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ArtPrize's 2016 Annual Report Breakfast yields growth, changes for city's landscape

As ArtPrize's grant programs expand awareness and participation in communities and artists across the country, their influence in sculpting the public landscape of the event is also expanding.
The lobby of ArtPrize HUB at 41 Sheldon

The lobby of ArtPrize HUB at 41 Sheldon /Marjorie Steele

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Board Chair Rick DeVos speaks at ArtPrize's 2016 Annual Report Breakfast

Board Chair Rick DeVos speaks at ArtPrize's 2016 Annual Report Breakfast /Marjorie Steele

ArtPrize’s leadership team announced several big changes in their 2016 Annual Report Breakfast this morning. While most of the morning’s announcements presented exciting opportunities for both ArtPrize and Grand Rapids - expanded grants for artists and curators, extended “Preview Week” ArtPrize hours, growing profits and shrinking debt - their implications could dramatically shift the tone, and face, of ArtPrize as we’ve known it.

Financials from 2015 were strong. ArtPrize’s revenue has broken $1 million for the past two years running, and the debt the organization acquired from investments during its startup years has plummeted from nearly $4 million in 2012 to less than $500,000 in 2015. At the current rate of revenue growth and debt reduction, 2016 may be the year ArtPrize finally comes into the black.

“Private sponsorships were by far our fastest growing revenue sector in 2015,” said ArtPrize Director of Business Development Jory Bennett, and 2015 financials cite the private sector sponsorships as 33 percent of 2015’s total revenue.

Bennett, who brought her background in corporate marketing to ArtPrize last spring, emphasized that ArtPrize is ripe for sponsorship opportunities. “Placing your logo on a brochure isn’t enough anymore”, she says. “People are looking for live, authentic experiences,” and for companies who want to reach those people “ArtPrize is the land of opportunity”.

Last year’s major sponsors included Founders, Amway, Kendall College of Art and Design, Meijer, X-Rite/Pantone, PNC Bank and West Michigan Honda Dealers. As of today’s date, ArtPrize has booked over $2.4 million in corporate sponsorships spanning the next three years.

In addition to bolstering corporate sponsorship, ArtPrize is turning more attention to its venue stakeholders by adding an official ArtPrize Preview Week. Scheduled for September 14-20, 2017, the week before ArtPrize, the preview will hold no voting, and museum venues will be allowed to charge regular admissions and offer special perks to ArtPrize badge holders.

“Venues charge no admission fees during ArtPrize, and it is our hope that visitors and residents alike will be excited to support these institutional partners while enjoying a sneak peak a week before voting officially opens,” said ArtPrize Exhibitions Manager Katie Moore.

Bennet emphasized the economic value Preview Week would bring to museum venues and local business stakeholders.

An expanded suite of grants, totaling $273,000, “is designed to support artists and enable ambitious, large scale, challenging work to more easily find a home at ArtPrize,” said Kevin Buist, ArtPrize Exhibitions Director.

The suite of grants includes $55,000 for ArtPrize Featured Public Projects, which will support large-scale installations in Calder Plaza, the Grand River, Ah Nab Awen Park and the Gillette Bridge (known as the Blue Bridge). According to today’s news release from ArtPrize, the organization is currently seeking “proposals for large, ambitious public art projects” to take place in downtown’s largest and most visible public spaces.

Installations that have been held in these spaces have been mixed over the years. Dramatic entries like Richard Morse’s horses on the Grand River and Mark Carpenter’s “Lights in the Night” at Ah Nab Awen Park enthralled art-goers in 2012, while entries in these spaces have fizzled in more recent years.

The new Featured Public Projects grants will essentially place the curation of these four spaces in ArtPrize’s hands. While it’s easy to see why the organization would want to have greater control over what projects are installed these spaces, especially in light of it’s focus on generating revenue through corporate sponsorships, this level of control seems inconsistent to the organization’s mission to host a competition that’s “radically open”.

Other grants, like last year’s ArtPrize Pitch Night, have been bolstered, giving artists more opportunities to pitch ArtPrize for funding. This year, Independent Curators International is helping to guide the ArtPrize Fellowship for Emerging Curators, which will place a total of four fellows under the guidance of curators at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Kendall College of Art and Design, SiTE:LAB and the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts, according to a release from ArtPrize today.

As ArtPrize’s grant programs expand awareness and participation in communities and artists across the country, their influence in sculpting the public landscape of the event is also expanding.

Notably, the leadership team announced a new set of rules for previous Grand Prize winners and venues. This year, artists who previously won the Public Vote or Juried Grand Prize may not enter the competition again, although past category award winners remain eligible. Only two entries per venue may advance on to the Public Vote final 20. These changes can hardly come as a surprise, after Ann Loveless won the Public Vote Grand Prize for the second time last year.

These and other aspects of growth prompted ArtPrize’s leadership to formalize a new set of 10 “Guiding Principles”. These principles include being Radically Open, being Intentionally Inclusive, and Promoting Social Good.

The full 2015 ArtPrize Annual Report is available online at artprizeannualreport.org.

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