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Everyone’s a critic: Art Prize is back in Grand Rapids

Visitors listen to stories on headphones while looking at a large pink montage of women's photo portraits.
Tiffany Manning
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The Feminine Soul Project at ArtPrize 2021

Grand Rapids’ independent international art competition, ArtPrize, usually biennial, is back this year after a 2020 COVID hiatus. This year’s event features creative responses to the past 18 months, both from artists and from competition organizers.

Since it began in 2009, ArtPrize has always been a uniquely open and democratic competition. Any adult from anywhere in the world can submit art, any Grand Rapids venue can host an artist, and any visitor can vote on winners. For just over two weeks, the city transforms into an open gallery, with exhibitions not only in museums and galleries, but also across parks, bars, bridges, and vacant storefronts.

This year’s biggest change is to the prize award model. Instead of a public vote that chooses the grand prize winner, “we have a city wide scavenger hunt for visitors to come and experience, scan QR codes, find prize money and prizes and award those to artists,” said Craig Searer, Executive Director of ArtPrize. Visitors will directly award $150,000 of the $450,000 in total prize money being given this year. Searer hopes that moving away from a more traditional ballot system to this unique model will put more money in the hands of more different artists.

One of this year’s participating artists brought an interactive creative process to Michigan for her exhibition at this interactive event. Tiffany Manning is a photographer from Jacksonville, FL and the creator of the Feminine Soul Project. She sought out 100 women in the Grand Rapids area to photograph and interview, and compiled these audio and visual portraits into an immersive experience of collective seeing and hearing.

Manning has found that her subjects are often remarkably candid and intimate, given the invitation and opportunity to share meaningful experiences that ordinarily go unheard. “I think that as a society, we are taught to repress anything that may be personal or sensitive to share, and when you're given an anonymous platform, it's an invitation that you don't get every day,” she said, “and I think that that's why women are so willing to open up and to be vulnerable.” Sexual assault, for example, was a common recurring subject among her interviewees.

“The ability for these women to share something so personal is just--it's profound. It's really impactful to sit with this audio and to realize what people are going through,” Manning said.

Searer, too, spoke to the power of projects like Manning’s and in-person exhibitions like ArtPrize to connect people in deep ways. Being able to communicate with the artist that's there in front of that piece and ask that individual, ‘What was the inspiration behind it? What was the technique? And why was this piece brought to Grand Rapids?’ really does give the viewer a sense of connectedness and togetherness.”

ArtPrize 2021 began on September 16 and runs through October 3. Tiffany Manning's Feminine Soul Project can be seen as part of ArtPrize at the Harris Building at 111 Division Ave S. in Grand Rapids.

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