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Monday, May 19, 2014

ArtPrize: I'll be heading to Grand Rapids, MI this fall!

"Fred, have you taken her to ArtPrize?" When Christie at the supermarket found out I was visiting Michigan last October and asked Fred if he'd taken me, that was the first time I'd ever heard of ArtPrize. It was the last weekday before the last weekend and apparently would have been the perfect time to visit.

* If you're an artist and don't have time to read the whole post skip to the end.*

In case you're new to the blog, Fred and I met online on the Teardrops and Tiny Travel Trailers forum, myself as a novice designer who'd gotten it in my head I wanted to not only own, but also design the tiny trailer of my dreams. Then came how to build it. For a few weeks I'd fancied I'd learn to do it myself but after taking a MIG welding class and a metal shop class I realized it would take me forever (or at least a few years) to complete a trailer and I wanted to start traveling in the spring. So, I convinced Fred (an experienced welder/builder) to let me hire him to bring my vision to life and picked up The Glampette from him last June.

Fred's Northern Lite Traveler on the left and The Glampette on the right.

During my return trip to MI last October to camp the UP on my way to Canada was when Christie introduced me to ArtPrize. A few days later Fred's sister Marilyn and brother-in-law Roger invited us to dinner at their home. Before we were even sitting at the table his sister asked if Fred had taken me to ArtPrize.

What is ArtPrize I wondered? Both Marilyn and Christie filled me in on the cursory details that it is a public art competition held in Grand Rapids and EVERYBODY goes to see the art and vote for their favorites.

Click to view the full sized PDF

That night Fred pulled up the website for me on his computer and I learned it's the world's largest cash prize open art competition. I had to let that sink in. It's a big deal. In 2013 artists from 47 countries and artists and visitors from all 50 states participated in and attended ArtPrize. LonelyPlanet named Grand Rapids, Michigan #1 of the Top 10 US travel destinations for 2014 in part because of the competition that last year drew 400,000 visitors to a city of 190,411 residents. And on CNN's 50 states, 50 spots for 2014 (click on image #22) ArtPrize was the reason it made the list.

For 19 days three square miles of downtown Grand Rapids, MI is transformed into a public art gallery. This year 194 venues paid a fee to host artists of their choosing during the three week competition that kicks off on Sept. 24th. Artists from around the world submit their work through online profiles, hope for a host, and once contracted with one become a "connected" competitor vying to win the prestigious Public Vote Grand Prize award of $200,000.00 cash. There are four additional category prizes ($20,000.00 each) also awarded by the people for most popular 2D, 3D, Time Based, and Installation. There are mirrored prizes awarded by a jury in the same dominations.

And the best part? Viewing all of the art is free to the public. If you go you'll see art in coffee shops, museums, book stores, galleries, parks, banks, city buildings, seemingly anywhere and everywhere. There you can use your smart phone and an app while in the ArtPrize district, or a cell phone and texting, or register for a voting code at a registration table and go home and vote on your computer. Whichever way you choose the organizers are utilizing great technology to ensure that those who vote actually came and visited ArtPrize to see the art in person.

1000 Summer Cranes is 16" high and 8" in diameter

Once I understood how the contest works it made me want to finish and enter my four seasons of miniature origami cranes. I've always wanted to be a working artist but there's always been one reason or another why I hadn't pursued my passion. Upon reflection I realized it boiled down to insecurity. Because my art is such a personal reflection of myself it's made it hard to "put it out there" to be scrutinized. My websites and bridal accessories were both creative endeavors but in a less personal way so the constructive criticism I asked for and received was always welcomed and appreciated. But with my art I felt differently. Until now.

I still have kitty and doggie shaped holes in my heart. I miss them so much.

When I returned from Michigan last fall I was determined to enter ArtPrize this spring. The registration being in April I thought I'd have time to get an entry together. But as they say: Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans.

As you may already know this has been a rough year. Along with the realization that my marriage was a relationship I could no longer thrive in, the death of our cat Squash in January, followed by the terminal cancer diagnosis of my dog and best buddy Kitai in February, and his death five weeks later in March, to say this year has been challenging would be putting things mildly.

