Hundreds of people flooded downtown Grand Rapids over the weekend to hear the top 10 finalists of this year’s ArtPrize announced.
Some 43,000 individuals cast votes since ArtPrize 2013 began less than 2 weeks ago, according to the event's organizers. And when you've got that many people coursing through downtown Grand Rapids, voting on entries that range from the subtle to the giant panda bears, it's a safe bet that panda bears are going to get more votes.
That's the whole point of a popular vote in the first place, says ArtPrize executive Director Christian Gaines. He's a dashing guy with salt-and-pepper hair, a tailored suit and man-of-the-people vibe who left IMDb in L.A. to run this sprawling event.
"You've got all kinds of art in Artprize," he says. "All kinds of people voting, with all kinds of different ideas of what they think is art. And what makes them happy, what strikes a chord with them...the public vote reflects that. And it's as simple as that… and I'm happy that thousands of artists are having their work seen by hundreds of thousands of people. So that doesn't just include the top ten, that also includes the top five juried selections, too," says Gaines.
Juried selections aside, the top ten may be an accurate reflection of who typically turns out to ArtPrize.
The weekend crowds are largely made up of kids, parents, every imaginable type of stroller, grandparents, retirees, and smattering of young couples.
The giant dragon sculpture is so popular, you can't get near it without navigating through a pack of five-year-olds. That's not to say there aren't also art students and hipsters in bowler hats checking out the various entries.
There are. And in what may be the greatest success of ArtPrize, they are all talking about art.
Still, even though this year's top ten include artists' depictions of polar bears, the sleeping bear dunes, and a giant with a fishing pole, ArtPrize organizers are tired of critics saying that means ArtPrize is kitschy or low brow.
Gaines says ArtPrize is about having a mass conversation about art.
"This is the only community I can think of where the local NBC affiliate will preempt prime time television for three hours to talk about art in an intelligent way. And it's the 39th media market in the country, larger than Las Vegas, larger than Memphis," he says. “No one else would do that. And that's because there's an audience that's interested in learning about that and doing that."