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A photo of Grand Rapids during the first Art Prize in 2009. (photo by Eric Lanning’s Flickr page)

Today, ArtPrize, which bills itself as the most “radically open, international art competition and social experiment,” announced it will be rejiggering its financial offerings to competitors with a more robust juried prize and less (but still) spectacular populist award.

What this means is that the fourth incarnation of the art competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is slated to take place from September 19 until October 7, 2012, will offer awards totaling $550,000 — the largest cash purse for art in the world.

The top public vote award will be a little smaller next year, $200,000 instead of the $250,000 offered this year, but the organization is adding a brand new juried award of $100,000, which puts it in the same monetary league at the Hugo Boss Prize (also $100,000) and considerably more than the Turner Prize with its £25,000 award (roughly $39,000).

Some facts about ArtPrize 2011:

  • 1,582 artists from 39 countries and 43 US states took part
  • the participating artists installed their work at 164 venues in a three-square-mile district in Grand Rapids
  • 38,000 registered voters submitted 383,000 total votes for the public prize
  • smartphones increased voting 62%

I asked Kevin Buist, director of artist relations at ArtPrize, what this new structure means and why aren’t more artists from New York involved?

*   *   *

Hrag Vartanian: How do you think this new format will change things with ArtPrize?

Kevin Buist: The core idea of what we’re doing hasn’t changed: anyone can enter as an artist, any space in downtown Grand Rapids can be a venue, and anyone can vote.

We introduced smaller juried awards two years ago as a way to highlight critical engagement. As we watched the effect this had, we realized that the tension between profession and populist approaches to art is was makes Art Prize so unique. Upping the juried awards and adding the 100k juried award is a way of furthering that.

How do these two systems choose what to reward? How are they similar? How are they different? Why? These are all questions we want to explore. We don’t know exactly what effect juxtaposing these two things will have, but we’re eager to find out.

HV: How has ArtPrize impacted the art community of Grand Rapids and Michigan, if at all?

KB: When ArtPrize started, the local art community (and everyone else) had to scramble to figure out how to approach it. It was a huge experimental undertaking.

Now that we’ve done it three years, we’re seeing local artists, curators and dealers figure out how to use ArtPrize to advance what they’re doing and put it on an international stage.

For a lot of people (local and non-local) it’s become an excuse to launch really ambitious projects that just needed an excuse to get going.

HV: Why do you think there are so few New Yorkers participating?

KB: We’ve always had artists from New York, but we would certainly love more.

There are probably a few reasons. Part of it might be the logistics involved in travel and shipping. In 2011 we had 68 artists from Chicago, compared to 19 from New York, being able to drive work up in a few hours makes a difference.

It may also be that while there are a lot of artists in New York, there are also a lot of opportunities to show, whether in commercial galleries or other venues (open studios, artist run spaces, etc). I’m speculating, but artists in other cities may be more apt to look for exhibition opportunities outside their own city.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

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