The small town of Grand Rapids, Michigan has made a splash in the art world, thanks to ArtPrize. Over a thousand artists from around the world compete every year for two huge cash prizes, and the event attracts almost a half million visitors. Last week, it was announced that Dallas will be the first city allowed to replicate the Grand Rapids model. Ariel Saldivar quit her job as assistant director of Goss Michael Foundation to work on ArtPrize Dallas. She lays out the plan to turn office buildings, restaurants and other venues in and around downtown into venues for an art festival and competition in 2016.
- Listen to the interview that aired on KERA FM:
- NYTimes announces ArtsPrize Dallas
- Dallas Observer’s Lauren Smart: Did Dallas buy an art franchise?
- D Magazine’s Peter Simek: Should Dallas fear ArtPrize?
Here are some excerpts and extras from our conversation:
Mark the calendar: ArtPrize Dallas will launch its web site, with details about the process for submitting art work, and for hosting an art venue, in March. The event itself is targeted for April 2016.
So, how does it work? So one $200,000 prize is decided by a jury vote, and that’s a panel of expert jurors, curators from all over the world. And then the public votes for the other 200,000 cash prize. [The jury also awards smaller, but significant, prizes in a number of categories, such as venue, or three-dimensional work.]
On the role technology plays: Rick DeVos did an incredible job. He’s a venture capitalist [and scion of the family that founded Amway.] He has a company called Start Garden, up in Grand Rapids. He had this technology that was originally going to be used for a film festival. So he took the risk. He invested millions of dollars in this technology. And it’s seamless, it’s really easy to use. This can really put Dallas on the map in terms of using this audience engagement tool. [It’s an app called ArtPrize, via iTunes]
Grand Rapids is relatively small, but the event is huge. It’s massive. They’ve had over 400,000 people descend upon the city and it just becomes alive and vibrant. I was just there a few weeks ago – I participated as a juror this year for their installation category – and going out every night to two bars and restaurants, there’s art everywhere, all over the city. People are sitting at dinner and talking about their favorite art that they saw that day and what they’re going to vote on. It creates this excitement and experience that people can’t get enough of there. They just completed their sixth year, and for the first time, the public vote and the expert jury picked the same artist as the grand prize winner, [Anila Agha] who, I’d like to add, got her MFA from UNT. [She now lives in Indianapolis].
How will the festival benefits area artists? It benefits in several ways. Just one being exposure. How many times are you going to get your work in front of potential half a million people for 19 days. That’s incredible. I’m hoping to start an artist grant program for Dallas artists under ArtPrize, so they can participate and do larger projects.
It’s got to be expensive: Right now, I’m looking at $1.5 million a year. Half a million we give away. But when you look at in terms of an economic impact value, I mean, $27 million in Grand Rapids. The potential of that, and then what the potential could be here for this city, it’s going to be a good thing. I’m optimistic. There’s a non-profit that’s been established called ArtPrize Dallas. I’m not asking the city for any money. I’m just asking for city participation in terms of utilizing buildings and public safety officials and things like that. I didn’t want to take from the existing arts funding, which was very important to me. I wanted to add to it and utilize businesses in a civic-engaged event that can attract other corporate sponsors.
It costs $50 to be an artist at ArtPrize and anyone over 18 can sign up. Surely there’s going to be some bad art: You’re absolutely right about that. But that’s what’s so great about this conversation. That’s what’s great about this environment. Because art is so many things to so many different people. You’re utilizing art prize as this environment to see things like that, see things and be exposed to things you’ve never seen before. I mean talk about the power of education. Using that as an educational tool. Not just to be able to look at something and say, well, that’s interesting. But why is it interesting? Let’s give people the tools to determine and discover why an artist makes something a certain way.
Quality control or curating comes from the venues that participate: So say you’re Bank of America and you want to give your lobby, downtown on Main Street, for an art installation; so someone there, at Bank of America, would get online and say, ‘You could use 10 square feet of this space.’ An artist sees that and they look at the location and they look online and they realize that they’ve got an idea for that space and they can use that space. So there’s a connections period that happens when this artist makes a connection with the venue. The venue can then decide if they do or don’t like the artist’s idea. Usually what happens in Grand Rapids, is they have around 40 artists apply for that space, and that space gets to curate and they have curatorial control. So you’re giving the power to the business itself to become their own curator, which makes them engaged as well. When you think about different buildings and spaces – there are awards given for best venue and that creates that type of competition and excitement. So the venue can be just as excited as the artist because they want to make that connection and make it a success.
There’s been some criticism of the ArtPrize concept, and that ArtPrize Dallas won’t benefit our arts community. There’s always going to be criticism with any new idea that comes to town. We’ll just have to wait and see what that looks like in 2016. That’s a part of the risk, you know? It’s a civic event engaging different demographics of people of all ages to come in and discover their city and using visual art as the tool. And then being able to give away this spectacular cash prize. How exciting is that? This idea will definitely take time to gain momentum. But I’m very optimistic that people will catch the vision and see the potential of what it can do for our city and for artists.