The People of ArtPrize

Last week, I wrote about our “art adventure” weekend at ArtPrize 2011 ( and how terrific our time was. However, upon re-reading my post, I noticed that the qualities I wrote about were about my experience interacting with the art. But, if I left it at that, I’d only be sharing half of the experience.

Because, fully half of the experience was interacting with the people – the artists, the patrons, the gallery owners, the museum staff, the non-profit volunteers, the general public, the supporting business owners, our fellow art adventurers (several in puppet hand photo, at Calder sculpture), and many many more.

Here are a few qualities that captured the spirit of the people of ArtPrize:

Zest – the members of the adventure group we toured with during the week had such a wonderful zest for art and life. They included several of the artists with the Mona Lisa project (in photo, right), and numerous others with whom we struck wonderful friendships – Jose’ and Carmen, Effrain, Craig and Sally, and more!

Nowhere was the zest better captured than a magnificent dinner at Café Tre’ Cugini, where the party closed the place down with dancing among the tables accompanied by the house accordionist.

Hospitality – there were so many examples of hospitality: Dana and Mark our tour hosts, who opened their homes and lives to us; Jeff at the UICA (photo, gray sweater), who toured us throughout the building complex and spent enormous amounts of time with us during an unbelievably busy time for him; the hotel staff at the City Flats, where we stayed.

Then, there was the director, staff and volunteers at Meijer Gardens who were just fantastic; and, not to forget, the chairman of the board of the GRAM, Sam Cummings and wife, who hosted a reception for our group at his home that was a real treat!

Passion – when surrounded by art, one can’t help but be struck by the passion of the artists. Two examples that have especially stayed with me symbolizing this passion were Ezra and Jen of the Grand Rapids artist’s coop, and Philip and Mark of SiTE: LAB.

Ezra gave us an amazing, first-person tour of the city’s revitalization of its artist’s district, all the while describing the myriad programs that artists, businesspeople and organizations, the local universities, and civic leaders were devising to make Grand Rapids a strong attractor for the arts.

Jen, who managed the coop store (photo, on r), was the acknowledged force behind the fight that won many of the gains that artists had made. Ezra’s passion and Jen’s strength of conviction for the economic rights for artists to have a place to work, live and prosper were very inspiring.

Philip and Mark (center, in photo below) treated us, quite literally, to a nearly hour-long VIP tour of their SiTE:LAB installation – big art with an even bigger impact, over-taking a 3 story building, from basement through to roof – which I thought was spectacular, provocative, breath-taking, punk, joyful, enigmatic, and beautiful all in one.  (SiTE:LAB was my favorite of the week.)

They worked their asses off for weeks, prepping the site, then working with the artists, then managing the facility during the ArtPrize run. When we were with them, you could tell they were tired, about spent in fact.

But, once they started talking about their vision and, in particular, the artists’ works, you could just see them become re-energized, the passion for the art just shining through – it was so great!

Generosity – lastly, I’d be remiss without a word of tribute to the individuals, families, and companies that have made generous gifts and investments in the promotion of natural and man-made works of art in the greater Grand Rapids area.

There are many, but just a few of the cornerstone names we came to know during our trip were the Wege family (key patrons of the GRAM), the Meijer family (key patrons of the gardens), Rick Devos and his extended family (sponsoring patrons of the ArtPrize),  and Steelcase corporation, whose faithful restoration of the Frank Lloyd Wright house is an important and graceful contribution to American art and architecture.

But, there was another kind of generosity worth note as well.  One of spirit, perhaps best captured by the dynamic duo of Chris Laporte and MJ McCabe. Chris won the ArtPrize in 2010 and he, and his partner, MJ, have made a point of paying forward their acclaim, by generously spending time with others.

They opened their studio to our group, they accompanied us on some of our touring, and Chris also met with us to talk about the process and background of his winning piece, which you see in the picture. (I’ll talk more about MJ and Chris in a future post.)

So, there you have it…that’s the “other half” of ArtPrize – the people. In some cases, people with means; in other cases, people with motive; but, in every case, people with much to be both proud of and thankful for in terms of a uniquely public explosion of art that I hope survives and thrives for many years to come!

If you’d like to see more, then please browse my ArtPrize 2011 photo set on Flickr!