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Four-time ArtPrize participants reveal learnings, offer advice

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Rick and Brenda Beerhorst have experimented with widely different methods of involvement in the ArtPrize event. All this experimentation has provided them with advice for future participants.
Rick Beerhorst paints in his studio

Rick Beerhorst paints in his studio /Ryan Hagerman

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“I think in our heart we really believe ArtPrize is this really important thing that is happening to the city,” Rick Beerhorst says. “We want to be a part of it.”

Beerhorst and his family have been regular participants of ArtPrize since its inception. Through an evolving collaboration with his family and the community of friends and artists the Beerhorsts have striven to form, their entries into the competition have continued to change both conceptually and in scale.

Each year has provided its own lessons and opportunities for growth, which Beerhorst has then applied to subsequent entries. These instances have contributed to the Beerhorsts’ belief in the spirit of the event and its potential to have a lasting influence Grand Rapids’ culture.

The event has provided unprecedented opportunities for him as an artist, Beerhorst says, and has had a positive effect on his ability to sustain a living through his art.

“There’s a part of it, too, on a business level,” he continues. “It’s really good exposure. Even if you don’t sell work you have an opportunity to engage with the audience.”

The Beerhorsts’ expectation of what they could gain from ArtPrize has changed throughout their various experiences..

“The first year we really wanted to win the prize,” Beerhorst admits. “We almost got infected with this wanting to win, [and it was] a huge crash when we realized after the first week that we weren’t in the running. [Since then] we built a mantra of three points, one of them being that we don’t want to win. [We] really intentionally shut [that off].”

Altering their expectations for the competition opened up avenues for other forms of development to be implemented.

“It’s a community building thing,” says Rick Beerhorst’s wife, Brenda Beerhorst. “ArtPrize is an opportunity for us to think about something really big that we want to do- something bigger than what we can do alone.”

“I think [the projects] have been pretty successful,” Rick Beerhorst agrees. “[But] the thing is, too, there are parts of it that didn’t work. That’s been a big learning thing too.”

“The vision is always huge and wonderful and the reality always falls short,” says Brenda Beerhorst.

After the Beerhorsts’ entry with the Wonder Wagon the first year, the family ended up in debt. The scale of the project and the material costs were just a couple of the factors that led to the revelation that their strategy needed to change in subsequent years.

“When it was all done, not only were we all exhausted, but it was like ‘here’s your bill,’” says Rick Beerhorst, apparently still reeling from it. “And it was just like, ‘fuck.’”

“Not only are [artists] spending money, but they’re devoting 21 days just focusing on [ArtPrize],” adds Brenda Beerhorst. “[You’re] not making the usual cash you make.”

The amount of time and effort Rick Beerhorst, in particular, put into the family’s ArtPrize entries not only tested him personally, but the family as well. This is another aspect of the family’s participation that was eventually subject to reevaluation.

“Rick stayed at Plan B [the family’s second ArtPrize entry]- literally slept there- for the whole ArtPrize,” Brenda Beerhorst says. “I think he slept at home two nights. And so many people talk nostalgically about that, like it was one of the greatest things in their lives. And it was, but it was also a lot of work.”

In 2011, feeling burned out from the previous two years, Rick Beerhorst entered a painting into the the competition instead. This allowed him and his family to go out and explore the three-week-long event for the first time. As they wandered and took it all in they began to see the impact ArtPrize was having on Grand Rapids as a city, and the way it influenced people’s understanding of art.

“I feel like we’re still processing it,” says Rick Beerhorst. “We’re still wondering about its potential. But there’s a lot of criticism.”

“Now that we have the jury prizes it’s different,” says Brenda Beerhorst. “The people’s choice can be so embarrassing. But, again, people are learning. You get thousands and thousands of people actually reading artist’s statements and they’re being educated. They take the time to talk to the artists. They see things every year and they start to think about it.”

The Beerhorsts believe ArtPrize is not only an asset to the city but to local artists as well. Each year pushed the family to their limits, and Rick Beerhorst says they experienced immense artistic growth as a result. Beerhorst says that’s something worth considering for artists who think they might enter in the future.

“Look at this as an opportunity to really push yourself out of your comfort zone,” says Rick Beerhorst. “I would start early. [That’s] the biggest advice. Start planning what you want to do. And part of that’s in the location you want to have as a venue. Start talking to them. We started courting [MadCap] long before ArtPrize officially got started. I also think sponsors are a good idea; connecting with business[es] who maybe have some relationship. Especially if you get there early before everyone else.”

ArtPrize also provides opportunities for collaboration, which is something the Beerhorsts have done consistently throughout their involvement.

“Think about the whole collaborative element,” Rick Beerhorst says. “Think about people you’d like to work with and reach out to them. Which takes courage and humility because they might say no or they might not return your Facebook message. But I think this whole idea of working together is becoming more common in Grand Rapids. Finding people you wanna work with is such a great thing because you can learn from them.”

Rick Beerhorst believes the event will have a lasting positive effect for Grand Rapids’ more creative citizens. He says it will allow them to begin experimenting artistically while expanding their potential as artists on both personal and professional levels. He also believes it’s exhibiting evidence that the city as a whole is growing.

“Grand Rapids has been really hard on creatives and eccentrics in the past. Richard Florida, who has taught for years at Carnegie Mellon, said that in a city like New York they celebrate their eccentrics and in a city like Grand Rapids they tolerate them at best. Well, Grand Rapids needs to get its shit together. What’s literally happening with ArtPrize is it’s shifting the DNA of our city, where for years and years we were a very conservative place. The city is starting to ferment and it’s changing. [ArtPrize] is changing it.”

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