ArtPrize: The World’s Largest Art Competition

travel-artprize-leadThink you’ve got an eye for art? It’s time for you to be the judge.

ArtPrize is the world’s largest art competition, and it’s just a short drive away from Chicago in Grand Rapids, Mich. Now in its fifth year, it’s a big part of a blossoming downtown and cultural scene in this mid-Michigan city.

During ArtPrize, throngs of people happily traipse through museums, the riverfront, art galleries and restaurants and gaze at sides of buildings to view and vote on eclectic art. The art ranges from the crazy to the serious, from giant pieces made of found objects to paintings, murals, photography, film clips and sculptures. Anyone age 16 and older can vote and have a hand in distributing $560,000 worth of prize money.

During ArtPrize, it’s not uncommon for discussions about art to pop up in the unlikeliest of places—with the parking lot attendant, the waitress, co-workers and between young children and senior citizens. All who go find it fascinating and discover new ways to think about art and new places they didn’t know existed. This year’s competition opens September 18 and runs through October 3, covering three weekends and making it a nice adventure for Chicago families.

How does ArtPrize work?

Venues within a several-mile radius of downtown Grand Rapids connect with artists online in a matchmaking process. ArtPrize does not select any of the art or the venues. Anyone over age 16 can register and cast their votes online, via text message or through a mobile application. The public selects the top 10 during the first round of voting from September 18–28. They then select the winners from the top 10 during the second round of voting (one person, one vote) from September 29 to October 3.

It’s almost physically impossible to see all of the art, so Brian Burch, a spokesperson for ArtPrize, recommends the ArtPrize mobile app to get you started. The app includes a detailed map, walking tours, the location of the ArtPrize Hub on Sheldon Street and directions to the pieces of art you want to find and ways to navigate the streets.


“With a list of all the venues and all the art, it’s a really good starting point,” Burch says. “It’s very convenient for families to download and get a quick understanding of where to go and what to see.”

He estimates that about 30 percent of ArtPrize is outdoor pieces and the rest indoors. The Grand Rapids Art Museum, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and the Meijer Gardens all do a great job of curating and have been popular favorites.

One block away from the Grand Rapids Art Museum is the B.O.B. (a popular downtown entertainment venue located at 20 Monroe Avenue). The B.O.B. has ArtPrize exhibits both inside and outside, tending to be the larger, zanier, most outrageous and kid-pleasing varieties.

“The B.O.B. is really important to see and experience,” Burch says. “They embrace the whole carnival atmosphere of ArtPrize. Last year at the B.O.B. kids enjoyed a giant, interactive push-pin piece where they could create an outline of their body. Also popular with the younger set are the outdoor pieces outside the Ford Museum and sculptures on the lawn of the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

Make hotel reservations early

Much of ArtPrize is walkable, and there is no admission to the museums and venues. Burch recommends families make their hotel reservations before August 1 for the weekends of ArtPrize that attract upward of 50,000 people. The hotels in downtown Grand Rapids (Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, JW Marriott Grand Rapids, Courtyard by Marriott and Holiday Inn) fill up quickly. A bit further away, Burch also recommends the SpringHill Suites Grand Rapids North and Hyatt Place Grand Rapids-South. You may also want to take advantage of fall weather with a stay closer to Lake Michigan—it’s an easy drive to Grand Rapids.


Photos courtesy of ArtPrize and Bethany Rigg