Fact: Grand Rapids, Michigan is two-thirds white; twenty-two percent are of Dutch ancestry.
Fact two: Twenty miles to the west, Holland’s Tulip Time Festival annually honors its Dutch heritage—with food, theater and folk dancers clopping in wooden shoes.
Fact three: Long known as the “Furniture City,” Grand Rapids is headquarters to five international office furniture companies.
Fact four: President Gerald Ford grew up in Grand Rapids. He and wife Betty are buried on the grounds of the city’s Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.
Fact five: Amway co-founder Richard DeVos is a prominent Grand Rapids philanthropist and well-known Republican.
Fact six: Grandson Rick DeVos founded ArtPrize in Grand Rapids three years ago. A citywide art competition juried by public vote, the 2012 event started last week and will run through October 7 with 1,517 entries at 161 venues. The top prize of $200,000 has drawn painters, photographers, sculptors, performers, filmmakers, and technologists from around the world.
Is this the formula for “white-breaditude” America?
Incensing Michigan media, a presumptuous GQ Magazine article tackles a version of this very question: How did a “conservative antithesis to Detroit,” the home to pie n’ coffee sit-down chain Mr. Burger, muster an event of cultural value?
“Perhaps ArtPrize is a masterful piece of performance art,” writes Matthew Power after a visit in 2011. “A carnivalesque happening of the sort Warhol would have loved, sly and subversive precisely because of it preposterous openness, a giant paper-mache middle finger rising out of flyover country, gesturing toward the bastions of the elite.”
At Flyover Culture, we are learning that today’s media shapes its audiences—forms their opinions, instead of respecting and reflecting them.
Power continues, “All politicking and criticism aside, there was something contagious about the excitement of the crowds, entire families of ordinary Michiganders asked perhaps for the first time in their lives to appraise a work of art.”
Indeed, Grand Rapids coffee shops have competed in brewing challenges internationally; its performance art and playwriting community (the Circle Theatre, Dog Story Theater, and SiTE:LAB among it) is prolific. And ArtPrize boasted 24,000 unique visitors and artists from some 40 countries last year.
Ordinary Michiganders do appraise. The consensus? Try again, Power.
A video from the ground: