Thursday, December 13, 2012

Old is New in Downtown: The Grand Rapids Brewing Company Returns

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By Doctor

Grand Rapids has fully embraced the craft beer resurgence and proudly carries the title “Beer City U.S.A.” it earned through an impressive online campaign earlier this year. There is even an exhibit at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, Thank You, Beer! that celebrates the history of beer and specifically the beer tradition in Grand Rapids. Prominent in the exhibit is a painting on the original Grand Rapids Brewing Co. that was once the largest brewery in the city and encompassed an entire city block, but it didn’t survive prohibition.

The original GRBC
The namesake and brewing reemerged in 1993 as the Grand Rapids Brewing Company opened as a brewpub and restaurant on 28th Street. It helped launch the beer culture in “Beer City U.S.A.”, but poor management and an inability to keep up with the innovative local beer scene caused GRBC to close its doors in 2011.

Until last week when Grand Rapids Brewing Company opened its doors once again, under new ownership, having returned to downtown Grand Rapids under the ownership of the Sellers and StellaFly that also operate HopCat, Stella’s, and McFadden’s in the downtown Arena District.

I thought about going down for the opening last week Wednesday, but decided against battling the crowds who lined up outside an hour before it open. I made my first visit on Saturday with BBQ Bob and Jop of The Grillin’ Guys and Cory and Shasta, owners of Old World Olive Press after we broadcast the morning show at their downtown location. We managed to pull together a pair of bistro tables by the door and beat the rush of families leaving the Van Andel Arena next door following the Grand Valley State University graduation.

THE BEER
The hype and crowds are neither surprising nor unwarranted. GRBC had five house made brews on tap on Saturday: I enjoyed pints of the John Ball Brown, 09 Campau’s $90Pale, and Senator Lyon Stout – most brews are named after influential individuals from West Michigan. Other house made brews included a Mango Hefeweizen and the Silver Foam (“a new take on an old classic”). I must not have been the only one that enjoyed the Brown as brewer Nick Roelofs visited our table and shared that they were down to their last two kegs.

THE FOOD
Our group ordered a round of small plates to snack on and I must admit that we weren’t as impressed with the food as much as we were the beer. We ordered the kale chips (disappointing), Michigan Cheddar Cheese Curds (OK), poutine (a mess), Brewer’s Chips N’ Dip (I enjoyed it the most of the group), and the in-house Hand-Cranked Duck Sausage (good), and Sweet & Spicy Italian Sausage (excellent, best thing we ordered). It seemed that they are being a little over ambitious with the menu with creative small plates instead of focusing on offering excellent simple bar food which would seem to be a better fit for the location and vibe. I give them credit for aiming high, but that means that you're likely to have some swings and misses, especially early on.

ALL ORGANIC
It must be noted that GRBC is the first certified all-organic brewery in the Mid-West. It is a great marketing item and I know that there are a lot of pro-organic people out there, but I’m just indifferent about it. Just make good food and beer.

THE DÉCOR
I was really impressed with the layout and décor. High ceilings, large windows along Fulton and Ionia Streets and two separate bars make for an open and vibrant atmosphere. They also did an excellent job in repurposing materials that add a lot to the décor. Most of the tables were made with the original wood floors from the building that were pulled up to open the basement for the brewing equipment; likewise bricks from the original structure were used to build the back bar; an old barn wall was refurbished and re-purposed as an inside wall with the GRBC logo painted across it; and an old metal door repainting the logo above the back bar really stands out.

EXPERIENCE
We also had great service on our visit. We had a great server; the general manager stopped by our table as did brewer Nick Roelofs while the owner, Mark Sellars bought our group a round. Yes, it’s nice to visit breweries with radio hosts and others involved in the local food scene, but we definitely weren't the only one's there having a good time.

Overall we had a great visit and I look forward to going back to GRBC to continue to see what’s on tap. It’s another great addition to “Beer City U.S.A.” 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Are Unions Relevant in the 21st Century?

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By Doctor


Right-to-Work legislation is up for a final vote in the Michigan legislature today. It is a historic and newsworthy vote by any and all accounts. Instead of focusing on the argument over the economic benefits or the politics and means to how it arrived to a vote today, I want to address the relevancy of labor union in the 21st century.

What is happening in Lansing is a big political defeat for organized labor - of course others have a more optimistic appraisal of the situation. But the broader concern of union leadership must be to stop living in the past and move into the present to find a way for organized labor to be a productive economic partner in the 21st century global economy.

There's been statements among union supporters along the lines of Michael Moore's tweet to the right that all non-union workers need to go back to 19th century working conditions. Yes, labor unions were very important in 20th century America improving working conditions and workers rights, but all those have been passed into law for decades. To make the argument that all workers need to continue to pay dues for the successes of the past is akin to making the argument that all African-Americans should still vote Republican because Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party freed the slaves almost 150 years ago. It’s ridiculous.

Organized labor response to declining private sector membership has not been to innovate and become partners with employers by any sort of value addition. Rather, labor has pursued purely political avenues to increase power, revenue, and influence with the intention to stay powerful, well funded, and influential.

But if the true intention and value of organized labor is to be a powerful, well funded, and influential political lobby then why should workers be compelled by law to join and financially support it?

If labor unions want to continue to be relevant into the 21st century, they need to identify what value they can bring as a partner in a competitive global economy. More specifically, the goals of organized labor need to focus less on political influence and more on being a positive economic influence.

Instead of enacting legal challenges to prevent losingexisting jobs and forced new memberships, union leadership should be looking at how they can work with employers to improve work culture and productivity.

Maintaining a completely antagonistic view against employers and business is not a very productive way to engage in a voluntary partnership. And, "Hello, McFly," employment is a voluntary agreement between parties to exchange labor, time, and productivity for compensation. Individuals are not entitled to a job and employers are not entitled to happy productive workers; both parties have to work together to be successful.

There’s a reason companies are focusing more and more on workplace culture and employee appreciation and recognition. Google makesheadlines about their creative workplace culture. OneUpWeb in Traverse City places a huge emphasis on having a fun but relentlessly engaged workforce. Employee recognition is what Baudville, Inc. in Grand Rapids does. Those businesses all place an emphasis on employee recognition beyond wages and monetized benefits. Another example, Gordon Food Service, #4 on Forbes Best Family Businesses, just opened an incredible new headquartersbuilding south of Grand Rapids. GFS employees may not have gotten a raise from moving into the new space, but from speaking with them, they sure feel more appreciated.

That is the new frontier in employee-employer relationships in the modern economy. Union shops and collective bargaining contracts make the employee appreciation and recognition programs of those companies much more difficult. Union contracts are designed to equalize the workplace: everyone works the same hours for the same pay and benefits which consequently leaves little room for bonuses or addition recognition.

