GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — “THE STRING PROJECT” by Chelsea Nix and Mariano Cortez, a series of photos demonstrating the ties between people across boundaries, is the winner of the public vote grand prize at ArtPrize 10.

At the ArtPrize Awards Friday, Nix wiped away tears when she found out she and her husband had won $200,000.

“We cannot believe it,” Cortez said, speaking in front of a crowd at Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids.

He and his wife said they were grateful for their family, friends and everyone who supported their work.

They traveled to four continents on $30 per day to take the photos. They shot each image in under five minutes, purposely not posing the subjects very carefully in an effort to capture a genuine moment. The person or people in each photo grasp a white cord, a symbol of the “human connection.”

“We felt like we were dreaming with the people’s reaction. Then when we were there (at ArtPrize), we saw them crying, we saw them asking us for a hug, we saw them smiling and that gave us so much hope,” Cortez said. “I think this is a message of hope for everybody — to believe in human kindness, to believe in human connection and that we have a lot of things similar.”

They previously told 24 Hour News 8 that if they won, they would use the money to fund their nonprofit Project Simple, a soup kitchen in Guatemala for elderly women and abandoned children.

Le’Andra LeSeur took the $200,000 juried grand prize for her entry brown, carmine, and blue. A stunned LeSeur, who was also a Shortlist finalist in ArtPrize Nine, was emotional and had difficulty speaking after finding out she had won.

“I put everything into this work,” she said, going on to thank her late grandmother for her unwavering support. “She knew by me just existing and being who I am that that was as powerful as thriving in the world. And so I just know the power of affirmations, I know the power of self and just believing in who you are and what you do and just putting your all into everything that you do every day.”

>>Inside Interviews with winners | ArtPrize 10 Awards photos

The work is a series of objects, images, videos and performances that LeSeur said are reflective of her identity. They showcase issues of race, as well as the traumas she has experienced and the joy that came out of them.

“It’s always hard being vulnerable, but I believe in the power of vulnerability. It’s something that’s just in you and it just shows strength, strength in just loving exactly who you are,” she said. “I just encourage everyone, anyone, if you feel like you’re going through something, just let it out. It’s beautiful. It’s power in that. It gets you to a point where you find true joy, and I feel like I’ve reached that. Tonight is amazing.”

You can see brown, carmine, and blue. at SiTE:LAB, which is at 415 Franklin St. SE. “THE STRING PROJECT” is on display at DeVos Place Convention Center. Both pieces will be available to view through Sunday, when the world’s largest art competition wraps up.

>>Shortlist map (PDF) | Final 20 map (PDF) | Venue hours


The jury’s top picks and the public’s favorites in the two-dimensional, three-dimensional, time-based and installation categories earned $12,500 each. Jurors also awarded a $12,500 prize to an outstanding venue.


Public vote winner: “THE STRING PROJECT” by Chelsea Nix & Mariano Cortez of Fort Wayne, Ind. On display at DeVos Place Convention Center.

Juried award winner: “PULSE Nightclub: 49 Elegies” by John Gutoskey of Ann Arbor, Mich. On display at the Grand Rapids Art Museum.


Public vote winner: “The Phoenix” by Joe Butts of Oxford, Mich. On display at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

Juried award winner: 108 Death Masks: A Communal Prayer for Peace and Justice Nikesha Breeze of Taos, NM. On display at DeVos Place Convention Center.


Public vote winner: Moving Experience by Robert Shangle with Tim Shangle of Sparta, Mich. On display at the Grand Rapids Police Department

Juried award winner: brown, carmine, and blue. by Le’Andra LeSeur of Jersey City, NJ. On display at SiTE:LAB.


Public vote winner: Sonder by Megan Constance Altieri of Grand Rapids, Mich. On display at the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

Juried award winnerHeidelbergology; 2+2=8 by Tyree Guyton Heidelberg Project of Detroit. On display at SiTE:LAB.

Outstanding Venue:

Juried award winner: Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives, located at 87 Monroe Center NW.

Several independent awards were previously announced.

>>Inside Shortlist | Final 20


ArtPrize 10 drew more than 1,400 artists to Grand Rapids, with their works displayed at 168 venues. 253,61 votes were cast over the course of 17 days.

In the last 10 years, ArtPrize says it has gathered more than 3 million votes and awarded more than $4 million in cash prizes.

But Grand Rapids won’t have an art competition next year as ArtPrize moves to a biennial schedule. The organization is instead sponsoring a large city art project in 2019.

ArtPrize 11 will be held in 2020.