Sept. 30 2009 12:00 AM

Local artists take part in Grand Rapids epic art competition

Sporting a huge cash prize, more than 1,200 works of art and 159 venues encompassing a large portion of Grand Rapids, the first ever Art Prize art ompetition has stirred up artists from across the world, and Lansing is no exception.

Running to Oct. 10, Art Prize is touted as one of the largest and most unique events of its kind in the world, offering nearly half a million dollars in prizes, including $250,000 to the winner, essentially turning Grand Rapids into a city-sized art gallery.

With more than 40 mid-Michigan artists presenting works, Lansing’s artistic expression will be well represented at the landmark event.

The brainchild of entrepreneur and Michigan native Rick DeVos, Art Prize isn’t a traditional art competition, despite the high stakes. Attendees will be able to vote for the works they think most deserve to win via text message or online voting. There will be no official judges or voting panel making the decisions, only the public.

“The idea of a public vote emerges as a way to catalyze the conversation and give every participant a stake and an integral part in the process,” DeVos said during a phone interview. “It’s working splendidly.”

Devos, 27, is the son of former Amway executive Dick Devos, the Republican nominee for governor in 2006.

Only one entry is permitted per artist, ensuring a wide spectrum of expression. There is no entrance fee to the public, and they are asked to register only if they wish to vote. Participants range from local to international entrants. Prize money is being awarded by The Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation.

The underlying idea of Art Prize though, is simply to get people talking about and experiencing art with one another.

“It’s all about conversation, and it’s all about learning,” DeVos said. “It’s great to see a huge variety of wok. It’s all apart of the experience.”

Local participant Mary Gillis, of East Lansing, has been focused on art since the 1970s. She graduated from the Pratt Institute and New York University and studied in Venice, Italy, yet has never seen anything like Art Prize.

“This is an unprecedented art competition,” Gillis said. “There hasn’t been anything like it ever. I’ve exhibited in a number of galleries in various states and countries, but I’ve never been in a competition like this.”

Gillis’ ArtPrize entry is a set of five paintings titled the “Great Lakes Series,” which celebrates the beauty of the Great Lakes, while focusing on the importance of their preservation. Gillis said she used various contemporary materials, like glass and polyurethane on aluminum and oil on paper, for a 21st century view of our impact on the lakes, as well as what we can do to help.

“I thought this was a timely choice to put in, and it’s a celebration of the lakes,” she said.

As Art Prize kicks into high-gear, Gillis has deemed the event a success. “Being there right now, the energy is fantastic,” she said. “A lot of cities could learn from this. [DeVos] had a great idea … and the city embraced it.”

Another Lansing artist participating in Art Prize is Russell Bauer, who collaborated with fellow artist Janel Schultz to create a 12-foot tall peacock relief with a hydroponic wheat grass tail that stretches about 25 feet.

Bauer, who graduated with a degree in studio art from Michigan State University, said the bird was completed almost entirely out of free or discarded materials he and Schultz found. Only the pumps and tubing used to grow the wheat grass was purchased.

Bauer said the inspiration for the project was a sort of a natural progression between him and Schultz. “I’ve been kind of working with hydroponics and food, and Janel has been working with animals, and we’ve both been using found materials,” Bauer said.

In terms of its size and public voting, Bauer said ArtPrize is unlike any other competition he has ever experienced, including a Detroit art battle in which he participated.

“I’m not aware of a lot of art contests like this,” he said. “It’s a relatively new thing.”

Because of its scope, its participants and the way the public has embraced ArtPrize, it would be hard to imagine the event not continuing in following years.

Certainly the artists won’t be an issue, given the large turnout this year, and the city’s willingness to host their works.

Of course, there is one other aspect drawing participants to the show that is pretty hard to ignore, as Gillis pointed out. “What artist wouldn’t want to vie for a quarter of a million dollars?”


Anthony Vasquez –

Erika Magers –

Grant Whipple –

A.M. Martens –

Janel Schultz & Russell Bauer –

Abigail Deneau –

Stephanie Palagyi –

Lisa Truax –

Patrick Gietzen –g

Michelle Word –

Carol Guskey-

Benjamin Duke –

Marissa Tullis –

Brian Whitfield –

Britta Urness –

William Brown Jr. –

Tom Sheerin –

Joshua Moore –


Chris Packer –

Deon Foster –

Jesse Howell –

Amy Brown –

Ben Clore –

Rob Kolomyski –

Clarissa Gerber –

Jacquelynn Sullivan –

Andrew Rieder –

Mary Gillis – East Lansing


Christine V. Hampton –

Shannon McKeon –


Spencer Corbett –

Mark Mehaffey –

Mark Chatterley –

Paul Nilsson –

Scott Van Allsburg –

Elahe Crockett –

Dianne Wolter –


Jay Langone –

Tad Smith –


Carolyn Texera –

Steve Baibak –


Richard Alexander Harrington/Rx H653 -


Shelly Wilkinson (Herremans) –


Tony Hendrick –


Through Oct. 10 Grand Rapids, Mich.

For a complete list of venues and more information, visit