A large part why companies don’t want unionized employees and avoid forced unionized shop states is because unionized workers offer very few benefits compared to all the costs and hassles.

That’s why Governor Snyder’s comments that right-to-work might actually help unions is not merely a slap in the face (although there certainly is a bit of that). Ending compulsory union membership puts the burden on the unions to evolve and innovate to become relevant in the 21st century. Unions now have to make the argument to the workers what the value is being a union member and what benefits they receive from paying dues.

Unions fear right-to-work because they fear that they can’t convince employees and employers on the merits of union membership and partnership. That’s why they are focused on using political influence to legally coerce individuals into joining and paying dues. Just this year unions spent tens millions of millions on two proposals on the Michigan ballot last month (#2 & #4) to secure legally compulsory membership. Proposal 4 was a pure money grab to use the ballot system to force thousands of home care workers to pay union dues without their consent through putting it into the state constitution after a similar law was ruled unconstitutional.

Unfortunately, I fear that unions that will continue to focus their efforts on being antagonistic and continue to spend millions legally challenging any legislation that challenges their present legal privileges. They will continue to do everything possible to continue to cling to the status quo of the previous century and resist change.

The lack of vision and stubbornness to innovate and move forward will continue to weaken organize labor. Not just evil big business and Republicans

What's your take on the debate? Are unions still relevant? What is the role of organized labor in the global economy? Is this a step forward or backward for Michigan and Michigan workers? Let us know, but please keep it civil.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Michigan Musings: Links & Commentary

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By Doctor

There's a lot going on in Michigan at the moment. It's also Christmas time, so everyone's got tons of stuff to do. It makes it a great time for some Michigan Musings - a one stop place for links to top stories coming out of Michigan with brief comments of wisdom and humor from yours truly. 

Right-to-Work/Right-to-Work-for-Less/Freedom-to-Work
It's happening, today. After the overreach/getting-their-asses-handed-to-them by the Michigan unions on the November ballot, it was bound to happen (more here). Unions have been a strong part of Michigan history and the growth of the middle class, but unions like other special interests have been more interested in power and influence than doing what makes sense and betters workers and society. It makes sense. Give the workers the freedom to choose.

Will Detroit Go Bankrupt?
No, Mitt Romney isn't involved. Instead, Detroit city leaders seem determined to steer the city off the cliff into bankruptcy (the city can't afford toilet paper for firefighters). A financial manager could still happen, but a complicated bankruptcy may be coming. Or will President Obama fly in and save the day again? 

New Detroit Arena
The city may be teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, but that didn't stop Mike Illitch from releasing preliminary plans for a new arena in Downtown Detroit to possibly play home to both the Red Wings and the Pistons. It has a long way to go with the city financial situation and that it is a $650 million proposal that'll require lots of public funding.

MichAgain
We attended a MichAgain reception in Grand Rapids the night before Thanksgiving which is part of a greater effort from a collaboration of Michigan organizations and businesses to lure Michigan Expats back home. There's an upcoming event in Detroit on December 27. I've recently run into people who've moved back from Florida, New York, and Washington D.C., and hopefully the trend will continue. Shoot us questions and comments.


Winter Beer Festival Scalper Scandal
The 8th Annual Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival set for February 23 at Fifth Third Ballpark just north of Grand Rapids sold out in less than 14 hours on Saturday. What's the problem? A handful of scalpers scooped up a bunch of tickets and now the Guild is trying to void those sales and maintain brand management after lots of Enthusiast Members did not get tickets. Laws of supply and demand need not apply.

More Beer (City U.S.A.) News
I think that's enough for me, for now. I think I've got one more Traverse City Food & Brew post in me from my November plus I'll be visiting the Grand Rapids Brewing Co. soon. The Right-to-Work debate needs to be addressed more fully and I may use the Scalper Scandal as an excuse to write an economics lesson on supply and demand. However, next may be a list of awesome Christmas gift ideas highlighting all things Michigan.

Comment, email us (michiganexpats@gmail.com), or send us a shout out on Facebook or Twitter (@MichiganExpats) as to what you'd like us to write about with any questions you'd like us to answer.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Traverse City Food & Brew Tour: Part II - Right Brain Brewery

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By Doctor

I'm slowly rolling out my recap of my last visit to Traverse City in November where I attended the BRIM conference (recap here and here) as well as a personal mini-food and brew tour of the Cherry Capital. In Part I, I wrote about my first visit to The Filling Station microbrewery. Today I'm highlighting my visit to Right Brain Brewery, a personal favorite, and my first visit to their new location in TC. 

Right Brain Brewery
A family favorite spot for a few years now, I’ve been looking forwarding to a return visit to Right Brain for months to see how Traverse City’s most interesting brewery fit into their new space just south of downtown.

In many ways, Right Brain hasn’t changed much. The original concept and inspiration Salon Saloon relocated along with the brewery and you can still have a beer and get your haircut. The pub still doubles as a local art gallery propagated by fun and creative works by local artists. There is still a table full of board games that you and your friends can set out and play while you sit and enjoy your beer. Yes, the beer is still fantastic (more on that in a bit) and with over twenty taps on site, there is always something new to try.

But the space is cavernous. The good news is that you shouldn’t have a tough time finding a seat, but it does lose the coziness that the original brewpub had, but it wasn’t quite as bad sitting at the bar.

I was able to catch Right Brain founder, Russ Springsteen, and ask for a beer recommendation. He quickly suggested I try Steve the Imperial Brown, a cask conditioned imperial brown ale, and noted that it may be the best beer they’ve ever brewed. I can’t comment on whether it’s their best ever, but it was damn good, a strong, yet surprisingly smooth, flavorful imperial brown.

I also had to try a small sample of the Mangalista Pig Porter. Right Brain puts smoked mangalista pig headed right into the brew. The result, the beer won a gold medal at the Great American Brew Festival. My impression: the porter has an incredible aroma. It smells like bacon. Yes, bacon beer. You have to try it to believe it.

I also want to congratulate Right Brain and their C.E.O. Stout (Coffee. Espresso. Oatmeal) for being voted Michigan’s #1 stout on DrinkMichigan.org on Stout Day, November 8. I was actually talking with Leif Kolt, Right Brain’s Kickdog (Michigan brewer employees have the best titles, Leif does events, branding, and marketing) about the poll that night at the BRIM reception where he was serving up WILLpower Pale Ale and how Right Brain was excited to have C.E.O. in the top 5. Then the next morning, I see that C.E.O. Stout made a late push to come out top in the poll.

