Artists on the Loose

This month, Grand Rapids transforms into a weird, walkable wonderland.
2010 ArtPrize winner

“Earth Giant,” a massive chicken-wire sculpture of a reclining gnomish monk, occupied a sidewalk in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for several weeks in 2013. It turned heads, but the composition of tree limbs, grapevines, and moss in the midst of downtown was considered perfectly normal during ArtPrize, an annual event that converts Grand Rapids into a citywide indoor-outdoor gallery—all of it free to explore.

ArtPrize returns September 23–October 15, when more than 1,600 artists from 48 countries vie for the approval of the voting public and a panel of experts—plus a share of the world-record $500,000 in prize money. Their works will fill 162 venues within a 3-square-mile area downtown. “It’s an incredibly energetic combination of museum, street fair, and public forum on ‘what is art?’” says Tom Kaufmann, who has entered three times (once with a xylophone made of hanging, painted oxygen tanks). Visitors tend to wander outward from the centrally located Grand Rapids Art Museum (101 Monroe Center St. NW, 616-831-1000) and make their picks via cellphone. The ArtPrize map might not even be necessary. Crowds gawking at performances, paintings, murals, and sculptures—some even in the Grand River—act as guideposts.


Founders Brewing
Founders Brewing


The inaugural ArtPrize winner from 2009, a mural of waves dubbed Open Water no. 24, rolls in above the bar at Reserve (201 Monroe Ave. NW, 616-855-9463), a chic farm-to-table eatery with a magnificent wine list. Save room for some suds in “Beer City USA,” too. Founders Brewing Company (235 Grandville Ave. SW, 616-776-1195) allows visitors to view the beer-making process—a work of art in its own right.­



Drive Time: 4 hours, 30 minutesSEE The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum (303 Pearl St. NW) includes a replica of the Oval Office.

STAY The JW Marriott (from $249/night; 235 Louis St. NW) offers sweeping views from high above the Grand River and a swanky waterside patio.

PLAY The Big Old Building, circa 1903 and now called The BOB (20 Monroe Ave. NW), bustles with nightlife.


This article appeared in our September 2015 issue.