The team working behind the scenes at ArtPrize is a dynamic, creative, innovative group of individuals. Some of them joined the team this year, some have been around since day one. They work around the clock during the event to put on the best possible experience for the City of Grand Rapids, here are some of their favorite stories from the past ten years.
What has been the one of the most challenging moments during your time at ArtPrize?
Anne Rosenbaum, Community Support Manager: My first year at ArtPrize was 2011. The website went down for more than 12 hours, due to thousands of people accessing it and not enough servers. We were growing and didn't anticipate the traffic online! There were so many visitors that wanted to vote and couldn't. They were angry, frustrated and very critical, yet so set on voting. We didn't want to disappoint them. I created a form for manual registration and printed it out for our registrars to use. We registered a couple hundred people. I didn't sleep for over 24 hours, but knowing more visitors could vote for their favorite entries was well worth the manual inputting of more than 200 voters. Registrar volunteers were amazing that day. We couldn't have done it without their willingness to help and be patient with visitors.
What was a misconception you had about ArtPrize that you’ve gained new understanding on since working at ArtPrize?
Madeline Kroll, Business Development Manager: That there weren’t going to be moments of challenge. I came from the political world which was truly full of challenges and tough situations on a regular basis. Coming to an arts non-profit, I definitely had the misconception that things would be daisies and rainbows much of the time. While ArtPrize is certainly a positive place to work and a positive force within the community, it doesn’t mean there aren’t moments when things get stressful or when I am pushed professionally. At the end of the day, ArtPrize is a HUGE event and the pressures can sometimes feel equally as huge. I think the wonderful thing about working at ArtPrize is our team and the fact that we are all in it together. Our staff truly cares about and supports one another.
Maggie Henderson, Design Intern: I guess I didn't really realize how much of the experience is out of the hands of the organization. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that we're building a platform for true unpredictability and that's all a part of the fun. Also, hearing the way Jori talks about the ever-experimental and ever-evolving nature of the event and organization was inspiring. It just reinforced, for me, how one of a kind it is.
What is one misconception you think the general public has about ArtPrize?
Jori Bennett, Executive Director: ArtPrize is a multi-faceted, dynamic event unlike any other in the world. For this reason, there are many misconceptions floating out there. That’s actually okay, I enjoy having new conversations with people in the community and sometimes surprising people who thought they knew everything about ArtPrize.
Melissa Elliott, Director of Finance, HR, and Business Affairs: That the staff only works part-time and is mostly volunteer. I've been asked so many times "So what do you do in the off-season?" They don't realize that it takes an incredible team working year-round to pull the event off!
What has been one of the most rewarding projects you’ve worked on at ArtPrize?
Vanessa Autumn, Social Media Manager: Honestly, this one! I’ve been working on the Storytelling Campaign all summer. I’ve never really done a project quite like this, especially on this grand of a scale. I’ve been able to sit down with some of the most creative and innovative artists, community members, educators, and curators in Michigan (and sometimes beyond). To have the privilege to talk to them about the things they are passionate about— that has been so rewarding. Some of the conversations I’ve had through interviews have been really eye opening for me personally and will definitely stick with me long beyond my chapter at ArtPrize.
Maggie Henderson, Design Intern: Designing the street banners, though that rewarding feeling won't really sink in until they get installed. They will adorn the city streets and appear in photos. I've never had the opportunity to work on a graphic design project on that large a scale and I can't wait to see them go up in a couple of weeks!
If you could trade jobs with one other position at ArtPrize, what would it be and why?
Jori Bennett, Executive Director: I would love to be an artist and experience the event through their point of view. I would learn so much!
If you had to pick one favorite memory from your time working at ArtPrize, what would that be?
Melissa Elliott, Director of Finance, HR, and Business Affairs: My favorite memory would be of the first ArtPrize in 2009. As a team, we had no idea what was going to happen....if artists would care enough to be involved, if the venues would latch on to the event, if the crowds would come downtown. As everyone knows, what actually happened during the first ArtPrize blew away everyone's expectations. It was incredible to be behind the scenes, working harder that year than I ever have, and seeing how the event came together and crowning a winner that was very worthy of a large prize.
Katie Moore, Exhibitions Manager: My favorite memory of ArtPrize is performing in Kate Gilmore's Higher Ground in 2015. SiTE:LAB was short on performers the opening night and Leah (2015 Exhibitions Assistant) and myself got asked to help out while we were at the opening. We said yes immediately and were taken in the backdoor of the "pink house" where there was a sign indicating that only women were allowed. We entered a dimly lit room where a rack of white dresses and box of red shoes awaited us. We changed into our uniforms during the chaos of a new shift of and picked which room we were swinging in. It was dark but there was enough light to see everyone looking up from below as my legs went in and out of the open window. It was exhilarating at first being alone in a room with the threat of flying out of a second story window while a group of people watched, but quickly became physically taxing. At the end of the night Leah and I shared a beer and couldn't believe we had performed in a Kate Gilmore piece.
Madeline Kroll, