Rick DeVos grew up in Grand Rapids as the grandson of the founder of Amway. He wanted to bring the arts to Grand Rapids in an unprecedented way. He initially explored the idea of a film festival, but concluded the city would have nothing unique to offer the crowded field. Instead, he settled on the idea of an art contest. Borrowing from science contents that offered large cash prizes for the best inventions, DeVos made the rules clear and simple. But he also added his own twist by turning the entire city into both the art gallery (as the art would be displayed across town) and the judge (as the winners would be determined by popular vote). DeVos’ goal wasn’t high art; it was to build a love for art within the city. By its second year, the contest cost $2.8 million dollars (mostly paid for by the DeVos foundation), attracted 1,700 artists and 400,000 “judges” from all over the world, drove from 50,000 to 250,000 apiece to Grand Rapids’ art museums, and in some cases produced art that defines the Grand Rapids landscape today.
- John J. Miller, “Contesting Art,” Philanthropy, Summer 2011, philanthropyroundtable.org/topic/excellence_in_philanthropy/contesting_art