I was feeling absolutely gutted knowing Kitai didn't have much time left and had cast aside my plans to enter the competition this year. But right before he died, when I was sinking lower and lower emotionally, my friend Kim said to me that I needed to focus on something positive. I needed to be creative. She reminded me about ArtPrize. I told her I couldn't do it. I was so overwhelmed by loss and grief and wanting to spend every last minute I had left with Kitai making him the focal point of each day. She urged and nudged and finally I realized she was right. I should try.

When the signs came and I knew that Kitai wouldn't be with me much longer, and knowing that I would need to get away after he was gone, I went ahead and booked a flight on Southwest Airlines to Grand Rapids. If by chance he made a miraculous turn around I'd simply stay in CA and let the flight roll over into a credit on my account. Sadly, and as expected, that didn't happen and he passed away 9 days before the flight I'd booked.

Honestly? I couldn't wait to leave. Since I'd never been to Grand Rapids I decided I would go and focus on acquainting myself with the ArtPrize District so that I'd have some idea of where might be a good fit for my tiny cranes.

On my way to Grand Rapids I saw three Sandhill Cranes fly over the highway. Hmmm I thought to myself, this feels meant to be bringing my tiny cranes to a state with very special cranes of its own.

My tour guide was my friend Fred who literally gave me a grand tour of Grand Rapids. He knows a lot about the history of the area from his own past experiences growing up there.

Downtown Grand Rapids and the Grand River

What I found was a city that was both old and new. There were modern building alongside turn of the century brick factory buildings. Many of the factory buidlings have been restored and now house new businesses that are infusing the city with a vitality that was lost when many of them shut down or the companies relocated production to where labor is cheaper overseas.

My goal was to visit the three square mile ArtPrize district, walk the streets, and familiarize myself with the "Center City" district as designated by the ArtPrize competition. I thought to myself the heart of the district would be a good place to be.

There is one district outside of Downtown Grand Rapids. "The Gardens" refers to the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park east of downtown.

It was easy to spot creativity as we wandered the streets. Like the buildings there were both old and new forms of artistic expression to admire from a bronze sculpture in Memorial Park to a yarn bombed street pole, decades old carvings on the sides of a buildings, and a colorful mosaic that graces the front of the Grand Rapids Children's Museum.

Being from California, where we're currently experiencing a drought, I couldn't help but notice the abundance of water. I think The Grand River was over its banks which this sign illustrates quite well. Notice anything missing? The walkway along the wall was completely submerged.

For lunch Fred chose the Grand Central Market & Deli. The staff was friendly and the food was good (and affordable). We chose sandwiches from their extensive menu and were surprised when we found out a bag of chips was included in the price. Next we chose something to drink from a seemingly endless refrigerated wall-o-beverages and took a seat near the front window.

At the market I also found the perfect made in Michigan gift to bring back to my foodie friend Carl. A beautiful bottle of Whiskey Barrel Aged Maple Syrup from Thornburg and Company. Never in my life had I ever seen such an elegant bottle of maple syrup. The cap is corked and waxed (with a glittery silver wax) just like an expensive bottle of wine. I haven't had the opportunity to sample it but Carl and his family said it is very good.

Clue #1 we weren't parking in SF where your first 1/2 hour can run $3.75

There was a lot to love about Grand Rapids, particularly their parking rates :) As vibrant as the city was I was equally happy to return and visit the peace and quiet of Greenville, MI, where Fred lives. I'd spent time there in the summer and fall. Now I'd get to see it in a new season.

This was the marsh behind his house still mostly frozen over in winter's fading grip.

From the far bank I was able to take this picture of Canadian Geese taking off from a small patch of open water that had melted through the ice. It's truly one of the most beautiful places I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. I wasn't sure what took my breath away more, the freezing cold air or the beauty of that moment.

Isn't it gorgeous? In the photos the trees look painted. While I was there I wished I'd brought my stronger 100-300 mm zoom lens. After I saw the pictures I was glad they came out the way they did, soft and blended, using my 14-140 mm zoom. The stronger magnification would have captured more stark details and the pictures would have lost their ethereal quality.

The snow was melting and the sky was blue. What a gorgeous winter day.

The few people who knew I was going on this trip all said the same thing: "It's going to be cold!" They were right.

Seriously, who visits Michigan in the winter to photograph wildlife wearing fingerless mittens? LOL that would be me because they were the closest thing to gloves I had. I'd got them for reading and using my phone in The Glampette on cold nights on the road. But with two jackets (and a hat Fred loaned me) I was toasty warm.