Congrats to Right Brain Brewery on the Michigan Stout title and the new space. I look forward to my next visit to Traverse and the brewpub which should come around Christmas time. I’ll definitely stop by for some C.E.O. Stout.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

West MichAgain: Bringing Talent Back to the Region

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By Doctor

Two years ago when Mr. Sig and I started Michigan Expats we did so to focus and draw attention to the many folks born in Michigan who had left to pursue job opportunities but really want to come home to Michigan. For over two years, we’ve written and talked about what we love about Michigan and discuss the issues that have pushed so many to leave the state and prevent them from coming home.

We like to think we were on to something.

Last week I attended MichAgain West Michigan: BringingTalent Back to the Region, a reception at the B.O.B. in downtown Grand Rapids where state, regional, and local organizations and businesses made a pitch for Michigan Expats who were home for the Thanksgiving Holiday to give moving back home some more thought, particularly West Michigan.

The Pitch
The goal of the event was to highlight why West Michigan is a good place to live, that it is a fun and exciting area, and that there are opportunities available so you can come back and enjoy the good quality of life. It was a good pitch.

The B.O.B. (aka Big Old Building) was a great venue for the event. The food was good (hor d'oeuvres, small plates) and each attendee was given a free drink coupon that included the B.O.B. Brewery’s in house hand crafted brews. The space was appropriate for the size of the event and provided a great atmosphere for employee representatives and attendees to chat and network.

There was a brief program amidst the networking where the event organizers (see below) and business representatives got to introduce themselves which was helpful because it allowed attendees to see and hear from the potential individuals they may have wanted to seek out and speak with that evening.

From Art Prize to LaughFest to being voted “Beer City U.S.A.”, Grand Rapids has transformed itself into a much more vibrant and engaged community, particularly downtown than it was just a decade ago. One no longer needs to go elsewhere to seek art, culture, and a nightlife scene. Plus it is an affordable place to live with access to Michigan’s abundant natural resources. Did we mention beautiful and fun?




Collaboration
I feel like I’ve been using this term almost too much, but when it comes to economic development, wealth creation, and entrepreneurial spirits, “collaboration” is a good term to be using frequently and the MichAgain reception is another example of good leadership and Michigan organizations and businesses collaborating toward the common goal of improving Michigan.

First, is the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) which has helped fuel the Michigan Pride enthusiasm through the Pure Michigan ad campaign (a couple ads were played) as well as worked to improve the business climate in Michigan in recent years. I’ve got some Pure Michigan swag as a result that I plan to give away (details forthcoming).

Locally the event was organized and promoted by Experience Grand Rapids, Hello West Michigan, and The Right Place. I continue to be impressed with ExperienceGR and The Right Place and was introduced to Hello West Michigan, but all are interesting organizations impacting West Michigan, so here’s a quick primer.
  • ExperienceGR is the city Convention and Visitors Bureau that has stepped up its game to help highlight Grand Rapids as a destination with the DeVos Place Convention Center as well as promote the fantastic events such as Art Prize and LaughFest that have emerged in recent years.
  • Hello West Michigan was an organization that I was not familiar with prior to the event, but is a small business that serves as an advocate to help attract talent and support the transition to West Michigan. Essentially helping make the decision to relocate or stay in West Michigan easier. The fact that this is a functional business is representative alone of the emerging opportunities in Grand Rapids and the surrounding areas.
  • The Right Place is a non-profit economic development organization focused on creating economic opportunity in West Michigan including investment, jobs, business attraction, retention, and expansion. It’s one of a handful of unique and exciting organizations working extremely to generate wealth generation in the region.
Good news. Bad news. More good news
The good news is that these organizations have been successful in contributing to the renewed sense of Michigan pride and are leading Michigan economically out the recession.

The bad news is that one of the issues stalling some of the growth in West Michigan and across the state is rebounding from the brain drain, particularly from the past decade. The Right Place can help regional businesses find the investment to build or expand, but those businesses still need the talent to succeed and grow.

The good news is that West Michigan and Grand Rapids are a better place to live than Expats remember and that there are positions to filled to the point that all of these organizations are collaborating to market to Expats to come home.

 The news is even better if you’re an engineer and are considering coming home. Most of the businesses present at the reception – Bissell, GE Aviation, Herman Miller, and Steelcase – are in need of engineers. Other businesses present included 5/3 Bank, Gordon Food Service, and Macatawa Bank.

I won’t go as far as to tell you to pack up and come home to Michigan for good, but I am more enthusiastic about the progress in Michigan to becoming a destination to work as well as live than we were two years ago when we started MichiganExpats.com.

There are real grassroots efforts to spur entrepreneurship  innovation, and economic growth in the state. Better leadership has and continues to emerge (well, for the most part). It may be time Michigan’s expats to take another long look at what they love and miss about the Michigan and whether it is time to come home.

Each of the organizations discussed above has additional information to help make that decision. There is another MichAgain event scheduled for Thursday, December 27 at the Detroit Renaissance Center for those who will be home in South East Michigan around Christmas. You can also follow MichAgain on Twitter @GoMichAgain for information on similar events across the country,

Monday, November 26, 2012

Traverse City Food & Brew Tour: Part I - The Filling Station

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By Doctor

The Logo is Awesome
I still consider Traverse City the town I grew up in. I may have been born and returned to go to high school outside of Grand Rapids (Lowell, MI), but Traverse City is where I spent my formative years.

Consequently, I always why I look forward to going to Traverse City; I still have family and friends there, nostalgia, and duh, it’s beautiful Northern Michigan. So naturally I looked forward to going up to Traverse City for BRIM (Bringing Relentless Innovation to Michigan) – I did a two part recap summary check it out here and here.

I saw friends and family which is always nice, but I doubt our readers want to read about my visit with my grandmother or how my uncle feels about the latest Star Trek movie. If you’re here, you’re probably interested in the food and beer scene in Michigan and therefore Traverse City. I may have spent just under 48 hours in Traverse and most of that at a conference, but I still managed to visit three breweries, two restaurants, and a brew pub. Here's the first of the series of my Traverse City Food & Brew Tour.

Part I: The Filling Station Microbrewery
Ales by the Rails

I’ve been looking forward to visiting The Filling Station all year or as soon as it came on my radar: new brewery in Traverse, unique location in the old train depot, delicious sounding flat bread pizzas, and oh yeah, a new brewery in Traverse City. Yes, my visit was about seven months overdue since their spring opening. I’m ashamed I haven’t made it to Traverse sooner, but I did talk my dad into visiting sooner.

Good beer. Cool bistro tables.
Was it worth the wait? Yes. Located in the old Traverse City train depot along the northeast corner of Boardman Lake is a great unique location for a brewery. Inside features a welcoming renovated depot décor of the brick walls, hardwood floors, bistro tables made out of old railroad ties, and the original depot lights hanging over the bar. I look forward to coming back on a warmer day and sitting outside on the platform where you can sit and enjoy a locomotive sampler tray and look out over Boardman Lake.

