists are joining a community.

“ArtPrize is a great way to amplify art in the community. There’s a very vibrant arts community and ArtPrize celebrates that as well as recognizes the challenges with that,” McCrackin said.

Entrants who visit Grand Rapids for the competition are from all over the world.

“We’ve really got the globe represented,” Searer said. “I think that what that does is opens eyes and ears to what’s going on — not only just in our community, but around the world.”

The massive art competition has also attracted people from other walks of life, like those in the tech industry, and has helped businesses with recruiting, local business leaders say. ArtPrize has grown the ‘brand awareness’ of the city, both nationally and worldwide, according to Rick Baker, president and CEO of Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce.

“On a national (and) global level, the brand awareness of who Grand Rapids is brought in people that may have never thought about coming here in the past,” Baker explained. “All those artists that come from all over the world … going back and telling their circles of influence about their experience and our community.”

At Kendall College, which has hosted a curated exhibit every ArtPrize since it started, members of the school have been given an opportunity to see exhibitions in a new light.

“I think it gives faculty and staff the opportunity to think about exhibition spaces in new ways,” McCrackin said. “A lot of them have fine art solo shows and then have a piece in ArtPrize. … It’s a different kind of exhibition. It’s a different kind of audience.”


Mallory Shotwell, the director of gallery and artist resource center Cultivate, said ArtPrize has encouraged people who are not artists to start conversations around art.

“One of the things that I think we … love about ArtPrize is that people who may not typically go to an art gallery, or those that do, are all talking about and centering art in conversation,” she said.

Cultivate partnered with ArtPrize this year to help with Education Days. It put together three magazines for students K-12 and has hosted drop-in workshops for the community.

Art on a painted barrier on Monroe Center Street near Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids.
Art on a painted barrier on Monroe Center Street near Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids.

“(ArtPrize) brings so much life and vitality and it makes art approachable,” McCrackin, the Kendall College president, said. “Sometimes the most approachable art may be behind a door that isn’t so welcoming.”

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The competition has “taken the conversation about art out into the streets, literally,” chamber President and CEO Baker said.

“Personally, I enjoy when I’m walking around downtown, and I walk by (the) diverse … audience that the ArtPrize attracts and they’re having conversations about art in our community. And so I think it’s really elevated conversations about art in our community in ways that haven’t been done before,” he said. “It really does add great value to our community.”

“Art is about responding to culture and the events in our world and challenging us to think in new ways,” McCrackin said. “ArtPrize certainly does that. And it brings so much life to the city.”