Monday, October 15, 2012

Art Prize 2012 - Criticisms

Michigan Expats - Commentary 
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...

Location. Location. Location.
Penguins in the Ford Museum fountain.
The idea of Art Prize is just as exciting to artists as it is to most people when they hear about it. An open art competition with the largest prize awarded in the world ($200,000!); over 1500 artists; 3 square miles of art; tens of thousands of people walking around enjoying, discussing, and voting for art. Artists have come from all over the world to participate.

However, that excitement can quickly become disappointment and yes, even demoralizing, depending on what venue your art is displayed. After four years of Art Prize, one thing that has been clearly demonstrated that location is essential for success in Art Prize. If you are not in one of the prime locations, your chances of success are practically zero.

For example, High Five GR, specifically curetted for Art Prize, had 1000 visitors come through the space on the opening day of Art Prize. That sounds like a lot until you hear that 10,000 people went through the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM). Now compare that to the artists who stayed with my parents who were in Purple East with 30 other artists. They were fortunate if they had 100 visitors a day. Location. Location. Location.

I understand that people have a limited time to experience Art Prize, and it’s practically impossible to see all 1500+ entries in the three week period. People know this, so they are going to go to the main venues (e.g. Ford Museum, GRAM, B.O.B. parking lot) where they can see the most art in the most central location. However, it must be acknowledged that not all entries and venues are on equal footing. Art Prize distances itself a bit from this since it is the artists and venues that must play matchmaker, but it must continue to work to help attract visitors to more obscure venues. I have a proposed solution that should improve, but not eliminate, this problem that I’ll roll out tomorrow.

Subaru's - not available for Art Prize tours
One way Art Prize can work to address this issue is better transportation during the competition. “But Art Prize has shuttles and partners with The Rapid” you reply. Yeah, about that…

I’m presently recovering from Achilles surgery, but I still wanted to still take in as much of Art Prize as I could. So I decided that I’d take advantage of the Art Prize shuttle to get around downtown.

I parked near Site-Lab, not far from the Hub, went inside and then around the corner to the Women’s Center where I decided I’d pick up the Art Prize shuttle to go to the Ford Museum. Now there were two Art Prize shuttle routes this year. I knew I would have to transfer to the other line to get to the Museum. I didn’t expect it would take 45 minutes to an hour to get from the Hub to the Museum.

The shuttle was so inconvenient that I ditched it altogether and decided that I’d rather hobble around downtown in pain than spend my entire afternoon on a bus. It’s less than a mile, roughly a 15-20 minute walk from the Hub to the Ford Museum. It is ridiculous that it can take upwards of an hour to go from the Hub to the Museum on the shuttle.

There has to be a better way to employ the shuttle routes so that they are convenient and people decide to use them. Possibly two shuttles circling around center city to the high artist concentrated venues while the other two shuttles are take on longer routes going East-West and North-South (e.g. Cathedral Square/Bus Station – Leonard) to get visitors to-and-from the outlying venues. This is something Art Prize needs to address for next year.

Juried Prizes
After seeing the ‘juried’ prizes it doesn’t appear that the jurists know much more than the people. The juried short lists were announced less than a week after the start of Art Prize. Due to the concentration of juried selections in a handful of venues and the time allowed, it suggests that the jurors did not make a dent in seeing all of Art Prize. Granted most regular voters won’t see everything, but if Art Prize is going to award additional juried prizes than the jurists need be held accountable to do just that. Looking at the short lists selection and that it is unlikely the jurists could see everything in 5 days anyway (Art Prize started on a Wednesday and the short list selections were announced the following Monday) it is doubtful that the jurists did get to every venue.

Me in the Herman Miller chair I did not win.
I was disappointed by the Art Prize communications team on how they utilized their Twitter and Facebook accounts for most of the competition. This is it, Art Prize has 1500+ artists display art work in multiple mediums at over 150 venues and almost all of the updates from the official Art Prize accounts were hinting at what chair you need to sit in to be entered into a competition to win a chair.

Art Prize has more than 14,200 followers on Twitter and almost 65,000 Facebook “Likes” and probably the best way to communicate with people visiting the competition. Post statuses about the competition. Highlight the more out of the way venues; explain how to use Art Prize transportation/shuttle schedules; how and why people should vote; spur the dialogue; and post Art Prize artist events. Using these means of communication would go a long way to help with some of the problems listed above. Or maybe I’m just disappointed that I didn’t win one of the Herman Miller chairs.

Wow. This post really escalated quickly. I mean it really got out of hand. I hope you survived it, and I applaud and thank you if you read it all. Please add your thoughts, comments, criticisms, and solutions on the post, Art Prize, or the status of my soul for daring to criticize Art Prize in the comments below. Check back soon for my Art Prize “solutions” post.

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