Mitten List: ArtPrize

September 30, 2013
I’m starting a new series called Mitten List. It’s like a bucket list, but instead of being a list of all the things I want to do and see before I die, it’s a list of all the things I want to do and see before I leave Michigan.

Or before I die.

Whichever one comes first, really.

After all, now that I’ve discovered Michigan has the world’s best frozen custard, I have a feeling they’ll have to drag my dead, lifeless body out of this state before I leave. Or close up all the custard shops. Either one.

 At the moment, my Mitten List mostly includes beer which I’m sure will be a surprise to absolutely no one. But, to start things off, my first Mitten List blog post is not about beer at all – but about my trip to Grand Rapids‘ huge art festival, ArtPrize. Because if there’s one thing I like almost as much as beer, it’s poking around a new city and being all artsy fartsy about it.

When I showed up in downtown Grand Rapids for ArtPrize this past Saturday, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Probably because I hadn’t really done any research.

Probably because I never really do any research.

And when I did attempt to do some research on Friday night, I discovered that I had just missed out on the Internet Cat Video Festival, which only reconfirmed my commitment to never do research. Because research is just a fancy word for “finding out about all the cool stuff you missed.”

Besides, I’m pretty sure no amount of research could have prepared me for ArtPrize.

ArtPrize is the world’s largest art competition. Which means it’s basically like an art festival and a state fair and the biggest block party you’ve ever seen all rolled up into one big huge arty ball of fun. Complete with massive pork sandwiches.


And giraffe-pterodactyls.


Because, of course.

The motto of ArtPrize is simply: “Art is for Everyone.”

This means anyone can enter art into the competition.

So you get everything from origami mice.


To puppet shows.


To beer fountains.


This also means that art is everywhere – not just in hoity-toity art galleries and uppity, big-name museums.

The art is all over the city — inside banks and parking ramps and coffee shops and on bridges and in basements and on the sides of buildings.


But, best of all, in my opinion, was the fact that anyone can vote on the art –  putting their favorite art piece in the running for the massive $200,000 grand prize.

I may not be much of an artist myself. I mean, I haven’t taken so much as a paint-you-own-pottery-class in the last twenty-some years. In fact, the last art class I took was back in elementary school when I considered Precious Moments to be pretty much the be-all and end-all of high art.

But if there’s one thing I’m pretty good at it’s being super duper judgey. And, luckily for me, I don’t let a little thing like lack of knowledge stop me from forming really strong opinions about stuff and then sharing those opinions with the world.

I was so ready to get my Judgey McJudgerson pants on while at ArtPrize that I even downloaded the special art-voting app on my cellphone before I went. And, you guys, I don’t even know what an app is!


Get yer voting fingers ready!

After a few hours of wandering around town, I discovered I wasn’t quite as good at judging art as I thought I would be.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know what was good art and what was bad art. I mean, I think that’s all pretty much subjective.

Personally, I like anything that’s kind of weird and whimsical and fun.

Which meant I was a big fan of these blown glass catfish.


And this ransom note made out of license plates.


And, of course, the beer fountain. Because BEER FOUNTAIN.

My problem was not that I didn’t know what was good art and what wasn’t. My problem was that I didn’t even know what was art and what wasn’t art.

At one point the friend I was with pointed to what appeared to be a wooden viewing platform on top of a bridge and asked, “Do you think that’s art?”

I scoffed.

“No, it’s just a viewing platform.”

Turns out it was totally art.

The wooden viewing platform. Attached to a mini-van. See? TOTALLY ART.

The wooden viewing platform. Attached to a mini-van. See? TOTALLY ART.

After that, I started looking at everything wondering if it was art or not.

Was this a funky, spiral fire escape or an installation piece symbolizing the twists and turns of life?


Was this just a reflection of an older building on the side of a modern glass building?


Or was it a metaphor about the inescapability of our past despite our attempts to move towards the future?

And what about this one:


Overly dramatic pedestrian warning sign?

Or pop art commentary on the codependent yet dangerous relationship between humans and vehicles

Who is to know, really? Who is to know?

But, yeah, you should probably look both ways just in case.

Ever been to a fun art festival? Tell me all about it! Or, hey, do you have a suggestion to add to my Mitten List? I’m all ears! Especially if those suggestions happen to include beer.

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On September 30, 2013 at 11:13 pm Priya said:

    I like this new series. Not as much as I like Weeklyish Changallegy Thingie though. Your next weeklyish changallegy thingie: come visit Priya. And, um, beer fountains? Let’s work on getting you one of those bad boys for your new crib.
    Priya recently posted..My Top Secret Diet & Exercise Routine (That You Probably Shouldn’t Follow)

  2. On October 1, 2013 at 4:15 am Hata Trbonja said:

    Can I put a link to your blog from my blog? I want to grow my “Favorite Blogs” list. Thanks.