He also took me to Grand Haven. I'd never been there before. When I spotted this picturesque red lighthouse I asked if we could stop so that I could take a picture. What I love? That sea foam along the shore isn't sea foam. It's ice. I have yet to visit a place in MI I don't like.

While I was there winter turned to spring and guess what? One of the crocus bulbs I helped Fred plant last October decided to bloom during my visit. The first flower of spring :) It really symbolized much more to me than a flower normally does. It was time for a new beginning, a fresh start, and I had to go home and focus on creating a new future for myself.

At the airport I was surprised to be offered a free coupon for a bottle of water before passing through the security checkpoint. It was for a passenger appreciation event. Nice! Once I'd made it through security I could trade it in at a concession stand.

To snack on the way back I had the best Cherry Almond Muffins ever in my purse. Way back in the fall we stopped at Ric's Food Center, a fancier-than-average-grocery-store because Fred wanted to get some of these muffins. I loved them. They reminded me of the Cherry Chip cupcakes at Sweet Frostings up in Spokane, WA. So when we drove by the day before I left in April I had to get some to bring back with me.

When I returned home to CA I waited until April 21st to pay my $50 registration fee and set up my artist's profile page.

I rephotographed some of my finished pieces to show what my work looks like and uploaded them to my photo gallery.

I did faraway and detail shots to help venue curators get a sense of the range of mediums I am working in from paper to wire and even some Swarovski crystal beads.

While all of the Grand Prize winners in the past have been large scale works I'm hoping my tiny cranes won't be overlooked. Because at 3/4" and 3/8" of an inch high they're really, really tiny. LOL

Once your Entry Page and profile are done you can go through the list of hosting venues and send out a connection request. If a venue is interested in your work they can reply with a hosting offer or decline your inquiry. Or, a venue can approach you and send you a connection request that you can accept or decline. If you agree to work together you sign a contract and that's it, you're in the competition!

During the first week of the connections period I received a request to connect and a separate email inquiry from another venue. I replied to both that I would be interested in having them host my cranes but a week later hadn't heard back from either of them. It was very early in the process so I chalked it up to they must be taking their time to make a decision as more new artists were registering each day.

Click the image to visit their website

Then one morning, 15 days into the connecting period, I received another connection request in my inbox. I replied back and within minutes had received a very nice message and hosting contract from the Grand Central Market & Deli. Does that name sound familiar? It should. It's where Fred and I had lunch while touring the ArtPrize district on my trip out to Grand Rapids in April. How serendipitous! So not only had I eaten and purchased a gift there, now (by chance) they would be hosting my tiny cranes in the competition!

I was over-the-moon! To be willing to even put my work out there already felt like a major accomplishment. To be invited to compete? Incredible. Surreal. A better new beginning than I had dared to hope for.

Because the window I'll be displaying in is a bit too narrow to have four separate mobiles I'm now working on a brand  new piece combining all four seasons into one mobile. I can picture it in my head, now I just have to bring it to life.

If you come to the Grand Central Market and Deli you'll also be able to see the work of artists Wendy Dalton Whitfield, Laura Meekhof, Maria PeƱalba, and Claire Rose Kleese who are also being hosted there.

Planning a vacation but don't know where to go in 2014? Consider Grand Rapids and come see ArtPrize for yourself. It's a truly special and unique experience that doesn't happen anywhere else in the world.

CALLING ALL ARTISTS: If you're like me, an artist who's been afraid to pursue art but is willing to rise to the challenge and go out to Grand Rapids if you're able to secure a hosting venue, you should enter ArtPrize too.

Ignore the memories of the people who told you your art wasn't good enough, or it was "arts and crafts" and not fine art, and that if you pursue art you'll be a "starving artist." Set aside your fear of rejection and just go for it. If nothing else I've learned the past few years that life is simply too short to waste time being afraid. Enter. I'll be rooting you on.

You have to register by June 5th. Even if you wait until the last moment the connections period runs through June 19th so you'll still have time to be part of what I think is going to be an amazing experience. Entering is open to artists 18 years or older working in any medium. You just have to create and pay a $50 registration fee.

I hope I see you there!

CLICK HERE to learn how to enter your work in ArtPrize 2014

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