How We Chose Sites for Project 1 by ArtPrize

Artist Amanda Browder visiting Tanglefoot in January 2019, then a prospective site for Project 1 by ArtPrize.
Artist Amanda Browder visiting Tanglefoot in January 2019, then a prospective site for Project 1 by ArtPrize.

Last week we announced the three sites that will host large-scale public art installations and performance programming for Project 1: Crossed Lines. A number of pieces will be downtown, in spots that are familiar to ArtPrize visitors. New for Project 1, we’re also placing major installations at Martin Luther King Jr. Park on the Southeast side, and the Tanglefoot Building just Southwest of downtown.

In this post I want to give more insight into why we chose the sites we did, and why the method for selecting Project 1 locations was so different from the way it happens for ArtPrize.

The three-square mile boundary that has hosted the ArtPrize festival and competition for 10 years.
The three-square mile boundary that has hosted the ArtPrize festival and competition for 10 years.

When ArtPrize began in 2009, one of the key tenets was that any space in downtown Grand Rapids could volunteer to host artwork. This was a simple idea, but we needed to define what we meant by “downtown.” We decided on a three square mile rectangle roughly centered on the axis of the street grid system. ArtPrize relied on this boundary. Its clear parameter –which is paralleled in the open call to artists and venues–created a space where a wide variety of creative activity could flourish. At the time this seemed uncontroversial. Of course things are never as simple as they seem. Grand Rapids is divided into three Wards, and we soon found out that the ArtPrize boundary included sections of the First and Second Wards while entirely excluding the Third Ward.

City of Grand Rapids maps, including all three Wards, taped on the ArtPrize office wall.

Over ten years of annual ArtPrize events, downtown Grand Rapids has changed a lot. First the empty buildings filled in with new businesses, now the parking lots are becoming construction sites as new buildings rise. This growth in our city means there’s less available space to fill with art. We find ways around that, but there’s also a growing sense that the areas of the city that could most benefit from ArtPrize are not downtown. There have been a number of forays beyond the original ArtPrize boundary over the years. These have largely been driven by SiTE:LAB, the nomatic, volunteer-run local nonprofit that specializes in producing site-specific exhibitions in unused spaces. Their ArtPrize venue in 2018, 415 Franklin, was even in the Third Ward. SiTE:LAB’s co-founder Paul Amenta is a commissioned artist for Project 1, along with collaborator Ted Lott.

A map of the three sites that will host work for Project 1 by ArtPrize.

Our process of choosing locations for Project 1 reverses the ArtPrize approach, and the way we think about how an art exhibition should occupy a city. It began with the realization that there is no neutral way to answer the question of where an art exhibition exists in a city. Even a supposedly neutral approach like plopping a rectangle in the center of the map ends up inheriting the biases that are baked into the city itself, such as the exclusion of the Third Ward.

The site selection process for Project 1 began not with a clear parameter, but with loose conversations, ideas and collaborations with artists and community members. We set out to make an exhibition animated by the theme “Crossed Lines,” about the way boundaries affect our sense of belonging in the city in seen and unseen ways. This thinking—that led us to the artists we selected, and the conversations we’ve been having with them since—came from a critical reflection of the way boundaries function in ArtPrize itself. ArtPrize and Grand Rapids have grown alongside one another for the past ten years, and Project 1 presents an opportunity to investigate how art can help make cities places where we all belong.

Learn more about the three Project 1 sites, including why each was chosen and the artists who will install work there: project.artprize.org/sites