With ArtPrize Set to Launch in 2016, Did Dallas Just Buy a Franchised Art Event?

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Last week I found myself in a debate with an artist about the annual fundraiser Art Con. This artist has decidedly never participated in the construction of an art piece to be auctioned off in the name of charity because in his words, "the art is inconsistent." In my words, he takes it all a bit too seriously. I argued that it's more about the event than the quality of art (he nodded, "exactly") and that for many people it's a gateway to an appreciation of local art and artists. He said something to extent of, "If people are going to be introduced to art for the first time, I'd like it to be with a quality event."

I'm wondering if this artist will like today's news that the city of Dallas entered into a three-year agreement with ArtPrize - the citywide art festival that gives up to $500,000 to participating international artists - to debut in April 2016.

I'm sure we'll hear more details about the Dallas version in the days to come, but in its most basic description ArtPrize is an art competition that takes place annually in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For about three weeks, there are events and exhibitions everywhere from galleries to coffeeshops that culminate in the dispersal of around $200,000 awarded by a public vote and roughly the same amount awarded by a jury. At the 2014 ArtPrize, artists from Indianapolis and Virginia took home the money. According to a Forbes report, this art competition brings in almost a half million visitors and creates $22.2 million dollars in economic impact.

That's a lot of millions.

That same Forbes report asks the question, "Could ArtPrize do what it did for Grand Rapids, Michigan, in Dallas?" To which my hometown pride responds, "Dallas is a far cry from Grand Rapids."

To head up the event, Art Prize appointed Ariel Saldivar to serve as the executive director of this Dallas version, who seems like a pretty stellar choice. She made a name for herself as the assistant director of the Goss-Michael Foundation and demonstrates commitment to all aspects of the Dallas arts scene. You'll see her on committees for events at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and attending shows at even the smallest galleries. (I ran into her at an ArtCon event last week.)

In a statement today that apparently hit the inboxes of The New York Times, and Forbes (but not the Observer... just saying), she is reported to have said, "ArtPrize Dallas will change the way people think about and approach art in Dallas, because it will truly be an open, inclusive and welcoming event for everyone... ArtPrize Dallas will support and celebrate artists through prizes, grants, career-building opportunities, sales opportunities, broad exposure and seed grants, with a special focus on Dallas artists."

Just to be clear, I think this event sounds great. I really do. Art will be on the everyone's mind, it will be everywhere and we'll get to see Dallas-based artists in an international context without ever having to leave behind our glimmering toll roads.

But you have to wonder, in spite of good intentions, how capable the machine of ArtPrize will be in supporting the work of Dallas-based artists? How much money will Dallas -- both the city and its residents -- end up spending to produce this expansive event? Most of this money that will be raised and spent on ArtPrize will be Dallas money, but will we see a return on investment or will all the money awarded end up enriching the arts scene of Indiana or Virginia? Of course, I think we'll gain insight about how Dallas artists stack up against the outside world, but will it actually enlighten or grow the scene? Will something that worked to bring visitors to Grand Rapids necessarily have the same effect on Dallas, particularly given the disparity between both the cites and their respective arts scenes? And just one more question: Is ArtPrize Dallas meant to be one of two ArtPrizes or one of 10?

These are all questions I'm sure I'll have a chance to discuss with Saldivar just as soon as that press release lands in my inbox. For more information, head to The New York Times or artprize.org.

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