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ArtPrize: Popularity Contest or Marketing Bazaar?

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Rob Bliss Experiment on Sept. 27: 100,000 paper airplanes and melodies over Monroe

Rob Bliss Experiment on Sept. 27: 100,000 paper airplanes and melodies over Monroe /Christopher Apap

 Once ArtPrize was announced, I was very excited about it. But upon further research, I started becoming cynical. Questions came to mind, like: why a public vote as opposed to a panel of jurors? Why are the boundaries so restrictive and non inclusive of the Uptown area?

Another qualm I had with this process is that I knew individual "artists" would take advantage of the voting process by marketing themselves to ridiculous lengths in order to get a vote. This brings me to my main reason for this article: Artists who are taking advantage of the press, their popularity and even nepotism to gain an advantage on the votes. Namely, Jacqueline Gilmore and the Rob Bliss Experiment.

Let's start out with the Bliss project, "100,000 paper airplanes and Melodies over Monroe." It was a great idea and got thousands of individuals into downtown on Sunday; a day that would normally make this town seem abandoned due to all the closed shops and general lack of pedestrian activity. To me, the project was a failure. The idea was the masses would hum Sigur Ros' famous song, "Olsen Olsen," while multicolored paper airplanes were thrown from the roofs of surrounding buildings. In reality, barely anyone knew the song and gigantic clumps of folded paper were dumped onto the crowd below. Few planes actually glided. It was a fantastic idea on paper, but in practice, it looked like people shoveling a bunch of garbage off the rooftops. I know I do not stand alone in saying this; I heard similar remarks echoing through the crowd during and after the event.

The main reason this event got so much attention is that Rob Bliss has made a name for himself by hosting a series of events he calls the "Rob Bliss Experiments." I love that this young adult can pull so many people into the city and generate, for even a few moments, a sense that Grand Rapids is a big city. But press and popularity among one's peers should not warrant thousands of votes based on that alone.

As for nepotism, Jacqueline Gilmore is directly involved with The Gilmore Collection (note the similarity in the name), a family of restaurants in Grand Rapids. One of their better known buildings is the Big Old Building (B.O.B), a building that houses four floors of restaurants and bars. Mrs. Gilmore's venue for ArtPrize just so happens to be the B.O.B., and all the employees are required to wear t-shirts that don her "vote up" number for the duration of ArtPrize. How is this fair play to the other hundred or so artists who are showcasing their work at this venue? I very highly doubt that the Gilmores would allow artists Kelly Allen or Mark Rumsey to hang a gigantic banner with their name on it and wave it around the venue. I have also heard that some of the restaurants and bars located inside the B.O.B. have not observed proper public viewing hours set by the ArtPrize committee. Is this another ploy by the Gilmores to boost votes for Jacqueline?

These are important questions. The following statements were found on the ArtPrize blog:

Deb says: September 27, 2009 at 6:49 pm
I am taking this opportunity to express something that is happening at ArtPrize that I find to be nothing less than appalling. The BOB is a venue for over a hundred artists, all of whom want to have their work given the same attention as everyone else (just to be clear, I am not exhibiting at the BOB). But one “artist” in particular, Jacqueline Gilmore, is using her position as the wife of the owner of the BOB to destroy any semblance of an even playing field. All employees of the BOB are required (that is, forced) to wear t-shirts that feature her face on the front along with “vote for Jacqueline Gilmore” and her voting numbers. This is a blatant abuse of her position as wife of the venue owner, and a slap in the face to all the artists who are exhibiting there. None of this would mean much if not for the fact that she is currently in the top 25 artists and her work is completely unextraordinary. Quite simply, it is bad painting. She has no business being in the top 25 artists. She is one of the participants in ArtPrize who give the entire event a bad name. As a serious artist who hopes to have my work judged on its merits, I am embarrassed for her and by her.

