U.P. Pavilion at ArtPrize great opportunity for area artists

April 15, 2016  |  by Bonifas Arts Center

Between April 18 and 22, local artists can apply to have their work considered for inclusion in the first-ever all-U.P. art exhibit at ArtPrize, an esteemed art show in Grand Rapids, and area artists who have participated in ArtPrize in the past emphasized that this is a valuable opportunity.
Since ArtPrize has drawn more than 400,000 viewers per year, it is an outstanding opportunity for U.P. artists to share their work with viewers, said Dale Wedig, professor of art and design at Northern Michigan University and longtime head of the metalsmithing and sculpture departments.
The U.P. Pavilion, a space devoted entirely to U.P. artists’ work, will be housed in DeVos Place, a location offering “great exposure” for “any artist trying to get their art into the world,” said Ritch Branstrom, of Rapid River, a sculptor who often creates with found objects.
Of the many places displaying work during ArtPrize, DeVos Place is an ideal venue, Branstrom said, perhaps even the best, “a great opportunity” for those wanting the most possible viewers.
The first time Branstrom entered ArtPrize, he didn’t know anything about Grand Rapids, he said. “I quickly discovered that venue and placement are very important for viewing,” he said. His venue that year was “way on the outskirts of town,” so maybe 100 people saw his work, whereas work exhibited in downtown DeVos Place will be viewed by far more, he said.
DeVos Place also is “wonderful” because it is open beyond standard business hours, while other venues aren’t, said Joan Game, of Iron Mountain, a mixed-media artist who has participated in ArtPrize nearly every year.
In addition, being part of a group exhibition could help draw viewers, said Branstrom, as the U.P. Pavilion “will be something that people will search out and definitely want to go and view.”
With so many viewers, said Branstrom, ArtPrize is “a worldwide event,” drawing “people from around the globe and definitely around the nation,” so “if work is for sale, chances are” great that artists could meet people to buy their art or future creations. Artists also could win some of the more than $500,000 awarded during ArtPrize, with winners chosen by public vote and art experts.
At ArtPrize, Wedig enjoyed hearing viewers’ “candid” thoughts on his work, he said, whether they appreciated his art or not. “It’s fun to get feedback. Good or bad, it helps you learn more about what you’re doing and how others respond to it,” said Wedig.
At ArtPrize, “Everyone is interested in art, talking about it, excited about it,” including people from art magazines, so the event gets “art coverage from around the nation,” said Branstrom.
After winning a fifth-place award at ArtPrize in 2011, Branstrom’s work was featured in “a really nice write-up” in GQ magazine in a 2012 article about ArtPrize, so even if exhibiting doesn’t lead to financial profit, over time, more people can come to know their work and name, he said.
ArtPrize creates opportunities for conversations, so artists can learn new options for creating, selling, and showing work, as well as how to earn money in other ways, said Game, who has come to view ArtPrize as “a homecoming for artists” because she reconnects with friends. “ArtPrize is such a great opportunity for building friendships,” she said. In “opening oneself up to connecting with other people … a lot can be gleaned or gained,” Game said.
Carol Irving, of Escanaba, who weaves rugs and wall hangings, found conversations, and all opportunities to discuss her art, valuable and “tried to take advantage of everything they offered,” she said. “I felt it was important to meet and talk to as many people as possible about my piece, my process, and why I do what I do,” she said, and take in as much as possible from discussions and presentations about other artists and art. 
ArtPrize participants also can gain insight into how their work compares to others’, said Wedig, at this “bigger, more challenging” exhibit. Even if the work doesn’t sell or win a prize, artists can enjoy the accomplishment of simply being included, he said.
For some, exhibiting at ArtPrize is an opportunity to “educate the public” and spark thought, and this is primarily what inspires Game to enter her art, she said, often larger-scale work. For example, a past installation, “Recipes for Legacies,” created with her daughter, Catherine Game, celebrated “nine women who changed our planet through their environmental leadership”—including Julia “Butterfly” Hill, Vandana Shiva, Dai Qing, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas—through the creation of 3D spheres with images related to their achievements.
Viewers will turn to someone else, saying, “‘Oh check this out!’ They talk about what they’ve just learned,” said Game. “That, in and of itself, is really wonderful to see.”
U.P. artists that believe they cannot compete in an international competition shouldn’t be intimidated, said Wedig, and should enter, as it’s impossible to predict where work will be accepted.
Wedig has submitted work to the Bonifas Arts Center’s Northern Exposure competition, open only to U.P. artists, and had it rejected, the same work later being accepted in a national competition, he said.
Also, quite improbably, Maya Lin, an undergraduate student at Yale, won the competition to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, though she was competing against “enormous architectural firms” because her work had the “greatest meaning,” and the decision-makers understood that, Wedig said.
Feeling hesitant, while understandable, shouldn’t stop artists from entering, said Game, who added that she always feels “a little intimidated” every year, but this nervousness, in part, she has come to realize, is “excitement.”
“I really encourage every artist to try” submitting work to be exhibited in the U.P. Pavilion, said Game, since facilitators at DeVos Place are sincerely “wanting to get a nice variety.”
The U.P. Pavilion can help viewers gain a better, broader understanding of U.P. art, said Wedig. “I look around, and I see people doing everything … a whole spectrum of everything you could imagine,” he said.
ArtPrize runs Sept. 21 through Oct. 9. Additional information about ArtPrize can be found at www.artprize.org.


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