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Grand Rapids Celebrates First ArtPrize Event Since Pandemic After Two Years

Thousands of people flocked to the streets to celebrate art and the return of one of Grand Rapids’ most beloved events.

The 18-day event called ArtPrize drew thousands from all over the world to the streets of downtown. After a two-year break, the competition returned this year with a smaller, slower scene from September 16 to October 3.

“I missed ArtPrize. I love the light it brings to downtown,” said Sarah Elliott, an ArtPrize volunteer. Elliot has volunteered for the festival-like competition since 2010, but her streak was halted due to the pandemic. This year, ArtPrize bounced back strong with thousands of visitors each day, and Elliott loves being back. “I love seeing people on the street,” Elliot said. “Lots of people look like they’re having lots of fun and just taking it in.”

The art show in Grand Rapids — a three-hour drive northeast from Chicago — switched from an annual to a biennial event after 2018, meaning it’s now only celebrated every other year. Considering its two-year absence, many people were excited to get their fix for art and community at this year’s exhibition.

Colton Nelson, a sophomore at Grand Rapids Community College, and Kasey Kanka, a junior at Grand Valley State University, enjoyed being out. “You can only have so much ‘you time.’ Going out and being around other people’s energy is cool,” Nelson said. 

Both Nelson and Kanka felt a sense of community at this year’s ArtPrize. Kanka said she enjoyed being around other creative individuals, and they both particularly took notice of the artistic outfits. “There’s sick-ass clothes everywhere,” Nelson said. “To get inspiration from the art and people’s clothes – it’s nice.”

One of Nelson and Kanka’s favorite pieces was “Musical Plant Garden/Florganoleptic” by Tom Wall. The installation featured live music that was conducted directly from plants! With the use of an electronic device, the inner electromagnetic fluctuations within the plants can be converted to musical notes that we’re able to hear. “It’s crazy how the energy from plants can be transmuted into song,” Kanka said. “That’s what they’re thinking inside there, probably.”

This was Kanka’s first time at ArtPrize, and she was not disappointed. “Genuine” and “colorful” is how she described the event. “It’s been beautiful,” Kanka said. “I love it.”

With many COVID-19 restrictions in place, ArtPrize was slightly smaller and traffic was slower this year. The total number of artists that participated in ArtPrize 2021 is 955, but usually there’s well over 1,500 that participate. 

“It’s definitely a slower ArtPrize, usually it’s jam-packed,” Todd Ramquist, an ArtPrize artist, said. “There’s about half the artists and probably about half the venues, also.”

Ramquist, a Florida native, has travelled to Grand Rapids to showcase his work in ArtPrize for the past 10 years. This year, his art installation is titled “Whimzey Wire World.” It features various pieces of aluminum wire that Ramquist shaped to look like flowers and butterflies, mimicking a lush garden scene. Ramquist said he and his wife have both been working with wire for years and they participate in art festivals regularly. “It’s fun; it’s what we do for a living. We love making art work and travelling.”

“This year, everybody is kind of excited again,” Ramquist said. “To be outside, spend money and buy artwork.” 

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