Art Prize is one of my favorite annual events that takes place in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For 19 days each fall, Art Prize draws artists from around the world, working in any type of medium, to compete in an independently organized international art competition. When you visit Art Prize, you are faced with lots of incredible art to view in every direction. I’m sharing tips to help you get the most out of your first Art Prize experience.
1. Plan ahead
Look online and find out what events will be going on the day you visit.
What venues do you plan on visiting?
Who are you bringing with you?
That will also determine how many venues are realistic to visit.
If you have younger kids, you will want to have snacks ready and have venues that are kind of close. If you are attending with friends, you might want to pick venues that are also near restaurants and nightlife to hang out at after the venues close.
If you go during the week during the day, the crowds will be lighter. On the weekends, the venues on the perimeters of town will be less populated.
Map out some of the venues you want to see ahead of time. Check the Art Prize website for a map and information about the artists, art, and venues. I also recommend downloading the Art Prize app. It’s a great resource for directions and venues as well.
2. Research social media for the pieces that you don’t want to miss
Find out what pieces are the buzz and where they are located. There were several Art Prize entries that I would have missed out on seeing if I had not checked Instagram and Facebook. Check under the hashtag #artprize.
Grand Rapids is a very accessible city. You can also use metered parking downtown. If you are willing to walk a little you can find free parking off of side streets. There are also parking garages downtown as well.
You can also take advantage of the Meijer Park and Ride where you can leave your vehicle at several area Meijer stores and ride The Rapid (public transit).
4. Check venue hours prior to arrival
Different venues have different hours. Make sure you give yourself enough time in your itinerary to get to venues that are on your to see list.
I would suggest saving the outdoor pieces for times after the venues have closed. There is still a lot of lighting that will allow you to see the pieces at night and it will help maximize what you see.
5. Staying downtown gives you a totally different experience
I have been to Art Prize as a visitor and also as a resident in previous years. I’ve also stayed at the historic Amway Grand Hotel.
This hotel is a staple in Grand Rapids and also a destination. As a guest from out of town, I really loved the central location to all of the action. The hotel hosted entries and was also an extremely short walking distance to all of the larger venues during Art Prize. I loved being able to explore for a few hours and then having the option to go back to my room to drop off something or to rest before going out again. If I needed an extra layer of clothing it wasn’t a big deal because the hotel was close by.
I also didn’t have to deal with any transportation issues. I walked everywhere from the hotel and didn’t have to worry about finding parking. It also helped me feel more relaxed. When I visited Art Prize as a former resident I felt more pressure to strategize my parking, eating, and venues. As a hotel guest, I didn’t feel as pressured to have an agenda or timeline. I just went wherever my curiosity took me.
6. If you are a resident of the Grand Rapids area, don’t miss out on Art Prize!
I only lived in town for Art Prize for two years and then I had the opportunity to visit for a few other years. One of my frustrations, when I lived in town, was hearing that residents who lived in the area didn’t bother to find out what Art Prize was all about. I drove 6 hours from Cincinnati just to see the art and meet the artists who have gathered from all over the world. This is something truly special and unique. Don’t let tourist, crowds and a little more traffic rob you of something that is helping put Grand Rapids on the map for arts and culture. This is your opportunity as a resident to be an ambassador to out of towners to share why you love your city.
7. If you have limited time to visit Art Prize, go to the popular venues.
The popular venues typically have a few pieces that will be in the top 25. They also have multiple entries so you can feel like you got to see a lot. I recommend going to the Gerald R Ford Museum and along the river nearby, Amway Grand Hotel, Devos Place Convention Center, The B.O.B. parking lot, the Calder Plaza, the G.R.A.M. and the U.I.C.A.. I also recommend taking in a view of the Grand River from one of the bridges.
8. Enjoy a meal while you are downtown.
Grand Rapids offers lots of great dining choices from upscale to casual. If you want to eat at a location that is in a more populated area, pick a less popular time to eat. If you go a little farther off the beaten path you won’t have a problem getting a table.
There are also other great restaurants a few miles away from downtown. One of our favorite areas to eat at when we lived in Grand Rapids was in Eastown. Electric Cheetah, Brewery Vivant, Yesterdog, Wolfgang’s and The Winchester are just a few of the places that you can’t go wrong at.
During a previous trip to Art Prize, I ate at few locations closer to downtown.
- “The Flying Dutchman” (1/2 Pound Hand-Pressed Patty graced with Sweet Dill Relish, Roasted Garlic Mayo and Melted Gouda Cheese. LTO) at The Grand Wood Lounge.
- A burger and fabulous peanut butter and chocolate malt from Choo Choo Grill.
- The “Devil in the White City” (Blue cheese and bacon mac-n-cheese topped with crispy Buffalo chicken) at JD Reardon’s,
- Pad Thai at Bangkok Taste Cuisine
- “The Queso Jalapeno”(Hot stuffed burger with house-made spicy queso dip & pickled jalapenos) at Stella’s Lounge that was voted best burger in America by GQ magazine in 2012.
I was very happy with all of my meals. I chose to eat at the more casual price range but the food was still great and several of the restaurants offered great ambiance as well. The Grand Woods Lounge and JD Reardon’s had nice outdoor seating and Stella’s was packed with a fun environment with art and arcade games.
If you love craft beer you definitely need to go to Founder’s, Grand Rapids Brewing Company which are downtown or Brewery Vivant in East Grand Rapids. Hop Cat (huge drink variety) and Bar Divani (try their Moroccan short ribs) are also great options downtown as well.
9. Talk to locals and Art Prize volunteers
They will help steer you in the right direction as you navigate downtown and they have great meal suggestions as well.
10. Your kids can enjoy Art Prize and it’s important to expose them to art and culture.
Create ways to make it fun. Grkids.com is a great resource for this. Print up their scavenger hunt to make your Art Prize trip an adventure. It’s great for kids to be exposed to the arts and culture. Art Prize is a great way to open your child’s eyes to possibilities.
11. Talk to the Artists
You will meet people from all over the world. Take a few moments and hear from the artists and learn why their pieces are so important to them. I met a man from Korea who was so excited to share the story of his Art Prize entry.
12. Wear extremely comfortable shoes.
You will be putting in some mileage if you try to see as much as possible. I know from experience that you need function over fashion sometimes and I’ve had the blisters to prove that one.
13. Vote- You can’t complain who wins if you didn’t bother to vote.
Voting for art is a bit controversial because beauty is in the eye of the beholder but if there is a piece that you feel is really worthy of receiving the prize money in the top spot make your voice known. You can find out more about voting here.
14. Take lots of pictures and videos!
Somethings are better explained by sharing visually.
15. Take it all in as you go
Take a few moments and read about the artist, what medium they used to create their piece and look at it up close for another perspective. Art Prize is an experience that is for a short period of time. Make the most of it and make memories.
Art Prize takes place toward the
last few weeks in September-beginning of October
I hope you find a way to see it for yourself.
You can find out more at the Art Prize website.