Mr. Sig and I founded Michigan Expats because we wanted to represent the Michiganders who left the Mitten State to pursue economic opportunities, but ultimately would like to return home. Well, I must admit, the story behind The Filling Station may well be the best story of attracted Michiganders to return home I’ve heard yet.

The brewery is an idea of a retired of a mechanical engineer who missed his daughters who had both pursued careers outside of Michigan. What’s a paterfamilias to do? Buy his baker/part-time brewer son-in-law a thirteen barrel brewing system to start a brewing in Traverse City, that’s what.

That’s right, the dad’s the owner, the son-in-law, David Cannizzaro, is the brewer and, I didn’t confirm, but also the head chef, while one daughter, Amanda, was the one behind the bar, and from the picture of the new-born baby on the bulletin board next to the bar, the other daughter had responsibilities at home but that hasn’t stopped the little one from stopping bye.  I’ve heard a lot of cool stories about the founding of Michigan breweries, but this is now my favorite. Re-uniting daughters from opposite coasts to return home to Michigan to run a brewery. Now, that’s a way to re-patriot Michigan.
I was bummed I had a late big breakfast

Now, the moment I saw the pizza oven, I was disappointed that I had eaten a big lunch late in the morning. The pizza and the descriptions looked delicious. My dad and I each had an IPA (between us sampling two of three IPA’s available), but since we were on our way out of town didn’t have much time to get through the other ten beers on tap. I look forward to visiting The Filling Station again and I will be sure to come hungry and thirsty.

I may also have to pick up some merchandise. I really like the logo. Check out The Filling Station for yourself next time your in TC.

Still coming up from my Traverse City food and brew tour: a visit to the new Right Brain Brewery location; new Traverse City brewery, Brewery Ferment; and soul food finds a home in Northern Michigan at the Soul Hole.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

More BRIM: Insights and Analysis

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By Doctor


Alright, ladies and gentlemen, time for more BRIM. Again, for those scoring at home, BRIM stands for Bringing Relentless Innovation to Michigan, and was the title to an informative and inspirational conference last week at the OneUpWeb office in Traverse City. If you missed it, please check out my summary/recap of theevent.

Today, I want to delve more into the content of the conference and what was discussed beyond the general theme of the importance of entrepreneurship.

We’ll begin with a quick review of Rick DeVos’ keynote address. “I start things” was how Rick introduced himself and what he does. Of course, when those things include Art Prize, the world’s largest open art competition, and Start Garden, a fresh new venture capital firm, well then, that’s how you get invited to give the keynote at events such as BRIM.

Rick described entrepreneurship as analogous to sea exploration in a talk titled “Launch the Ships.” It is an apt metaphor, Dr. House would approve. We are just as must in an age of exploration as when Columbus sailed west, and we must foster a dynamic culture of entrepreneurship to drive that exploration. To that end, Rick had three points.
  1. “Get Curious” – Continually ask yourself and others, “What if…?” and “What if we…?” Use that curiosity and those questions to initiate action. At some point, someone asked, “what if we built a ship?” Centuries later, Columbus asked “What if the world was round and I could sail ships around the world?”
  2. “Make Failure Survivable” – Columbus sailed west with three ships, but the Santa Maria had to be abandoned in the new world. For venture capital firms, such as Start Garden, only a few big successes will pay for the investment in all the others. 
  3. “Launch the Ships (and hope some come back)” – Eventually you have to set sail on your ideas and see where they lead you. It may be profit and fulfillment or it may likely be failure, but you won’t know until you cast off. Columbus was looking for a passage to the Indies. Instead he came upon two continents and another ocean in the way. No models or projections had North or South America in the way.

Those points go beyond entrepreneurship and starting a business, but also reflect public policy tendencies. People, particularly in Michigan, have a tendency to try and plan our way out of everything. Nowhere is this more prevalent in politics, “if only we had a better plan” or someone else in charge. The truth is that there is not a white knight with “one plan to rule them all” to ride in and make all our problems go away. It takes local knowledge and solutions; entrepreneurial solutions.

And yes, people other than Rick DeVos spoke at BRIM. Here are more insights from an informative and inspirational day in Traverse City:

Business Plans – A few people brought business plans receiving too much emphasis. Remember, it’s a piece of literature; it does not need to be comprehensive. Yes, it’s still important, but it is more important to focus on your business, your idea implementation and generation, not spreadsheets and made up projections. When asked, even Rick DeVos stressed that it is more important to get marketplace validation than obsess over market share projections. Unlike the lottery, costs and payoffs cannot be calculated in life.

New Economy – Another tidbit that was discussed at BRIM, that I’ve heard more and more of these days is that we are entering a 1099 or self-employed economy. We may already be there. Look around, people aren’t in jobs that they expect to be in for the next 30-40 years. It is even more important to be creative and entrepreneurial in how you market yourself. Don’t focus on how to operate in the existing model. Look to change the model.

More bits from the panel discussions after the jump...

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bringing Relentless Innovation to Michigan

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By Doctor


“BRIM (Bringing Relentless Innovation to Michigan) is designed to deliver inspiration, education, and networking to business owners and entrepreneurs from the shores of Grand Traverse Bay, in Traverse City, MI.”

For two years, I’ve written about the resurgent sense of pride of Michiganders. Most popularly represented in the “Pure Michigan” ad campaign, I’d argue that the true driving force of this renewed Michigan enthusiasm lies in the recent focus and ascension of entrepreneurship, innovation, and creativity in the Mitten State.

Therefore, naturally I was curious to learn about BRIM (Bringing Relentless Innovation to Michigan), and excited when I received my invitation to attend.

I was not disappointed. I left BRIM more informed and inspired and with new networking opportunities if I relentlessly pursue those relationships.

Tremendous thanks and props to Lisa Wehr and the OneUpWeb team who organized an excellent conference. Lisa is the founder and CEO of OneUpWeb, a digital marketing agency based in Traverse City with close to 50 employees and an impressive nationwide client base (it’s a cool agency, check them out).

With the express purpose of supporting entrepreneurs, particularly in Michigan, OneUpWeb planned, organized, and hosted BRIM. It was not a small undertaking. They put together five panels, brought in Rick DeVos as the keynote speaker, hosted a pitch session with a $2500 award, marketed it to attract 100 attendees from across Michigan, and the recruited sponsorships so that the conference was free to attendees. It is a big commitment of resources, not to mention emptying the office space for an entire day to host the conference and accommodate those 100 guests.

OneUpWeb has a great space to host such an event, and the view out over West Grand Traverse Bay is a nice (understatement) bonus. Everyone in the same room, without a raised stage for the panelists and speakers, created a cozy, comfortable, and friendly environment that helped foster discussion and networking during the paneled discussions, Q&A, breaks, at lunch, and the cocktail hour.

