On a blustery and snowy 20 degree (and dropping) January day, it’s a perfect time to remember the warmth and beauty of September!

Since 2009 each September-October, Grand Rapids breaks out in a colorful fever of sculpture, paintings and art! It’s everywhere: stores, restaurants, sidewalks, parks, the Grand River, even houses are purchased simply to turn into an exhibit. It’s glorious! The best part?? Any artist can submit their work!

What is this “art prize” you speak of?

An excerpt from the ArtPrize websiteArtPrize is an open, independently organized international art competition which takes place for 19 days each fall in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  More than five hundred thousand dollars in prizes are awarded each year, which include a $200,000 prize awarded entirely by public vote and another $200,000 prize awarded by a jury of art experts. 


As I said in my title, I believe YOU should make time to go. In no particular order, here are my reasons.

Reason #1: You don’t have to travel to Paris – just Grand Rapids.

I grew up in Chicago. I love those beautiful downtown north-south, east-west streets that don’t change names no matter how many towns/counties you drive through. This is not the case with Michigan. I am not sure who designed Grand Rapids (which is beautiful in its own way) but that person should have his head examined. Diagonal streets?? Really?

They are the reason I travelled to GR by personal vehicle and only to easy to find places like the Children’s Museum for years. Since then, it has taken me a few tries and gritty moments, but I am far more comfortable with walking around downtown GR than ever before.


My yearly journey starts with me driving to the Grandville Meijer. I park for free and hop on bus #8 all the way to Central Station. From there I usually get on the Silver Line and begin my art journey at DeVos Place depending on the weather.

All it cost me was the $5 ArtPrize bus pass! It’s valid for the entire time, 10 rides on any bus route, and unlimited rides on the Silver Line which goes throughout downtown. Pretty sweet deal, if you ask me!


Reason #2: It’s FREE.

Other than the cost to get yourself downtown to the exhibits, there is no cost to see the art. For real. When you purchase the pass, it comes with a book, map and other info that will direct you around GR as you look for the pieces you’ve heard about or just meander as your art-loving spirit leads. There are also handy “Got a question??” people with maps at various corners ready to point you in the right direction or get you un-turned around.

As for food, you can take a backpack with a few snacks as you walk or stop when the aroma from a restaurant pulls you in. Up to you. Oh… and if you’re a coffee connoisseur, there are some fantastic coffee shops to try. Just follow your nose!

I don’t know of any other huge city-wide art competitions where you get to vote for your favorites without cost to you!

Reason #3: Whether you spend 2 hours or 10, it will be well worth your while.

There was the year when I tapped an art-loving friend who also happened to have a preschooler and we strollered our way around kid-friendly places like the Children’s Museum and other interactive exhibits. Proving that moms with preschoolers can indeed go to ArtPrize and still enjoy a couple hours before the Fits of Naptime descend.

There were also the years of being a second-grade field trip chaperone! I enjoyed going with my two older children’s classes. It was a challenge to help each kid in my group “see” the art properly. They learned to ask questions of each piece, find out what they could about the artist and what he or she was trying tell them. (Those moments helped shape what this blog would become.)

Now as a mom with all her children in school, I get the unimaginable luxury of going by myself to see art in a crowd. Walking around, listening and observing people, colors, lines, choices the artist made to bring out or hide things. It’s so much fun.

The twist, of course, being I often can’t/don’t give myself permission to enjoy a day or two of art because of all the craziness going on with the beginning of school and all that entails. Silly, I know. But isn’t that how we moms tend to think?? It’s worth the time. I have to simply make a date with myself and keep it.

Reason #4: You were created for this.

I used to ask my youngest this question: Who made you? He would reply: God made me. I would follow up: Why did He make you? For His own glory would come the reply.

As an image-bearer of the Creator, you’re designed to create. It is hardwired in your DNA. You can’t NOT create. You might argue with me “No way! I’m not artistic!!”  I would counter that you create with ideas, architecture, gardening or *gasp* even math! Art isn’t limited just to clay, canvas, paint, paper or pencil.

