Rick DeVos, grandson of the founder of Amway (and son of Dick and Betsy DeVos), wanted to boost the arts in western Michigan. He initially explored the idea of a film festival, but concluded his hometown would have nothing unique to offer in that crowded field. Instead, he settled on a more unorthodox idea: a citywide art contest.
Borrowing ideas from science contents that dangle cash prizes for the best inventions, DeVos established clear and simple rules, and put up two $200,000 top prizes (funded by donors). And he added his own twist by turning his entire city into the gallery. Entries would be displayed in public locations all across Grand Rapids—hotels, parks, coffee shops, schools, even the police station. Then he got really unconventional: Everyday people would be the judges, selecting winners by popular vote.
DeVos’s goal wasn’t high art, it was to build broad interest in creativity within his region. And he succeeded. Today more than 1,500 artists from all over the world enter pieces, and audiences participate eagerly, casting 380,000 votes in the latest year to select their favorite works. The contest attracts over 400,000 visitors—making it the single best-attended art event in the world. All of this in the 123rd largest city in the U.S.
Corporate sponsors and the DeVos family donate approximately two thirds of the festival’s annual cost of about $3.7 million.
- ArtPrize 2016 annual report, artprizeannualreport.org/2016/
- Sweet Charity podcast, philanthropyroundtable.org/media/sweet_charity_artprize
- Wall Street Journal analysis, magazine.wsj.com/hunter/donate/critical-mass