Panelists were knowledgeable, personable, and approachable. The last adjective cannot be understated, since the key to these types of events is that they need to foster dialogue and a sense of collaboration. The purpose of the event is to inspire, educate, and allow for networking and that works best when people unite around that goal and share ideas, knowledge, experience, and their stories. It was evident at BRIM and it says a lot about the people in attendance, the moderators, and panelists.

Yes, the panelists. The day was broken up into five paneled discussions, lunch, keynote address from Rick DeVos, a pitch session, and the always important cocktail hour to wrap things up with beverages from Right Brain Brewery and Chateau de Leelanau. Paneled discussion topics:
  • Navigating a Changing Business Environment
  • Turning Entrepreneurial Passion into Success
  • Creating Buzz for Your Brand
  • Marketing to a Mobile Audience
  • Growing Customer Relationships through Social Media

There was value in each of the paneled discussions. None dragged on or were dull. The social media panel was the liveliest, but then again you’re dealing with people who spend most of their day on Twitter and Facebook engaged with interesting people such as a Brazilian insistent of his need for a papaya colored chair to match the rest of his papaya colored home or business (seriously).

During the Q&A following Rick DeVos’ keynote address where he spoke about the projects he’s started such as Art Prize, 5x5 Night, Start Garden, and more broadly of fostering a dynamic culture of entrepreneurship, one of the attendees commented how Start Garden and BRIM are representative of the future of capitalism, of entrepreneurial collaboration at the grassroots level. I don’t agree specifically with that statement because the voluntary exchange of goods and services particularly at the grassroots level has always been the foundation of a free market place and capitalism. However, it is that foundation that Michigan (and America) must return to improve our communities and the economy.

Entrepreneurialism and (relative) free markets remain America’s primary comparative advantage in a globalized world. And even as we continue to adjust in a globalized world and marketplace, we are beginning to understand once again that most problems and solutions are local. One can connect, create value, and profit in our local communities. Entrepreneurs understand that and address those problems, needs, and create that value.

That is why BRIM was such a unique, informational, and inspiring event. It brought people together to inspire and foster entrepreneurial spirit and share experience, knowledge, and networking to help it succeed with the goal of improving the community.

More and more, I see that local entrepreneurial approaches in Michigan are the most innovative and successful in both the business and non-profit sectors. It is continuing to fuel to enthusiasm and pride in Michigan, particularly in West Michigan (northwards all the way to Traverse).

I’m finishing this up on Monday after Thursday’s conference and I am still enthused about it. I look forward to following up with OneUpWeb and the other individuals and businesses I was introduced to at BRIM to see what they accomplish in the future. And I hope that BRIM can continue (this was year 2) to be an annual event and possibly grow because I see great value in those discussions and collaborations.

Obviously, much more was discussed, but I’m trying to reign in my tendency for 2000-3000 word posts, so I think I’m going to break down my BRIM/TC trip into three posts. Look for another BRIM post tomorrow focused on more on the insights .

Friday, November 9, 2012

Bond in the Mitten

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By Doctor

This week marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond debut on the big screen (official Bond canon) in Dr. No introducing the world to Sean Connery as 007 (and of course Ursula Andress). Now I love the Bond films. I’ve seen them all and appreciate each of the actors that have carried a license to kill on the big screen. I own the James Bond Scene It? trivia game, but have yet to find anyone to play me, so the game sits tragically underused (I’m pretty sure that would qualify as a first world problem).

I wanted to honor this Bond milestone and express my anticipation for Bond’s 23 big screen outing, SkyFall, hitting screens in November. However, this is a blog about Michigan, so how do I tie in the British super spy into the Mitten State? Good question. Answer: by coming up with three hypothetical story lines for a Bond movie to be set in Michigan.

Bond defeats Eco-Terrorist on Mackinac Island
In thinking of potential Michigan locations for a Bond movie, Mackinac Island immediately came to mind as the most logical place. It is the best combination of exotic location and luxury featured in Bond films. Imagine Bond in a tuxedo drinking a martini confronting the evil villain on the Grand Hotel Front Porch as the sun set over the Mackinac Bridge in the background – it’d immediately become an iconic image in Bond lore.

Mackinac Island would serve as an excellent location for a Bond plot featuring an eco-terrorist who plans to rid the world of man who is killing the earth with our cars and aerosol cans. Where better for an eco-terrorist to hole up than an island that prohibits motorized vehicles representing the type of pure world the villain is striving to bring about and is on an island and therefore isolation from the (insert global threat here). Since it’s a movie, viewers need not smell all the horse shit or be bothered that suffering through a Mackinac Island winter would make it a less than ideal location to weather the apocalypse (pun intended – exception of maybe a zombie apocalypse).

Imagine the potential awesome Bond scenes beyond the iconic Front Porch scene.

  • A moonlight shoot out in Fort Mackinac – originally a British Fort.
  • The potential for Bond on horseback. Possibly alongside or at least in a carriage with the Bond girl (we nominate Olivia Wilde).
  • Bond turns the villains’ main squeeze by strolling along the Mackinac Island Main Street and buying her fudge before bedding her and getting her to switch sides.
  • Remember we’re on an island which means yachts, speedboats, maybe a submarine, and maybe a boat chase among the Mackinac Bridge pillars.
  • Bond stopping and giving a second glance to a photo of Jane Seymour (Live & Let Die Bond girl, Solitaire) located in the Grand Hotel in homage to Somewhere in Time.
I seriously thinks that this needs to happen. The following ideas are more of a stretch, but were fun to think up

Bond Saves Art Prize
Bond is on the trail of a deranged terrorist who engages in acts of terror because he sees the mayhem he creates as works of art. What better target for a young eccentric deranged terrorist who views his mayhem as artwork than the worlds’ largest open art competition? After following the villain through other traditional exotic Bond locals, 007 tracks the terrorist to Grand Rapids, MI where the villain has entered a bomb as an Art Prize entry. Bond has to track down the villain, identify the bomb, and diffuse it.

Along the way, Bond enlists the help of a young beautiful artist (Olivia Wilde, again, get the idea that I'd like to see Wilde as a Bond girl) who assists him do reconnaissance of artists and art across the city. During the course of the movie, Bond is captured and is ensnared in one of the bad guys sculptures that doubles as a torture/death device in front of enthralled crowds who don’t realize the true severity of the situation (the contemporary art entry sculpture/torture device wins the top juried prize). Of course, our hero survives, kills the bad guy, and diffuses the bomb before it explodes in the B.O.B. parking lot.

Bond Saves Detroit from a RoboCop Remake
As hope for a Detroit recovery continues to diminish, the city continues to descend into the dystopian and crime-ridden city imagined in Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 film.