Being an image-bearer means we acknowledge it and remember to take time to stop and appreciate beauty whether it’s living organic beauty like flowers or a metal sculpture of horses and a foal on a sidewalk downtown. Stopping to remember that we are created to create lets a refreshing breeze blow through our souls reflecting our worship of the Creator.

Reason #5: It’s a great workout!

Thanks to the many hills of Grand Rapids, you will definitely get your leg day done.

If, like me, you make the decision to simply walk over to an exhibit with only a partial understanding of where it is and the logic that “it’s not THAT far and it’s a beautiful day!” and in the process discover a street that doesn’t go through and end up in the middle of a college campus, you will definitely find your FitBit registering a minimum of 12,000 steps.

As you backtrack in an attempt to find your destination, you may be tempted to say lots of bad words as streets change, run on angles and you begin to get looks from people as you pass them multiple times. Yeah.

Then you find the place, see the art and feel that deep satisfaction of conquering a foreboding task. Take that, Streets of Grand Rapids! I will best you! Think you can twist those streets on me again?? Aha! I will come out as victor – losing a pound or two in the process! Besides, it’s the journey not the destination, right?!

Reason #6: This is your chance to put on someone else’s view of the world.

Each of us has a unique set of family and culture experiences that colors everything we see. Sometimes, we don’t even know how much until we view art that challenges a part of our experience and we react. Often, we try to hide that reaction thinking that the art must be bad, but I want to challenge you. When that visceral gut feeling assaults you, don’t ignore it or pretend you’re cool with whatever started it.

Dive into it. Ask why. Think back to your life. Dig around and wonder.

Maybe it was the colors the artist used to portray her feelings. Maybe it was the collection of bars of soap from the immigration office made you feel like these were pictures from Auschwitz. Maybe you felt the artist crossed the line of polite racial conversation to extremely offensive. Maybe the genetalia exposed simply embarrassed you.

I’ve learned to first stand and take in the art. Feel all those feels. Then as you react and wonder, read the artist’s statement – there’s almost always a white placard next to the art explaining in their own words why or what they were attempting to do or say with this piece. I most often get a sense of understanding and can put my arms around those big feelings.

It’s good to switch out our lenses every now and then.

Reason #7: You will find your tribe.

This reason is probably my favorite. Your tribe isn’t simply your favorite people or the people most like you. They are the people God brings into your path for His purpose.

I go each year, not knowing a single person and being an introvert, I typically don’t strike up conversations with every person I see. But I am a follower of Christ and that gives me an edge. I sit on the bus and walk past people and notice and listen for those nudges.

This year, I met an older woman named Ruth who is a Religious Historian. Before her stop, she told me she was researching why the different Protestant denominations seem to hate each other so much. I asked her what she thought so far and we had a really great conversation.

I saw two women fumbling looking for quarters for the Egg Prize exhibit – see the post picture! Each egg contains a unique minute piece of art created just for this year. As I stopped to get my yearly egg, I gave her a couple quarters and her shocked face made me  wish generosity happened more often.

In DeVos Place, I found a piece of art called Women and Friendship by Carlos Tobar. One painting is of four women. They have different body types, hair types, but their faces show guardedness toward each other. The second painting shows five women, four of whom are pregnant and all have relaxed smiles for each other. I stood there thinking and processing (as bare-chested women kind of accost my sensibilities.) I looked around to see a woman in her 60’s standing near me. She commented on the ability of a woman’s birthing story to unite her to another complete stranger. I smiled and realized I almost missed the whole point. She began to tell me about her life in the 60’s and 70’s and all the things women of my generation have. I smiled and agreed. We as women have so much more equality today than this woman’s young adult years yet we are so focused on comparison with each other. Hair, body, wardrobe… yet a woman with a rounded belly or a young nursing baby levels every playing field we’ve set up. We’re simply women.

I could go on for several more posts with all the things I learned and the thoughts I had… but I want you to go see it for yourself. 🙂

ArtPrize 10 dates are September 19 – October 7.

Block out a day or two and get down there! Enjoy with a friend or simply walk around soaking up inspiration for your own creativity.

We might even see each other!