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City groups planning fall “mashup” of events in place of ArtPrize PHOTO: KATE CARLSON

City groups planning fall “mashup” of events in place of ArtPrize

BY Thursday, July 09, 2020 10:28am

GRAND RAPIDS — Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. is reallocating $50,000 it initially budgeted for ArtPrize 2020 toward a new event tentatively planned for September. 

Since the June 10 announcement canceling ArtPrize due to COVID-19, multiple groups throughout the city have been planning a new event. Organizations involved include DGRI, the city of Grand Rapids, the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority, Experience Grand Rapids, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and Start Garden.

The DGRI funding will go toward similar uses that it would have for ArtPrize like marketing and commissioning artists, DGRI President and CEO Tim Kelly said during the July 8 Downtown Development Authority meeting.

“We all recognize and understand COVID-19 is still here and hasn’t gone away, but we can also work with the county health department and make sure anything that gets planned is responding and reflecting on where we are with the virus,” Kelly said.

Kent County reported 71 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, while the state reported 610 new confirmed cases, the highest single-day increase since late May.

Grand Rapids Assistant City Manager Doug Matthews told the Grand Rapids City Commission during a Tuesday meeting that the event is preliminarily planned to be a “five-week mashup” of various cultural and art festivals that were canceled this summer. 

“It’s shaping up to be an interesting and spontaneous highlight about what’s great about Grand Rapids and an opportunity to celebrate things we haven’t gotten to celebrate over the summer,” Matthews said. 

City leaders recognize the economic impact downtown businesses are missing out on without ArtPrize and other festivals this summer on top of difficulties associated with shutdown orders, Kelly said. There has been broad agreement that a new, locally focused event downtown could build on previously planned activities to help stimulate the economy as well as amplify community conversations about racial injustice and equality, Kelly added. 

“I would encourage having (diverse) representation at the very beginning of the planning process before broad ideas are formed,” said DDA Board Member Jim Talen, who also serves as a Kent County Commissioner. 

Talen asked Kelly if he knew the racial makeup of the involved stakeholders so far that are planning the event. 

Kelly replied: “The intent is to build out a framework and then engage. ... That is the primary focus on how this thing would be built, having representation throughout the community.” 

In addition to incorporating various events that have been canceled this summer, the event will build on the social zones set up around the city, and the plywood mural project downtown. DGRI partnered with Lions & Rabbits gallery to commission local artists to paint murals on plywood boards used to board up downtown storefronts. Most murals share messages of fighting for racial justice and phrases like “Black Lives Matter.” 

Despite the early planning stages of the event, DDA Board Member Luis Avila said it’s important the DDA helps provide resources for the community event.

“I feel comfortable (supporting this) even though it’s not fully defined yet,” Avila said.

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