Bond is sent to the motor city to investigate after a big corporation (e.g. OCP) announces a deal with the city that would bring thousands of jobs and a huge tax base to the shattered city. Bond discovers that Detroit’s corruption and lawlessness has created the perfect scenario for the SPECTRE/OCP type company to conduct illegal weapons research, development, and manufacturing shop. City leaders retain their positions, are paid directly by the evil corporation.

Bond is sent in to tear down the evil corporate/statism structure and succeeds by finally defeating the villain using Joe Louis' fistWait, sorry, there is already a RoboCop reboot in the works. Oh well, I'm still stoked to see Bond tonight.

Friday, November 2, 2012

World Series Thoughts and Look To the Tigers Off-Season

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By Doctor

It’s time for the highly anticipated MichiganExpats.com Tigers season review and off-season preview. Why so anticipated, you ask? Because the other options are reading Mitch Albom and Drew Sharp in the Free Press and listening to “Huge” moron Bill Simonson spout ignoramus on Michigan sports talk radio.

First, a sad yet necessary look back at the World Series sweep to the San Francisco Giants. The least said the better, but it was obvious that the almost week-long layoff hurt the Tigers. Major League Baseball is a game played every day. From April through October, the players are locked in and focused. It’s difficult to finish off a sweep of the New York Yankees to advance to the World Series, spend the next week shagging fly balls and taking batting practice, and be mentally and physically ready to take on a team that was as locked in as the Giants were following winning three straight possible elimination games against the Cardinals.

Don’t let the World Series sweep diminish what this Tigers team accomplished. This was the Tigers third trip to the World Series in my lifetime, and I don’t remember anything about the first. They swept the New York Yankees in the ALCS, at home no less, to win the pennant after holding off the team of destiny Oakland A’s in five games in the ALDS.

They left the lights on at 5/3 Ballpark for the Series
It was a remarkable run. In Grand Rapids, the Celebration! North movie theatre showed each of the ALCS and World Series games on the big screen. Fifth Third Ballpark, home of the Tigers Class-A affiliate West Michigan White Caps, opened up the ballpark for fans to watch the Tigers postseason games on their huge outfield screen or in the comfy confines of their outfield Pepsi Stadium Club. I watched Game 1 at the ballpark, and I admit that it definitely had a Field of Dreams type feeling sitting just beyond the outfield wall with the lights glistening on the outfield watching the game on the video board with the game audio coming through the ballpark PA system.

The World Series also provided a great atmosphere for the opening of Grand Rapids newest brewery, The Mitten Brewery. I attended there opening night during Game 2 with a standing room only crowd, just about all in Tigers gear, in an old firehouse GR’s North West side retrofitted as a brewery with a Tigers theme including bleacher seats from Old Tigers Stadium. They even had a Peanut & Cracker Jack Porter on tap – a light porter with a great peanut butter flavored finish.

Of course, the Tigers kept fans captivated all season long. Following last season’s Central Division title and ALCS run, the Tigers went out and signed Prince Fielder to join the headlining act of Miguel Cabrera and the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner, Justin Verlander.

The Mitten Brewing Co.
From opening day, fans filled the stands, not just at Comerica Park which drew over 3 million fans this year, but on the road as well. I saw the Tigers play the Cubs at Wrigley Field on my birthday in June. On the train into Chicago, the Windy City streets, and the L to Wrigleyville, we were surrounded by Tigers fans. The scene was similar in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and numerous cities this season.

It wasn’t as easy as most people expected it would be. That week in June just before that trip to Chicago was the low point. The Tigers were 26-32 and trailing the White Sox in the Central Division that they won by 15 games the year before and everyone handed to them before a game was played in 2012.

Eventually the Tigers had to fight and earn that Division title and playoff spot. They did it behind the incredible Triple Crown performance of Miguel Cabrera and another Cy Young caliber season from Verlander. Austin Jackson had a breakout season at the plate and a stellar defensive year in center field. Fielder made the transition from the National League to the American League look easy batting over .300 with 30 home runs, 100+ RBI, and an OBS over .400. Max Scherzer overcame the sudden death of his brother and performed as one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball for most of the year and finished only second to Verlander in the majors in strikeouts.

They had to overcome being a below average defense and limited offensive productivity from the bottom of their lineup. The lineup, Jim Leyland’s lineup, always a fun discussion among Tigers fans and even more so by second guessing radio talk show hosts. The Tigers didn’t get much offensive production from second base or the corner outfield spots regardless of who the Skipper penciled in there. GM Dave Dombrowski addressed second base and shored up the starting rotation with the acquisition of Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez from the Miami Marlins in July.

Looking Ahead – Off-Season Priorities (after the jump)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Football Previews Michigan/Michigan State

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By Doctor


Hi, it’s Football, remember me? Yes, that’s right, America’s favorite sport. Yeah, that guy. Now I know everyone has been extremely excited and distracted watching Baseball this past week as the Detroit Tigers kinda swept the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series to advance to the World Series for only the 11th time in franchise history. I get that. I just don’t want you to forget that I’m in mid-season form and hosting some pretty intense rivalry games this weekend that you might be interested in.

First off, Michigan (4-2, 2-0) hosts Michigan State (4-3, 1-2) in the Big House Saturday afternoon. That’s right, the big in-state rivalry game that pits friend against friend and often family against family. Yeah, it’s kinda a big deal and it happens tomorrow.

Now, I know that it isn’t as big of a game that many expected at the beginning of the season. The Wolverines started their season being humbled by Alabama beneath Jerry Jones Giant Ego Screen in Texas and also suffered a turn-over mess of a loss at Notre Dame, but hey the winningest college football program is undefeated in Big Ten Conference play (not as impressive a statement this year, but we gotta take what we can get) and is in the driving seat to win the Legends Division and play in the Big Ten Championship game for a chance to go to the Rose Bowl. Oh, and another thing, the Wolverines still have some kid nicknamed “Shoelace” who is pretty fast and might just be the most exciting player in college football. So I’ve got the Big House, the winged helmets, Denard Robinson, and the driver seat to a trip to Pasadena on the line tomorrow. Just a few reasons to tune in, no big deal.

Bleed Green instead? I’ll be the first to admit that the Spartans have been a bit of a disappointment this fall, not just to Michigan State fans, but to me personally as well. You see, the Spartans were my best hope this year for a Big Ten team to help fans located outside of the Great Lakes watershed to pay attention to the Big Ten beyond the shameful story still emerging out of State College and remind everyone that a running game and stingy defense can compete against the crazy uniforms of the Pacific Northwest and big d-line athletic freaks from the South.

