My article on Rick DeVos and ArtPrize–the world’s most lucrative award for art–is in the new issue of Philanthropy.
DeVos intended to create a revolutionary art contest. First, it would be lucrative. DeVos offered a $250,000 prize for first place, placing it among the art world’s single largest purses, as well as $199,000 for several runners-up prizes. Second, the contest would be radically open. Any artist in the world could compete; any property owner in downtown Grand Rapids could host exhibitions.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, the winners of ArtPrize would be decided by the public. DeVos wasn’t interested in selection committees or juries. Instead, he wanted all the visitors to be able to vote “yes” or “no” for ArtPrize entries. Technology allows votes to be cast from mobile devices while the art is being viewed. Although actual vote counts are not disclosed, trending entries and the “top 25” are shown in real time.
DeVos wasn’t sure what would happen when the contest kicked off in September 2009. Nobody was. Over 18 days, 159 venues exhibited the work of 1,262 artists from 41 states and 14 countries. Some 200,000 visitors descended on Grand Rapids, casting 334,219 votes. The contest opened on a Wednesday. By Sunday, restaurants in the city had run out of food. By the last day of the contest, visitors waited in a line stretching over two city blocks to view the winning artwork.