Blog: Rick DeVos


Rick DeVos is an entrepreneur and founder of ArtPrize, a competition open to artists worldwide. He is also co-founder of Spout.com, TheCommon.org, and a myriad of other companies working on creating conversations and bringing simple solutions to seemingly large cultural problems.

With ArtPrize, Rick wants to see what happens when a city becomes a gallery, artists engage directly with the public, and the public has an empowered voice in responding to the art. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts.

He lives with his wife and dog in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


photos by Brian Kelly
Rick DeVos - Most Recent Posts:

Post 2: Why Michigan Needs the Arts

Having worked for several years now on startup businesses, I've become more and more aware of the importance of attracting and retaining talented individuals to work with, and of being part of a larger ecosystem of individuals and businesses that are committed to experimentation, innovation, and building new things.

Some of the major and broad goals of ArtPrize that have been present since the beginning are to inspire people in the region with new ideas and possibilities, to jump quickly from thinking to doing, and generally help to shift the local culture to embrace and support more creative risk taking. These goals are also why I think it is important for us as individuals to broadly support the arts philanthropically in our state and region.

ArtPrize is one event that is designed to draw attention to and create engagement with art and artists during a couple of weeks every year, but the many arts institutions in Grand Rapids and Michigan in general will be absolutely critical in building on that engagement and attention throughout the rest of the year.  Educational programming, residency programs, shows and exhibits, and even generally networking the creative community are all incredibly vital to nurturing a creative culture that enriches our cities. 

Our cities must be attractive, challenging, and interesting for a whole generation coming of age and making decisions about where they want to live first, and what they want to do there second.  I would also argue that a culture which celebrates and supports creative risk-taking will be much better positioned from a business perspective in the coming years. Creativity, innovation, and agility will become more and more important.

I've been overwhelmed by how Grand Rapids has so aggressively taken up the task of ArtPrize. Although these are challenging times, we are supporting creativity and the arts philanthropically--with time and attention and planning as well as money.  Let's celebrate individuals and their creativity, and build a state-wide culture that embraces the creative risk taking from a powerful sculpture that inspires simply by looking at it to a new design for a water filter that provides clean water for people all over the world.


Post 1: Votes for Art

Beginning September 23rd, Grand Rapids, Michigan will be host to 1,262 artists in 159 venues scattered throughout 3 square miles of downtown, and so will begin an exciting social event and experiment that I am privileged to have been a part of founding. ArtPrize, intentionally simple in its name, is the world's largest art prize, awarding $250,000 for first, $100,000 for second, $50,000 for third, and $7,000 for fourth through tenth places. That is the first unique element. The second unique element is that those awards will be decided by a public vote, facilitated by the web and mobile phones.

Since we announced ArtPrize in April of this year, the first question I usually get asked is "How did you get the idea?"

Over the last few years in particular, I've had the privilege of many great cultural events like the Sundance Film Festival, the Telluride Film Festival, and SxSW. Because of this exploration, for some time I have thought that Grand Rapids would be ripe for putting on a large cultural event. Grand Rapids has a great history of design and public art, a walkable downtown, a surprisingly large student population, and strong cultural institutions like the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, the Grand Rapids Art Museum and the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. All of these seemed like, and have proven to be, a strong foundation to build on.

Initially, due to all of my engagement with film festivals, I thought seriously about putting one on in Grand Rapids. However, the nature of film festivals (due very much to the nature of the medium) is that they are highly centralized and controlled. You have a small committee that reviews films and accepts them, highly specific kinds of venues, and a very rigid screening schedule with capacity and limitations, adding even more layers of complexity and centralized decision-making.

Thinking about how film festivals work, my team and I started to wonder what the opposite would look like. What could we do that was extremely open, decentralized, and allowing of a wide variety of media and expressions, not just film? How could it be a catalyst and let innovation and creativity happen on the edges instead of trying to plan and control all of it at the center? What sort of relationships would form between artists collaborating with other artists and their host venues?

I started to think about how to get a large group of artists interested in showing their work, and a large swath of the public interested in looking at that work, but at the same time go beyond the traditional artist-public relationship of buying and selling that a standard art fair is built around. I thought that models like X-Prize were particularly interesting as a catalyst and organizational model because they create a large incentive for attaining a particular goal, which in turn entices a large group of individuals and teams to go after that goal.

It seemed like a pretty straightforward idea to create a very large art prize to gain the attention of a broad cross-section of artists, but the question then became how to get the larger public interested and invested in the process beyond passively shuffling through. Very quickly, the idea emerged of having a public vote--tangible public feedback--as an incredibly powerful tool of getting people looking, engaging, and debating. We then decided to go even one step further, and we opened up who could host a venue--and thereby opened up curation for the event-- by just setting a border, minimum open hours, and a couple of other basic things. Our role as ArtPrize (the organization) focused on becoming a facilitator of relationships between artists, the venues hosting them, and the people physically in the city and taking part in the event rather than trying to plan every detail for all of those parties.

With just over a week until the opening evening, the entire ArtPrize team and I are in awe of the response we've received. The number of artists, the number of venues, the number of collaborations, the variety and quality of the work, and the buzz that we feel happening in the city are all-amazing. We are honored to be a part of it. We would love to have you join us. Come and see.

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