  3. On October 1, 2013 at 6:35 am Ceri said:

    I’ve never been to an art festival but this one sounds like it was amazing! 😀 Also … I don’t really ‘get’ modern art (I’m seriously crap in a modern art museum). But I hope that pedestrian sign is real and not a piece of art. All road signs should look that dramatic. 😀
    Ceri recently posted..My Five Favourite Things in September

  4. On October 1, 2013 at 8:56 am Erika said:

    Um, can I say that I’ve been secretly reading about your move to Michigan (a few weeks ago) and I’ve been so excited? I live in Michigan now and even how you moved and your reasons for it reminded me of, well, me! (I’m originally from California, lived in France for a year, then up and chose to move to Michigan, for the short version). I love West Michigan and spent a year living in Grand Rapids, but now I am in East Lansing! 🙂 YAY! Anyway, I have somewhat of my own “Mitten List” or Michigan Bucket List that I plan on being a little more public about in the next few weeks or so. I’m not sure what to say to add to yours but I *still* need to check ArtPrize off the list… I mean, officially. Like actually stop being lazy and actually WALK AROUND and see the art. Like not from my CAR as I whiz by.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to hearing more about your MI adventures! (And that’s maybe an item for the Mitten List, too — going to the Michigan themed theme park, Michigan Adventure!) 🙂
    Erika recently posted..The Tuesday Dig: Kayli Wanders

    • On October 1, 2013 at 9:06 pm Sally said:

      OMIGOD. It’s like we’re living weirdly parallel lives. Except replace “France” with “China.” I mean, they’re practically the same thing, right?
      If you ever swing back this way, let me now. I’d love to meet up with other MI bloggers and pick your brain for my Mitten List!

  5. On October 1, 2013 at 1:39 pm Montecristo Travels (Sonja) said:

    Art Basel Miami. HUGE and International. It’s … I have no words. 🙂

    But this seems like a LOT of fun! and Art is what you see as art. Not what someone (who are “they” anyway?) declares as art. So … road sign? totally!
    Montecristo Travels (Sonja) recently posted..What Dog Owners Should Know About the Litte Cyclades – Greece

    • On October 1, 2013 at 9:04 pm Sally said:

      Definitely one of the things that I liked about this festival was that there was obviously not just one kind of art represented. It was all there — from your traditional stuff that most people would qualify as art to minivans attached to viewing platforms.

  6. On October 2, 2013 at 10:49 pm Colleen Brynn said:

    Do you know what ended up winning?
    Colleen Brynn recently posted..The Pictures Are The Same – The Story Is Different

  7. On October 3, 2013 at 8:18 am Tom @ Waegook Tom said:

    I don’t think I’d have thought the viewing platform was an art installation, either. And I’m pretty sure you’re totally right about the reflection on the side of the building being a metaphor.

    I think I’d make an amazing art judge as I, too, have absolutely no knowledge about art yet have no problems forming strong opinions about it!

  8. On October 11, 2013 at 4:33 am Carmel said:

    I remember a similar feeling of “I thought I was judgey, oops, I really don’t get it” when we went to MoMA 2 years ago. I was staring at certain pieces like…am I supposed to get something out of this or is it really just an old telephone? But I still had fun.

    I may have to steal the phrase “Mitten List” even though it’s not terribly cold in Portland or Seattle. Maybe “Raincoat list”…
    Carmel recently posted..GOBI DESERT TRIP, PART 2

  9. On October 11, 2013 at 10:33 am Carmen Allan-Petale said:

    You have to go to Traverse City! Such a lovely town and very arty.
    But speaking of art fairs, we recently went to ‘Art in the Park’ in Portland and they had artists from all over the USA displaying their work. It was really fun and some of the work on display was outstanding.
    Carmen Allan-Petale recently posted..5 must see exhibits at Seattle’s EMP Museum

    • On October 17, 2013 at 6:57 pm Sally said:

      I was in Traverse City very briefly when I was road-tripping through Michigan last spring, but I was only there a few hours. I definitely need to go back and spend a weekend there.

  10. On October 14, 2013 at 10:18 am A.H. said:

    When I was a kid, I made a birthday card for my mom out of newspaper cuttings. You’re telling me that’s art? I wonder if my mom saved it- would probably earn me a cool million!
    A.H. recently posted..Glimpses: Durga Puja in Bangalore

  11. On November 18, 2013 at 3:54 pm Alana said:

    I LOVE going to art galleries with my cousin and interpreting the funky sculptures or abstract paintings. It’s pretty fun. “Hmm… I think that’s an octopus with bad acid reflux.” Yeah, we’re quite a team.


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