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Gifts from the ArtPrize community

With my birthday on the eve of ArtPrize 2011, I'm reflecting on all the gifts I have received from ArtPrize. More than a chance to appreciate art, ArtPrize has provided many opportunities to my family.

/Erica Curry Van Ee

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Sharing our birthdays

"Happy 3rd Birthday ArtPrize. I am honored to share my birthday with you, and excited to watch you grow and become. Thanks for all the ways you enrich my life, encourage me to dream, and help me believe."

/Erica Curry Van Ee


Happy Birthday ArtPrize! Today is my birthday too, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to spend it with you. You have been one of the best birthday gifts of my life, and that’s pretty impressive, considering I have 39 years on you. From the day you were born, it was love at first sight! You mobilized and engaged this community like I have never seen before. The experience left me intrigued, inspired and motivated. So this is my story, and my tribute to you.


A few years before the birth of ArtPrize, I had moved downtown to Union Square Condos in an effort to be part of something bigger than myself. Along the journey I met Brian, a kindred spirit who shared my passion for building and serving community and so much more. When we got engaged we thought about ways we could incorporate ArtPrize into our wedding plans, because it reflected so much of what we believe in when it comes to growing community from the inside out. After this extraordinary man became my husband last July, we decided to host an ArtPrize artist.

That’s when Young Kim entered our lives-and ultimately our hearts. We had seen his work the year before and were so moved by it that we decided to open up our homes and build a relationship with the person behind the art. It was an amazing experience in so many ways. And not because of all the hype that came with Young being named a Top 10 finalist (although that was fun too). There was so much beauty in sharing these sacred moments with Young, Brian and our oldest son Tyler as we got to “co-create” with Young. We hung drywall, painted, hung pictures, wired lights, made late night trips to Home Depot, ate Chinese on the floor of the GRAM, and pulled an all-nighter to install the fragile “Salt and Earth” not once, but twice. I learned in those moments that it is the grit, not the glamour, that creates community. It is working side by side using our God-given talents, in service to something greater than ourselves, that builds character and maturity and resilience. That has been a value we have lived into during our first year of marriage, whether we are serving one another, our family, or our broader community. Brian and I have decided to open up our home again this year and have two artists coming this weekend, and possibly two more next week. We don’t know their stories, but we do know that behind the 1582 pieces of original art are 1582 stories waiting to be heard. It is an honor to be part of one another’s stories. 

Another extraordinary aspect of my ArtPrize journey has been the opportunity to serve community side by side with my mom, who is 77 years young. She is my mentor and my hero, and I cherish every day we have together. We were Wayfinders together last year, and got to meet so many people from Grand Rapids and beyond who were drawn to be part of ArtPrize 2010. The role of a Wayfinder is just that: to help people find their way as they navigate through the city, the art and the experience. You can find us all around the city, wearing our volunteer vests and giant “Ask Me” buttons. What a gift to see people representing different generations and nations united by a common purpose. It was indeed a gift to experience this side by side with my husband and my mom while recognizing that we represent three different generations united by our common purpose: a shared vision for our community. We are signed up again this year, so if you see us out and about, stop by and say hi!

ArtPrize tells us that the event is part art festival, part social experiment. Maybe that is what keeps me coming back, and what I am most thankful for. The whole experience seems a little bit like life imitating art, or is it the other way around? I love how ArtPrize creates so many on-ramps for people to engage their head and heart in building community. Whatever your gift or passion, you can find a way to express it or see it expressed and reflected through another. It brings out the best in community, and brings out the best in me.  

So, Happy 3rd Birthday ArtPrize. I am honored to share my birthday with you, and excited to watch you grow and become. Thanks for all the ways you enrich my life, encourage me to dream, and help me believe. 


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