A Vote for a Vote: Public Participation and ArtPrize

Story by Lukas Isenga
Image courtesy of Emily Rose Bennett/MLive.com

ArtPrize, downtown Grand Rapids’ annual art competition, aims to attract attention. This year, it has attracted controversy: a petition to eliminate the public vote, directed by past participant Alan Carriero.

Carriero claims that the public vote, in which the community casts ballots to choose the winner of half of the $500,000 total in prize money, is an unfair method of selecting winning art pieces. Carriero would rather only the juried vote remain.

Before Carriero’s claims are examined, let’s explore the public vote in ArtPrize.
ArtPrize was created with public participation in mind. Todd Herring, director of Creative and Communications for ArtPrize, has called the public vote a “hallmark” of the event, a way of “democratizing the opportunity where anyone can participate in art criticism.”

Given the usual public attitude toward the artworld, the arts could use an ally. After all, how often do we hear chuckles of “I can do that,” or parodies of art’s “incomprehensibility” and penniless artists?

ArtPrize is an opportunity to integrate the public into the world of art—one that is truly exciting and full of people desperate, not for a job, but to share ideas. The 1,551 pieces entered in ArtPrize this year are proof of that. The public, in turn, has responded to this invitation to engage: more than 441,000 people attended ArtPrize 2014, with 41,956 registered voters and 398,714 votes placed. These votes are expressions of interest, of excitement, about art and the experience it offers. Why remove the ability to say that?

Numerous pieces from ArtPrize—winners or not—also remain in the Grand Rapids area, allowing the art to become part of the city’s identity, to revitalize it.

Would taking away the public vote truly eliminate all that? Perhaps not—not all attendees vote. But Aquinas’ own Chris LaPorte (Professor of Art and ArtPrize 2010 winner) argues that “part of the basis and allure of ArtPrize, from a public standpoint, is that you could participate.”

Several Aquinas students made similar comments: ArtPrize is a “community event, so keep the community involved,” said freshman Betsey Cook. Sophomore Lauren Vitiritti also mentioned ArtPrize being “tourist art” and noted its positive economic impact on the city.

As for Carriero, he asserts that some works will inevitably receive more foot traffic (and so potential votes) than others due to location, arguing that the founders of ArtPrize ignore this. Unfortunately, it’s true that an average viewer is unlikely to see all entries. But this is the reality of competition: “If you’re not happy with the results,” said LaPorte, “it’s one thing, but coming up with a perfectly fair situation seems inherently impossible.”

Carriero also ignores that ArtPrize venues are organized independently. ArtPrize itself does not determine whose art appears where, so it is unjust to attack the organization when artists must secure “prime venues,” working with the curators of those locations.

Therefore, ArtPrize work is essentially pre-vetted: In theory, the artwork displayed in a venue like the Grand Rapids Art Museum will be subjectively better than that of a lesser-known venue. It is illogical to invalidate these curators’ opinions in favor of those of the jury; the former are simply seconded (or not) by the public through votes.This information does not make the public vote wrong. Perhaps it is not perfect, but it is an essential way for the community to interact with, and enjoy, art.

I vote to keep it.

Categories: Opinion

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