Sept. 22 2010 12:00 AM

Local talents enter annual G.R. competition



The grand prize is greater than Bravo’s “Top Chef," but less than “Survivor” or “Big Brother.” It’s a competition for world’s largest prize awarded for the creation of art, but it’s not on television, and it doesn’t take place in New York, London or Los Angeles.

It is ArtPrize, and it opened in Grand Rapids at 6 this morning.

Through Oct. 10, 1,713 artists from 21 countries and 44 states will be exhibiting their creations in 192 venues within a three-square mile area in downtown Grand Rapids and competing for $449,00 worth of cash awards.

This is the second year of ArtPrize, an event founded by social entrepreneur Rick DeVos. The ArtPrize organization’s role is to promote and maintain databases of artists and venues, so that those groups can find each other.

Ginny Seyferth, ArtPrize media relations representative, sums up the simplicity of the structure of ArtPrize: “ArtPrize sets up the opportunity for artist and venue to meet and then it’s like a dating game, and then the entrepreneurship of the community and the artists takes over, and the public gets to weigh in with their opinion throughout all of this.”

The competition is more than a spectator sport, as the audience is intimately involved in not just choosing the winners, but in the entire experience. Every visitor has the opportunity to vote for the winning pieces and to share his or her opinions.

“It is a today’s-world conversation about art. You and I might meet on the street and talk about it, it might mean we’re on Facebook talking about it, it might mean I’m texting you about it,” Seyferth says.

One thing that is always a challenge for artists is exposure, and particularly exposure
outside of local art circles. More important that the cash prizes for
many artists are the exposure opportunities that ArtPrize provides, not
just to the public but within the art community. Among the 200,000
visitors to last year’s event were representatives from galleries and
museums such as the Whitney Museum and the Kennedy Center.

exposure and the opportunity to take part in such an exciting event
within an hour’s drive were two of the strongest motivators that drew
over two dozen Lansing area artists to participate in the event. From
Williamston to Eagle, St. Johns to Holt, local artists involved in the
event will reflect the diversity of the arts and artists in Lansing.
Among those are:

Eric Staib, “These Do!": Staib,
a St. Johns resident, is an art teacher at Kinawa Middle School and a
recipient of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Power of Art E d u c a t
o r s award. He has tapped into his experiences with dyslexia to create
a dynamic and distinctive personal style and themes that he hopes will
provide a positive example to students who struggle with learning

He also hopes his
politically ambiguous painting, a large painting that features the
colors of an American flag sagging downward, will provoke dialogue. The
audience will have an opportunity to leave written feedback around the
piece, explaining why they think “These Do!”— as in, why these colors do

“I was scared
about Grand Rapids; they’re pretty conservative, I wondered how they’re
going to take this. But it’s been a good response.”

solicited several hundred comments on the work before installing it,
some of which will be included as part of the installation. (Showing at
Bohemia Too, 10 Weston St. SE.)

Steve Baibak,“Mastodon Vanitas":

is Baibak’s second year participating in ArtPrize. Last year he was
part of the MSU collective’s exhibit, but this year he steps out on his
own with a large outdoor sculpture called “Mastodon Vanitas." The
sculpture is a totem of items which all reflect themes of mortality: A
stopped clock serves as the base, upon which rests a mastodon skull,
capped by a chrome orb in which the viewer can see his or her own

was influenced by a childhood dream of digging up dinosaur bones in his
yard. Then, in 2009, “there was a story about people in Portland, Mich.,
who found a skeleton of a mastodon in their yard — what an outstanding
thing to happen,” he explains. The idea of something ancient and
timeless being found close to home struck a chord. “The whole piece is
about mortality and human existence. It’s inevitable, the end will be

Baibak had
designed the piece for indoor display, but when Grand Valley State
University approached him about displaying it outdoors at its downtown
campus for ArtPrize, he added a solarpowered light to illuminate the
clock, and cast a concrete base. (Showing outside Steelcase Hall at
Grand Valley State University’s downtown campus.)

Benjamin Clore, “Reconstruction":

A Michigan State MFA
alum and art instructor at Delta College, Benjamin Clore is
participating in ArtPrize for a second time. His work, entitled
“Reconstruction,” is a large installation that will be featured on the
Blue Bridge, which stretches over the Grand River in the middle of the
downtown. “It’s the oldest railroad bridge in Grand Rapids. We wanted to do
something that relates to that history,” Clore says. He designed an
abstracted railroad car that will sit on the bridge, and will feature
seating and artwork done in the style of urban graffiti often found on
railroad cars.

The work is a collaborative effort. Clore
designed the piece, but then tapped into local expertise to fabricate
the work, including an engineer, the local historical society, a
concrete fabricator, and others. “With the economy being so bad, I
wanted to use as much local industry as possible.”

the piece is being built on-site, it has already gotten the attention
of the community. Clore tells about some curious kids who asked the
contractor if he was building a bridge on the bridge. He laughed and
gave a vague answer. Hours later, the kids returned with a small bridge
they built, and asked if it could be placed on the site to create “a
bridge on the bridge on the bridge.” Who says kids can’t grasp abstract
ideas? (Showing on the Blue Bridge, between Fulton and Pearl Streets.)

Sally Martin Stewart, “Untitled":

Williamston artist
Stewart is participating in ArtPrize for the first time. Her goal was to
find a venue whose mission matched the theme of her work.

Her installation is a
series of gold-leaf plaster casts of breasts, which will hang, cup-like.
Stewart’s “breast nests” will be at the Annie R Studio, which is
hosting an exhibit on behalf of the Ella Bullis Foundation to raise
awareness of pregnancy, premature birth and neonatal care.

“It’s been an interesting process. It was a lot more work than I thought it would be,” Stewart noted.

In what way, considering that the process seems simple: artist and venue match up, artist hangs work, public views work?

was work trying to get everything together on time, coordinating with
the venue, finding a way to work my time with their time in hanging the

The rewards
are worth the work. In addition to gaining more exposure for her work,
Stewart is energized by the community and the camaraderie.

that many artists together and creating an entire city of art.” She
loses the words to capture the feeling. “I just couldn’t believe it.
It’s exciting to be a part of that.” (Showing at Annie R Studio, 14
Weston St. SE.)

Michelle Word, “Ovate":

Like Clore,
Michelle Word is an MSU alumni and second-time ArtPrizer. She teaches at
MSU, and in addition to helping to coordinate Clore’s piece on behalf
of MSU, Word is also exhibiting.

Her work, “Ovate," is a
mixed media/ found object piece, which will be featured at the Women’s
City Club. Doing doubleduty has forced Word to change how she works.

work is usually very tedious and takes quite a long time,” Word
explains. “I’ve actually been setting some time limits and trying to do
things quicker. I don’t over-question what I’m doing.”

completed the installation on Sunday evening, bestowing a title only
when it had taken its final form. (Showing at Women’s City Club, 254
East Fulton St.)