Local Currents

David Vanderveen

Innovation in the Arts

“Who’d have thought you had to come to Grand Rapids to become a famous artist in New York?” Glenn Rogers, on location at ArtPrize last week.


Local entrepreneur and tennis legend Glenn Rogers and I were in Grand Rapids, Mich., last week for business and happened on one of the world’s largest art contests with the richest purse. Who would have thought you had to travel to the heartland to find it? It sparked some thoughts on expanding Laguna’s art horizons.


ArtPrize is the brainchild of Rick DeVos, an Internet entrepreneur and the oldest grandson of Amway co-founder Rich DeVos. Rick and his parents, Dick and Betsy DeVos, put up nearly $500,000 prize money with a $250,000 first prize, which attracts more than 1,500 artists each year from over 40 states and almost as many countries. Over 450,000 votes were cast last year from hundreds of thousands of visitors over 19 days of the competition in downtown Grand Rapids.


The goal of ArtPrize is to spark “conversation” with art around the city outside the jury and participating artists.


ArtPrize is unusual in that the bulk of the prizes are awarded based on public voting. It has been compared to “American Idol” in how it chooses winners.


Todd Herring, ArtPrize marketing director, explained the contest as more of a platform to enable the public and artists to meet. “We don’t choose the art and we don’t tell artists where they can display it,” he said. “We are like a big eHarmony; we facilitate artists and venues and then help the public engage the art and vote on it.”


So as Glenn and I walked through several exhibits with Todd, it amazed us how effective art could be in attracting the public while radically expanding the opportunities for artists and venues. Art is displayed in all manner of public buildings, restaurants and hotels.


At Jean Paul’s Goodies in North Laguna, the caffeinated cognoscenti discussed whether something like ArtPrize could work in Laguna and how it might benefit or hurt our town.


Some people brought up concerns about its potential to detract from established arts venues, such as the Sawdust Festival and Laguna Beach Plein Air Invitational, both of limited duration and arguably limited appeal.

My wife Sarah has been working on developing poetry for a broader audience. Too much literature, poetry, painting and other fine art are dedicated to a narrow range of professional criticism in the pursuit of acclaim.


This process alienates excellent artists from the general public; they are too often unknown by the masses and their fine-art work inaccessible to the uninitiated.


ArtPrize provides inspiration as a place where a 27-year-old’s vision transformed the art landscape in an unlikely place. We need fresh vision for the arts in Laguna to attract the next generation.


I lived in Spring Green, Wisc., in 1992, the home of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hillside School and Taliesin East. The school evolved into a museum to the once-innovative architect and his followers. It was innovative.


I have heard people say that Laguna Beach used to be an art colony. I don’t think that’s true. Despite a fair amount of derivative art and the worship of early artists, new ideas do emerge here. Surf art on clothing is certainly one expression of art for the masses with roots here.


We don’t want to ride the trend in a down economy. We need to innovate. Laguna is a destination with the artistic roots to become an arts powerhouse again. Sometimes great ideas come from surprising places.




David Vanderveen is a Laguna Beach resident, husband, father and energy drink entrepreneur. His email is [email protected].

About the Author

Related Posts

  1. Melanie Parke

    For an update on Artprize, the founder, Rick DeVos is quoted saying, ArtPrize is not about who wins, ‘I just want to see crazy crap all over Grand Rapids’, last Friday when he was the featured speaker at a Biblical Wisdom and Creativity conference at a local evangelical school, Cornerstone University. http://www.mlive.com/artprize/index.ssf/2011/09/rick_devos_artprize_is_not_about_who_wins_i_just_want_to_see_crazy_crap_all_over_grand_rapids.html
    The press has been giving this quote and the sentiments that follow front page news, deflating the glittery once promising Artprize. Also deflated are the hopes that once flowered in the imaginations of business owners that were riding on the good nature of artists to provide the entertainment and the impetus for such an economic development plan. Artists have been skeptical all along. Artists are not keen on being asked to provide free labour and services to boost businesses income while artists own work force is under valued and underrated in the community, perpetuating an economic imbalance at the organized irresponsibility of the host community. Before you make a plan to repeat Artprize, take a look at it’s spectacular failure and the way it is laughed at in the rest of the world.

  2. David Vanderveen

    Ms. Parke, your criticism has no basis in reality.

    ArtPrize is hugely celebrated locally in Grand Rapids and has more artists participating from more countries and states (over 1700 artists from 40 states and 39 countries) this year than ever before. There are not negative stories in any of the local news services about ArtPrize that I’m aware of.

    The New York Times has given ArtPrize very positive coverage: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/08/arts/design/08artprize.html?pagewanted=all

    Further, many of the most celebrate art experts and critics attend each year now and lecture at ArtPrize. http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=US&v=SVBopcwgVlc

    The entire community (not just artists) volunteer to make it the success it is and the entire community benefits both for the quality of art that is displayed and the fact that the entire community, not just a few critics, get to decide what the best art is. It also sells out all of the hotels and restaurants and dramatically increases all sales across all shops in downtown Grand Rapids. The local art museums in Grand Rapids also end up with lines out the doors:

    More than that, one of our local LCAD professors is in the top 10. I just received this note from another local Lagunan who had exactly the opposite reaction (I am witholding her name):

    hi dave, always enjoy reading your column. I didn’t know if you realized this but one of the art teachers from Laguna College of Art and Design is one of the top 10 in the Michigan art contest–her first name is Mia and she entered a mosaic of Jesus which is installed at a church in Mission Viejo–so in other words Laguna is there in Michigan–and we are praying she win!s!!–The day your column came out she was mentioned in the Register–the Lord has made the world small!! blessings,

  3. David Vanderveen

    As it turns out, ArtPrize is now officially having a significant impact on Laguna Beach art and artists in a VERY positive way:

    Mia Tavonatti from Laguna College of Art & Design and her first place work at ArtPrize: http://mosaicartsource.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/2673/

  4. Pingback: |

  5. Pingback: Amway hotel celebrates 30th anniversary – WOOD-TV | MLM Groove

  6. Pingback: Small business lessons from an open source art exhibit – Fortune | aquatinted.com

Leave a Reply