Pandemic won’t pause ArtPrize 11, but changes coming


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t stopping ArtPrize 11 from happening in Grand Rapids this fall.

“The question that’s been top of mind is how to do the event… while keeping visitors safe,” acknowledged ArtPrize Artistic Director Kevin Buist.

The ArtPrize board of directors voted unanimously Monday to hold the event as scheduled, but with changes to protect the public from coronavirus, according to Buist.

“We’re doing an ArtPrize here that’s going to look a lot different and follow the lead of artists,” Buist told the Downtown Development Authority Wednesday morning.


Buist says ArtPrize has worked with its board of directors and city leaders over the last several weeks to determine how to hold an event that’s safe and delivers on ArtPrize’s mission.

This year’s competition will focus more on outdoor venues and artwork to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. Buist said ArtPrize will also work with businesses to display smaller entries in their windows.

A smaller number of very large indoor venues like DeVos Place and the Grand Rapids Art Museum will have the opportunity to host artwork gallery-style, but Buist says entries must be spread out and the number of visitors will be limited at any given time to allow for social distancing.


Buist said the coronavirus pandemic is leading to lots of changes in the ArtPrize budget and plans, including its education program, assuming class field trips aren’t happening.

ArtPrize says this year’s competition will include more than the typical $85,000 in grants for outdoor entries and venues, since there will be more artwork outside.

(A slide from ArtPrize’s presentation to the Downtown Development Authority shows the ArtPrize District boundaries for the 2020 event.)

Grand Rapids will also be divvyed up into three “ArtPrize Districts” this year: ArtPrize West, ArtPrize North and ArtPrize South.

“Just as some theme parks are divided into ‘kingdoms,’ ArtPrize will divide its footprint into districts and cluster visitor services, educational programming, events, and hospitality around a single anchor hub within each district. This will simplify the footprint and help visitors find where important elements of the festival are located,” ArtPrize stated in its presentation to the board.

ArtPrize says it’s also redesigning its mobile app for more voter interaction with artists “beyond a simple thumbs up.”


Wednesday, the DDA unanimously approved a three-year agreement to be a major sponsor of ArtPrize, at $50,000 a year.

“I’m really glad to see that ArtPrize is moving forward and planning for this year,” Mayor Rosalynn Bliss declared during the DDA meeting.

“I see us as being leaders as we think about how do we safely engage public spaces,” she added.

“It’s probably more important than ever that we get people safely downtown and reengaging… with the businesses downtown,” added DDA Chairman Rick Winn.

Board member Jim Talen agreed, but said leaders need to focus on drawing a diverse crowd to downtown as the city reopens.

“Historically people of color have been hugely underrepresented and we have an opportunity now … (with COVID-19 funding and others) to make a difference,” he said.

DDA board member Jermale Eddie echoed his sentiment.

“Being in the thick of it, I have so many additional emotions that I won’t get into it just as an African-American male and a business owner,” he said.

“We are aware that a threat or a crisis has its way of uniting people… but what can we do now to ensure that all of this stuff isn’t just a one-time thing going forward?” He asked the board.


Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. is not anticipating any additional coronavirus-related costs to the city in pulling off this year’s ArtPrize.

Right now, DGRI is determining how to engineer outdoor spaces to prevent the spread of coronavirus, with proper spacing of seating and possible pavement markings in public venues like Rosa Parks Circle.

“That’s a huge focus of our work right now with summer months and people wanting to get out as it’s safe to do so,” DGRI President and CEO Tim Kelly told the board.

Kelly says the Downtown Ambassador team, which has been busy continually cleaning public areas during the pandemic, has a “full roster” heading into the typically busier summertime season.

ArtPrize 11 will take place Sept. 16 through Oct. 4.


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