Jason says: September 27, 2009 at 7:31 pm
Deb, I happen to be on a gilmore collection email list. They always email me about pretty good deals on food, but last week they sent this: YOU DON’T KNOW JAC… ART-ecture
by Jacqueline Gilmore Live Unveiling & 3D Lightshow
Sept 23 – 9pm @ The B.O.B. Artprize at The B.O.B. Sept 23- Oct 10 Make your vote count for GR! VOTE # 24751" It would appear that I am not the only one who is noticing that ArtPrize has become a popularity contest, or even a competition on how well one can market themselves. It is my earnest hope that the general public can look past all this marketing and vote on entries based on whether they are actually good or not. Maybe in the coming years (if this event continues), new rules will be put into place that will allow the art to speak for itself, instead of the artist selling their work like some infomercial.

Disclosure: I am an artist living in Grand Rapids, but I chose not to participate in ArtPrize (for some of the reasons stated). I also work as an art director for a local advertising agency, so I understand how much of an impact even the smallest ad campaign can have for a company/individual.

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I've had a great response to this after posting to my facebook page, here is the discussion (I've asked all my friends on there to sign up for the Rapidian so that the discussion can continue here). Click on the image to enlarge.

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I respect and appreciate the discussion, but disagree. It comes off as the equivalent of Kanye West grabbing the microphone because “Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time!!!” First, it might come off a little snobbish to suggest that "a panel of jurors" may be better qualified to determine "art" than the masses. Frankly, there is probably just as much marketing, politics and “manipulation” of voting in high brow art events, film festivals, award shows and so on, as in Artprize. But most of all, it may be missing the point and the ultimate positives of the event. Thousands of people being creative and thousand more being exposed to being creative in any form or forum is good in my opinion. The Louvre this is not – it is something better.

Respectfully, I must disagree with you Mr. Apap. Labeling Artprize as a marketing bazaar and popularity contest (the or seems disingenuous) ignores the larger benefits and goal of ArtPrize: bringing art to the people. I have looked at more art over the last week then I have all the last year. I'd wager that more people in Grand Rapids have seen more art this past week than in their entire lives.

There will be those that take advantage of loop holes and position. Hopefully steps can be taken to avoid those things and level the playing field a bit more. I voted Jacqueline Gilmore down because of her overbearing marketing, but Bliss up because what I saw inspired me.

I would suggest that critics take a step back and admire the larger picture that is ArtPrize, it deserves appreciation.

Like I said to you before, I do agree with you about J. Gilmore - it made me not even care about her art and I decided to vote down based on her actions… but quite honestly that not what this event is about. Should I have judged her based on my personal opinion of her or her art? I actually kind of regret my decision now, worrying that I let my emotions affect my judgment. I think that is why it is unfortunate that it is public vote and not panel vote.

As far as Rob Bliss goes, I myself was not able to make it because of Artpeers events, but I heard from a lot of people that it was kind of a let down. Then I saw a video that my friend Matt Szuminski made while down there:
Matt thought it was great and his version of the story, along with the short video, completely changed it for me - it was beautiful and made me feel really proud to live here, as did the official video:

I have always been a fan of Rob Bliss events as many Grand Rapidians have. Had he done this project a different day, would you appreciate it more? Maybe we were all just a little too over stimulated this weekend to really be able to rightly take in this amazing thing happening in our little city. When you really sit down and think about it, everything about Arprize is pretty amazing. Yes, there are problems and, yes, I had to look at some terrible things but I also had the privilege to see so many amazing pieces. I know a lot of people, myself included, who were inspired to start making art again simply because this event was happening.

So all this being said, it makes me wonder: How are all of us really looking at this? Especially speaking from a claimed artist point of view, why can't we just go down and bask in the lovely effort of what is happening? Forget the legalism, forget the nepotism; that’s their problem not ours. The Gilmore’s probably didn’t hurt anyone more than themselves. I think we just need to keep open minds, stay cautiously aware, but take it for what it is and try to look at everything as a small piece of something beautiful.

Whew – sorry! my comment turned into my own little rapidian piece !

Rachel, I suggest you give your ArtPrize vote to the folks who made that video. Because that's the magic of the movies.

I'm very pleased with the conversations this piece is generating, which was my entire goal for writing it. From thoughtful discussion can only come progress.