So it is with all honesty that I say that few have been as disappointed by the Spartans as me. Hopes were so high after a monster performance by running back LeVeon Bell who can leap defenders in a single bound and carried his team to a Friday Night Lights victory over Boise State to start the season. Of course things went downhill fast for Sparty. It’s been embarrassing for me. There was the underwhelming performance at home against an Eastern Michigan team that had no business being in the game; then there was the no offense display against Notre Dame; the complete team no show for a half against Indiana (Indiana!); and most recently, a devastating Homecoming overtime loss to Iowa with obvious coaching miscues. Oh, not to mention all those dropped passes. Embarrassing

Of course, I've been around for a while, so I know that it’s tough to replace talented veteran players, but it’s been offensive line injuries that have really devastating the Spartans this season. Everybody always seems to forget to talk about the big guys up front when they talk about me, but they are as important as anyone. Losing their starting right tackle (Fou Fonoti), center (Travis Jackson), and big blocking tight end and best pass catcher (Dion Sims) have severely hindered Michigan State from playing the type of smash mouth brand of football that I’ve been known for in the Big Ten for decades. It’s made it difficult to keep the pressure off first year quarterback, Andrew Maxwell, maintain drives, and it’s a big reason the Spartans are 4-3 (1-2 Big Ten).

But this weekend will highlight one of my best qualities: The Rivalry Game. Michigan State’s down year can be partially salvaged with a win over hated rival, Michigan. It would be the 5th straight win in the rivalry for the Spartans, something that they have never accomplished.

On the other hand, for the Wolverines, a win would mean more than snapping the current losing streak to the Spartans, return the Paul Bunyan trophy to Ann Arbor, and clear them a path to the Big Ten Championship game. More importantly, this is a win Michigan needs to make a statement that the school is back to playing Michigan football under Brady Hoke by putting the upstart Spartans back in their place.

See, remember how many great story lines  I give fans every weekend. And none of them involve A-Rod or Jose Valverde. I didn't even have time to talk about my NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE and the Detroit Lions divisional rivalry game on Monday Night Football against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. You’ll have to tune in again on Monday to see if I have an update on the pros and maybe some bonus coverage of some of my best moments. Yes, that’s right folks, tonight is my final chance to shine in the regular season under the Friday Night Lights at high schools across Michigan. Conference titles and playoff spots are at stake all across Michigan’s two peninsulas tonight. Playoff brackets are announced Sunday night for the journey to Ford Field Thanksgiving weekend.

Ah, Football. I know you missed me. Enjoy me this weekend before Baseball picks it up again next week.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Live Blogging Game 2 of the ALCS, Go Tigers!

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By Doctor

After staying up for each of the Tigers postseason games equaling clued to the TV (ballgame), Facebook page (dialogue with fellow Michigander/Tiger fan), and Twitter feed (satirical Tigers fans handles and writers), I decided to pull a page out of the “Sports Guy” Bill Simmons playbook and live blog the Tigers ALCS Game 2 against the Yankees yesterday.

I thought it would be a fun writing exercise (stream of consciousness type thing) instead of continually to post on Twitter. It was difficult than I thought I’d be, part play-by-play, part analyst, while also trying to through in a few zingers and be funny as well.

Of course, I also had to battle numerous thunderstorm fronts that moved through during the game periodically knocking out the satellite reception as well as hunger as the game ran through dinner. Anywho, I digress, here is the result of my first live blogging experience. I hope you enjoy it for the ability to relive yesterday’s Tigers (and Lions) wins and possibly find a joke or satirical analysis funny. Plus more in depth analysis at the end of the post.

We pick things up in the bottom of the first, since I was distracted by the Lions came going into OT and had to remember I was going to do this. OK. And here we go....

10/14/2012 4:26 PM – Delayed in starting my live blog. Sanchez just snagged a comeback to the mound to end the Yankee threat in the bottom of the first. The Lions have the ball at the 2 minute warning trailing 23-20 to the Eagles. Stafford completes to Megatron who throws a defender off him to get into Eagles territory. Screen pass to Leshoure goes for a loss. Lions TO.

4:29 PM – Calvin ruled out of bounds. Don’t know about that one. Under review.

4:30 PM – Your all-time post-season Tigers franchise home run leader, Delmon Young!  Swing and miss. Young strikes out and that damn founded Yankee Stadium whistle goes off in the background.

4:32 PM – Turn back to the Lions game to find a complete signal loss for the Satellite. Back to the Tigers and Dirks strikes out to end the half inning.

4:33 PM – Call overturned. It’s a Johnson catch and a Lions first down. Lions now with a good chance to win with a touchdown instead of settling for a long field goal attempt to tie. A QB draw with Stafford with no TO’s. WTF Lions. Then he almost throws an interception. Pass interference. First and goal one yard line, 13 seconds. Incomplete. 9 seconds remaining. Incomplete to Calvin Johnson. Jason Hanson time.

4:38 PM – The Lions tie the game with a Jason Hanson field goal. If the Lions can somehow avoid giving up a kick off return for a touchdown, we’re going to overtime.

rest after the jump... 

Art Prize 2012 - Criticisms

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By Doctor

Earlier this week I shared my highlights from this year’s Art Prize competition (see my Art Prize photos). One thing Art Prize as an organization has done very well is that it has been receptive to criticism and has instituted changes to reflect those criticisms to help the event grow and improve. That’s my goal with this column and my third and final Art Prize post coming up, offer criticism and propose solutions to help improve the world’s largest art competition based in Grand Rapids. Because…

I love Art Prize. You love Art Prize. We all love Art Prize together.

So here, in the spirit of an open dialogue, I present the following criticisms and proposed solutions to help improve Art Prize.

The Top 25 & Short List Announcement
This issue was brought to my attention from this letter to the editor from one of this year’s artist participants, Sylvia Rombis, who brought up the issue of people flocking to see only the entries leading in the vote tallies or this year, on one of the juried prize short lists. Now this is an issue Art Prize is continuing to find the best solution. The issue, as Rombis put it:

“As soon as the top 25 information was released, the competition was over for the almost 1500 remaining entries. Thousands of visitors wanted nothing to do with anything other than the top 25…The top 25 frenzy turned out to be one of the most disrespectful and demoralizing acts I have ever experienced in my 25 years as an arts professional.” – Sylvia Rombis, 2012 Art Prize artist - Bridging Humanity Sculptural Exhibition 

It’s easy to dismiss a lot of these criticisms and complaints as the whining of a sore loser thinking – “well, if you wanted more votes, you should have made a better piece of art.” That would be a mistake. The language Rombis uses, “most disrespectful and demoralizing” represent sincere frustration with a process that still needs to improve.

Now I believe Art Prize understands this as it continues to walk this new fine line of accommodating the art community and the mass public in a truly revolutionary way. In previous years, live time voting results were available on the Art Prize website. This year, Art Prize delayed the release of the voting results to encourage people “to explore, discover ArtPrize on their own, without anyone getting any information on what to see, or what to think,” Art Prize spokesperson Brian Burch.

