Finding a venue for Artprize is challenging. The system is designed for venues and artists to match up on their own. No outside authority or jury decides who gets in or where the exhibit happens. There are rules but they are not difficult to follow. Venues simply have to be inside the downtown Grand Rapids radius that is mapped out.
Any location can apply to be a venue as long as they are able and willing to staff the venue during ArtPrize hours. Accessibility is also a requirement. The registration fee is about $100 and there are other expenses that may be incurred depending on how involved the venue becomes. Some venues will throw big parties with live music and refreshments to bring in the crowds. Others will do a lot of publicity to promote their business or organization.
The cost for artists to register is $50. Literally anyone 16 years and older can enter ArtPrize as an artist. Once you are registered you can publicly promote your work on the ArtPrize website and start connecting with venues. This process of finding a venue that will exhibit your artwork and help you promote it is like The Dating Game for artists. I call it the American Idol of Art because ultimately the public decides who wins.
I found about 35 different venues that I liked and sent them emails with contact info. My favorites were non profit organizations. The response was limited to about 5 very different locations and I looked for the one that best suited the sculpture I was planning. None of the offers fit quite right and I was getting ready to settle. There was only about one week left before the deadline when Mary Free Bed Hospital responded to my email. I was hesitant because they are located on the very outskirts of the ArtPrize boundary and I knew that the crowds would be close to the center of the city.
We set up a meeting to check out the venue. I met with Meg from public relations and we discussed the location and the sculpture. Even though I knew nothing about Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital we had some things in common. My brother-in-law, Mike Donahue, had been a patient there in the past and he also exhibited some of his artwork at their annual art show. Meg told me up front that they had hopes of finding an artist with a disability. I suggested that they might settle for a model with a disability.
That is when I thought about the possibility of Mike's daughter, Emily, becoming the model for the sculpture.
Meg and I tossed the idea around and we shook on it. I had a venue! Now the real work would begin.