Like any event during its inaugural run, there will be some kinks to work out. "Live and learn," "Take from it what you can." Bottom line: ArtPrize, ArtPeers, Destination 1111, Avenue for the Arts (as well as others) have done so much to make this city into a brighter, arts friendly, community. For that, we should all be grateful. It would be impossible not to see the positives of these events.

Please keep the comments coming, critical or otherwise. We're building a stronger community by making our voices heard... well, in this case, read.

thank you Christopher :)

I'll try to keep it short. Artprize has been amazing. The voting aspect has brought the only real negative to the whole experience for me. 50 yard signs stuck in front of the Eberhardt, people handing out flyers, even little signs like "Be sure and vote for me" or the signs that artists have taped on their sculptures detract from the art.

I like that voting has involved people, I just wonder if there's a better way to do this, either through revising/improving the current voting system or by another way we haven't thought of (like public floggings of shameless promoters). I give the Artprize folks a lot of credit. I think when it's all over they'll make the necessary review and adjustments for next year. It's great to see the community owning Artprize already.

I really appreciate the commentary that this article has posted. I am also glad that ArtPrize has been brought to Grand Rapids.

That being said, I am disappointed that this has is a popularity contest. It's like Art meets American Idol. I suspect that was the original goal, but I really do think the goal of art is to make one think... to reevaluate... to question one's own "static mind". Really, to stretch ourselves. That's just my opinion... not all will agree, as I would certainly hope, but that's what art has done for me.

There are some pieces that have very much had me thinking twice and really look at the depth of the piece and there are some that just made me smile and other pieces that had me question...everything. BUT, I must say, there were some pieces that didn't do anything for me. Didn't touch me. Didn't make me think. I guess it's all personal, but I do think that a lot of those pieces were just marketing ploys.

Finally, I'm really disappointed to hear that there are those using their status to try to win. That's terrible, but I also think it's a sign of things to come.... let's see what happens next year, it will probably be even more "market-ish" and "sale-ish". How unfortunate.

I only hope that some of the amazing pieces I've seen are considered in the top 10 and that it's not the big, flashy and gimicky pieces. Anyway, that's what I hope.

Regardless, this conversation has been great. I hope that we can hear more from others with all opinions. I really do appreciate the other thoughts... it helps me to grow and rethink my thoughts... I thank everyone for that.

My strongest impression: due to other events in my life (I do have one!), I haven't been able to devote several hours every day trying to view/experience all the works. And that's a shame.

Tonight I hit four venues. I'd decided to not vote for something based on its web presence, so a lot of artists won't be recipients of my hanging chads.

And I am eager to see what transpires "the week after." Will the J-A Building finally get some more love? How many pieces will remain in town? (I contacted a metalworker about a flower.)

If that silly bronze-painted dude takes it home, I'll be ticked off.

I think we all believe in what Artprize is trying to do and you would have to be living under a rock if you don't see that it has brought this city to life. What is being lamented in this article is the fact that photographer Sarah States' work will not have the same opportunity to be seen the way that Mrs. Gilmore's or Mr. Bliss' has been. Her work is not showcased on the evening news and she is not buying her votes with drinks from the B.O.B.

Artprize was created to bring discussion and art to the masses which it has done but Ms. States photographs did not get tens of thousands of people downtown last sunday; paper airplanes did because of all the hype created by the media. I think we all can agree that the 100,000 paper airplanes being dumped off downtown buildings was very disappointing but how many votes did Mr. Bliss get because it was supposed to be amazing? Can anyone can tell me what pieces are in 47 Commerce or Gardella's? I am sure everyone can tell me what pieces are on the pedestrian bridge.

Many of you had said that you entered Artprize not expecting to win; the point is you should have had a chance and you never did.

If Artprize did not market itself as interactive and incorporate the public vote, the attendance would have been quartered.  The fact of the matter is, the unique nature of the event is the input that each person that attends has; sure, size of the prize itself is a draw for the artists, but it has nothing to do with how successful this event has been.  The art community has frankly embarrassed themselves with some of their comments.  It comes off as bitter and unprofessional. 

This event isn't soley about art.  It's just as much about attracting people from the surrounding communities to inject much needed business into the downtown economy.