It’s a difficult obstacle. People like front runners, and naturally are going to want to see what everyone is talking about and leading in the vote tally. Another problem is media coverage. The media emphasized the Top 25 Announcement even though the Short List event focused more on the jurists discussing their short list choices, and I can see how that coverage could be interpreted as a first round of voting by Art Prize visitors

I attended the Short List Announcement at the Art Prize Hub this year and it was a neat event that focused more on the jurist discussing their short list choices for the respective juried prize categories. The release of the top 25 was secondary, but I can see how the media coverage of the event highlighting the Top 25 could be interpreted as a first round of voting by Art Prize visitors. It’s not definitive evidence by any means but that there was little movement in the Top 25 after the announcement.

Critiques continue after the jump...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Art Prize 2012 - The Highlights

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By Doctor

The fourth annual Art Prize competition is in the books. The big winner of the world's largest art competition, and $200,000, is Adonna Khare's carbon pencil on paper drawing "Elephants." It is a piece of immense scale (8' tall and almost 40' long), incredible technical and artistic ability, that connects with the viewer thoughts of fun, joy, sadness, and all with a hint of aloofness that made it a worthy winner of the 2012 Art Prize competition. (More Khare work here).
2012 Art Prize top winner, "Elephants", by Adonna Khare

Yes, that was the big winner and a great place to start in my 2012 Art Prize review. This post focuses on the cool aspects of Art Prize and some of my favorite entries. I will follow up with some critiques of Art Prize as well as a final post with a suggestion to improve the evolving competition. Stay tuned. Now, the good.

First, if you're not familiar with Art Prize, let me catch you up to speed (Wiki has more). The idea of social entrepreneur and Amway heir, Rick DeVos, announced in 2009, Art Prize would be the world's largest open art competition with total prize money up to $450,000 (this year $560,000 in total prizes were awarded). Any artist can register, all they need is an original work, partner with a local venue, and pay $50 to register. Even crazier, the public would vote for the winners and who would take home the prize money. 

It is a brilliant idea. This year there were over 1500 entries in 161 venues throughout downtown Grand Rapids. Over 400,000 people visited the city and more than 47,000 votes were cast. Basically, for three weeks one can explore hundreds works of art in all mediums throughout downtown Grand Rapids. It’s an exploration of art, the city, and one’s self. Yes, that last part sounds corny, but it is true. As you explore, experience, and interpret the art and how it affects you, you are indeed undertaking an exploration of yourself. That is the power of art. It seeks to help us explore and examine ourselves and our condition. 

Tangerine and Jealousy - Loved this piece.
It also sparks dialogue which is one of the main goals of founder, DeVos, and a key foundation of much of his other projects. During Art Prize, people across West Michigan rarely have a conversation without discussing the art, venues they've visited, venues and entries they loved or need to see. It even seemed to trump the discussion surrounding the election - a welcome reprieve in this heated election year.

Now, unfortunately, I wasn't able to see as much of Art Prize as I would have liked to or as much as I saw in previous years - it's just tough to get around when you're recovering from Achilles surgery. So what did I manage to enjoy from this year's Art Prize competition these past few weeks in downtown Grand Rapids?
The Doctor w/ "Mr. Weekend" a 15' self-aware sock puppet
  • The Art - Did I mention you can walk around downtown Grand Rapids and explore hundreds of pieces of artwork in all kinds of mediums? Everything from paintings to sculptures to music to photographs to puppet shows. Yes, I took in a live puppet show during Art Prize of a live reading of an illustrated children's book. So much cool stuff it's tough to cover it all here, but there are some links. (Complete List of Winners; MLive coverage indexmy photos)
  • The Artists - Not all the artists do this, but many artists are there to discuss their entry with visitors. Now some may say that artists shouldn't need to explain their work, but I love being able to connect with the artist, even if it is just to say "hi", "good job", and "thank you". It's even better when they are there and will discuss the artist statement, their motivation/inspiration, and the process of making the art. Being able to chat with Adonna Khare and listen to Chris LaPorte describe all the intricacies of "City Band" are for me, one of the remarkable aspects of Art Prize that you often don't experience in the viewing of art.
  • The People - I actually like crowds. Generally there's something cool or interesting going on when there's a crowd (a crowd is different from a mob). Art Prize brings huge crowds to downtown Grand Rapids. People of all ages make an effort to come downtown and see Art Prize. The city comes alive. Hotels and restaurants are full. Last year's Art Prize competition brought $15 million to the local economy according to the Anderson Economic Group.
  • Chris LaPorte discusses "City Band"
  • Engagement - Art Prize highlights and brings out the best of Grand Rapids. It is an event that showcases city's strong philanthropic spirit from the numerous sponsors and volunteers who contribute to make Art Prize a success.
  • Hospitality - Along with the city's philanthropic spirit, Grand Rapids' and West Michigan's hospitality is on full display throughout Art Prize. Downtown businesses, restaurants, hotels, museums, you name it open their doors to artists to exhibit their work and more importantly to the thousands of people who wander in and out of their establishments, sometimes for a brief moment or to just use the bathroom or to linger about viewing the art. It's not business as usual in downtown Grand Rapids during Art Prize, but people carry themselves extremely well. Even more amazing, are the West Michigan families who open their homes to Art Prize artists, welcoming and connecting them to the community and often being their main source of support. 
And a shout out to some of my favorite entries and venues:

Plexus no 18 
[Fashion Has Heart] - The Corporal Hoffman Series. The [Fashion Has Heart] organization utilizes the medium of fashion, design, and art to support and benefit wounded heroes.They curated a powerful exhibit featuring the design work of injured veterans and their individual stories. Learn more here. And you can buy the awesome t-shirts and designs here. I was a little disappointed it did not win the "Outstanding Venue" juried award.

The Looking Box - I'll admit I'm biased since the artists are family friends who stayed with my parents during Art Prize last year and this year, but it is still an awesome concept. Artists Royce Deans (Traverse City, MI) and Tali Farchi (Netherlands) paint live to music, the music is the inspiration for the painting (their interpretation). During Art Prize they scheduled local musicians to come play live in their Art Prize venue "studio" at Purple East downtown. I attended a few of the performances including two by other Art Prize artists with music entries including Karina Wilson performing "Sad Portrait"  with Fauxgrass (watch the performance/painting hereand Rick Robinson leading a quartet playing his "Highland Park MI City of Trees" entry - both beautiful songs inspiring beautiful paintings. 

Wow. So much to cover. That's also what's cool about Art Prize, you can't hope to see everything or cover it all in one blog post. That's why I'll be revisiting Art Prize in at least two more posts discussing critiques and a proposed improvement to the competition. As always comments are always welcome and encouraged.