GOOD

What an Art Prize in Michigan Can Teach Us About Building Better Cities

Rick DeVos is an unlikely urban hero. A Grand Rapids native, he is a scion of the famous (and famously conservative) Rich DeVos, co-founder of...



Rick DeVos is an unlikely urban hero. A Grand Rapids native, he is a scion of the famous (and famously conservative) Rich DeVos, co-founder of Amway. Yet, here he is, reinventing the rules of art, with his creation of ArtPrize, now underway in his hometown (and covered previously on GOOD). If urban leaders are paying close attention, they will use DeVos' art inspiration as a way to transform the way they do business.


On October 8, ArtPrize will award the world's largest prize for art-$500,000. It is a first-of-its-kind art competition allowing any artist to enter, as long as the artist could find a willing exhibitor in downtown Grand Rapids. In other words, no curators were involved. The winners of ArtPrize will be selected by public vote, which, of course, is heresy in serious art circles.

When DeVos announced the competition in late April, many in the art world whispered that he was crazy, that no serious artist would apply, and that the amateur nature of ArtPrize would embarrass the city. When urged to give curators a role and put a check on public opinion, DeVos resisted, holding firm to the principles he adopted to drive his creation. Those principles were decentralization, openness, participation, and entrepreneurship.

Essentially, DeVos provided a platform and a cash prize. Everything else is contributed by others. The artists provide (and install) their art. The city's property owners provide secure exhibition space. Citizens provide the votes to select the winner. Everyone promotes the event.

Judging by the first week of ArtPrize, the experiment has been an overwhelming success. More than 1,200 artists contributed work to 159 venues. By the first evening, thousands had registered to vote.

Moreover, the quality of the art that found a home at ArtPrize, by all estimates, is not the crap that many experts predicted. In fact, it's quite good overall, and some pieces would stand up in any gallery anywhere.

What can we learn from ArtPrize?

The competition makes it clear that the middle, once again, is threatened and may soon become obsolete. The middle, in the case of ArtPrize, are the arbiters of taste. DeVos' deep belief in decentralization resulted in a platform to match buyers (initially, those with exhibition space and ultimately, voters) and sellers (artists) directly to one another.

ArtPrize also proves the value of rapid (in this case, lightning-fast) prototyping. This initiative went from zero to 1,200 artists in five months. Although DeVos always intended that the competition would be decentralized, the timeline forced him to pursue radical decentralization. And that led to rapid prototyping. As DeVos put it, "We had so little time that we were forced to admit when stuff was not working. We just tried something else."

Another lesson demonstrated by ArtPrize is the value of giving people permission to be entrepreneurial. Artists, by nature, are risk-takers. They make things that are unfamiliar and new to the rest of us, then send their creations out into the world to be judged by the rest of us. But ArtPrize was a platform for entrepreneurship at a massive scale-for artists promoting their work with their own networks, for venue owners, for bloggers, for those promoting Grand Rapids, and for ArtPrize voters.

Finally, ArtPrize organized as a platform rather than as an institution. It completely defied the convention of nonprofits.

Each of these lessons-elimination of the middle man, the value of rapid prototyping, the value of giving people permission to be entrepreneurial, and the evolution from institution to platform-has broad application to other areas of urban life. Imagine if local government transformed itself into a platform to match citizens to opportunities to improve the community… if local government relied on technology to eliminate middle managers who serve simply to move information back and forth… if local government simply moved with a sense of deadline and urgency.

These transformations are coming. They will happen. And we will have ArtPrize to thank for showing us the way.

Carol Coletta is the President and CEO of CEOs for Cities, and the host of the nationally-syndicated public radio show, Smart City.

Photos by flickr user (cc) stevendepolo.

Articles


September 20th marks the beginning of a pivotal push for the future of our planet. The Global Climate Strike will set the stage for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, where more than 60 nations are expected to build upon their commitment to 2015's Paris Agreement for combating climate change.

Millions of people are expected to take part in an estimated 4,000 events across 130 countries.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Apple

When the iPhone 11 debuted on September 10, it was met with less enthusiasm than the usual iPhone release. A lot of techies are holding off purchasing the latest gadget until Apple releases a phone with 5G technology.

Major US phone carriers have yet to build out the infrastructure necessary to provide a consistent 5G experience, so Apple didn't feel it necessary to integrate the technology into its latest iPhone.

A dramatic new feature on the iPhone 11 Pro is its three camera lenses. The three lenses give users the the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto options.

Keep Reading Show less
Health
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less
Health
Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash

It's fun to go to a party, talk to strangers, and try to guess where they're from just by their accents and use of language. It's called 'soda' on the East Coast and 'pop' in the Midwest, right? Well, it looks like a new study has been able to determine where a Humpback whale has been and who he's been hanging out with during his awesome travels just from his song.

Keep Reading Show less
Science

There is no shortage of proposals from the, um, what's the word for it… huge, group of Democratic presidential candidates this year. But one may stand out from the pack as being not just bold but also necessary; during a CNN town hall about climate change Andrew Yang proposed a "green amendment" to the constitution.

Keep Reading Show less
test