GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) " A school of glimmering, silvery-white fish wriggle high above a downtown river. A few blocks away on a Michigan sidewalk, four stark red piranhas have taken large bites out of a running man's briefcase and rear end. A purple, 10-foot-tall jelly bean stands outside a nearby castle.
As the first ArtPrize art competition is set to begin next week in Grand Rapids, works of every imaginable size, shape, color and medium are popping up at 159 venues throughout the downtown area. More than 1,200 artists from two dozen countries are competing for a total of $449,000, including $250,000 for first place " one of the world's largest awards for an art competition.
"I think this is amazing to have this much artwork all throughout downtown," said Sarah Joseph, director of exhibitions at Kendall College of Art and Design. "It's great that it's everywhere."
If it's not everywhere just yet, it soon will be.
Colorful oils, acrylics and sketches are at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital. Rocky's Bar and Grill will have a hodgepodge of paintings, including one of a clown, and photographs of various Michigan locales. The Thomas M. Cooley Law School will offer have a steel-and-polyurethane sculpture of a human figure.
As Judy Johnson walked past the four red piranhas Monday, she said she believes the 18-day event that kicks off Sept. 23 will give a boost to the state's second-largest city.
"I think it'll be fantastic," said Johnson, 57, an administrator for Grand Rapids Public Schools. "It will get people downtown and be something to put Grand Rapids on the map, hopefully."
She plans to bring in friends and family members to "see as many (works) as we can."
People who register for the event will determine the top 10 artworks, including the winner, by voting at ArtPrize's Web site, or through text messaging or an iPhone application. Prizes will be awarded Oct. 8, two days before the competition ends to give people time to see the winning pieces.
"The point of ArtPrize is the conversation," said Rick DeVos, 27, who created the competition. "That's why it's a public vote ... to give a reason for people to talk to each other about what they like, what they don't like, why you should like this, why you shouldn't like that."
The response from artists and venue officials has been remarkable, he said.
"When we announced this in April, we figured, kind of internally, that if we had 300 artists that matched with venues, that would be success for the first year," DeVos said. "We're at 1,262 " so about four times that " and it kind of blows us away, but it's really cool and I think speaks to the hospitality of the community."
In 2006, DeVos established Spout.com, a social-networking site for film buffs. His grandfather, Rich, co-founded direct-sales giant Amway Corp., and his father, Dick, is a former president of the company.
The Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation is fronting the prize money. ArtPrize will return next year for sure and Rick DeVos hopes it will become an annual competition, but that all depends on how self-sufficient the event can become.
Celeste Adams, director of the Grand Rapids Art Museum said the competition "is really about young people embracing the arts."
Several hundred artists asked to display their works at the museum, but just two were chosen because they suited the museum's available space. One is a short black-and-white film that will be shown in a continuous loop on an outside wall of the building and the other consists of several sharp, digitally created images of largely urban scenes.
What's likely to be one of the most visible ArtPrize entries is Grand Rapids photographer and artist David Lubbers' kinetic, metal sculpture that's on a tiny island in the middle of the Grand River.
"The Grand Dance" looks like a large mobile with its 16 white figures that resemble fish that turn with the wind. It stands about 35 feet tall, 30 feet wide and 30 feet long. At night, two spotlights will shine on the piece so that it appears to be hovering over the water.
"It seemed like a perfect place for a sculpture," he said.
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