ArtPrize Nine by the numbers

Opening Day Festivities in Downtown, Grand Rapids on Thursday, September 20th, 2017.

Opening Day Festivities in Downtown, Grand Rapids on Thursday, September 20th, 2017.

Joshua Vissers

You might notice that Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize Nine, now well underway, has had lower attendance than previous years.

“I think it’s due to the weather,” said Maria Farias, a venue curator at PaLatté who also has her own entry, entitled “It’s a Dare.” She expects it will be busier this coming weekend after relief from the warm weather.

John and Sheila Goodworth, who traveled from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this year to see ArtPrize for the fourth time, were a little bewildered by the empty streets.

“Did everybody leave?” Sheila Goodworth asked, looking around for Grand Rapids citizens, jokingly. They met their friends Bill and Deb McDougall, who came from Jim Falls, Wisconsin, for their second ArtPrize experience. The quartet agreed it was too hot but refused to waste their three days in Grand Rapids inside and not out experiencing the city-wide event.

“If we see half of it in the time we’re here, we’ll be lucky,” Bill McDougall said, estimating that they had seen about 300 entries so far.

That 300 is less than 23 percent of the 1,346 entries registered in this year’s event, which corresponds to the fewest participating artists since the first ArtPrize in 2009, which had 1,262 entrants. However, ArtPrize Nine has 175 venues this year, second only to 2010, which was arguably ArtPrize’s biggest year so far, during which 192 local organizations hosted artists’ displays.

“Maybe the crowds are a little less, but I’ve always seen a good crowd on the bridge,” said Ryan Spencer Reed, the documentary photographer behind “Oil and Water,” which is suspended in the Grand River from the Pearl Street bridge. 

His entry is currently in the top 25 installation list for the public vote. This is his third year at ArtPrize, having entered before in 2011 at the DeVos Place Convention Center and in 2014 at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM). Other than making sure his entry stays clean, he’s not intending to spend too much time on the river.

“I feel like the piece can stand on its own,” he said, planning instead to focus his promotional effort on traditional and social media.

Jaenell Woods, communications manager for ArtPrize, offered up a possible explanation for thinner crowds that didn’t include the hot weather.

“Several venues that once produced ArtPrize exhibitions with hundreds of pieces worked with our team to learn curatorial best practices and are now showing more tightly curated shows,” she said in an email, pointing to the DeVos Place Convention Center as an example. 

Other rules requiring a minimum number of artists in large venues have been relaxed, too, giving curators more flexibility. This means crowds are spread out among more venues and artists aren’t gathered as tightly together. The music program has also been reduced to a more carefully curated eight artists, as opposed to the previous 100.

Steve Kolavo, a Grand Valley State University senior, is experiencing ArtPrize for the first time this year. So far, he thinks he’s seen about 150 entries.

“It’s really cool,” he said. He plans to see about 500 entries before the end of the event.