Day 16: ArtPrize Leftovers

My husband and I went for a walk around the city this weekend. We were walking along the river by the Public Museum, when he pointed to some rocks next to the sidewalk that had fish carved into them. We reminisced about how last year, we had walked the same path and saw the artist carve those pictures into the rocks. We stopped and asked him what he was doing, and he answered that he was working on an entry for ArtPrize.


For those of you who don’t know, ArtPrize is an art competition held in Grand Rapids for three weeks in the fall. Art of all shapes and sizes takes over nearly every available spot in the city, from parking lots to building facades to restaurant walls to public parks. Art is everywhere. There’s no escaping it. Winners of the competition are picked by the public and a select panel of jurors. It’s interactive; people can vote via text.

When it comes to getting the public’s vote, bigger is better. The first year, someone built a 15-ton dining set and placed it on top of the city’s iconic Blue Bridge. Someone also installed a 100-foot-long Loch Ness monster in the Grand River. It caught people’s attention, to say the least. Both of those installments made into to the Top Ten that year.

I would have been perfectly happy to see the table and chairs stay on top of the Blue Bridge. It was fun and surprising to drive up 131, look over to my right, and see a dining set for giants sitting way up in the air. Nessie, the Loch Ness monster, did get to lurk in nearby waters after the competition. John Ball Zoo adopted the sculpture and now Nessie greets zoo guests every day.


Every ArtPrize brings about 1,500 pieces of art into the city. This coming September will be the competition’s seventh year. So that’s 9,000 pieces of art over the years that needed to find homes when the competition finished. For the most part, everyone packs up their pieces and leaves town after the winners are announced, but some art lingers around the city, like Nessie in her pond at the zoo and the rocks with fish carvings.

I am not the biggest fan of ArtPrize’s three weeks of competition. I feel about ArtPrize as I’m sure Traverse Citians feel about the Cherry Festival or Grand Havenites feels about the Coast Guard Festival. Traffic is terrible, restaurants are busy, the crowds are humongous. But I am a fan of the art that is left behind.


These pieces become commonplace after a year or so; they become simply part of the landscape. They are no longer ArtPrize entries. They are Grand Rapids art. They make the city more beautiful, more surprising, more fun.

For more information about ArtPrize, visit their website.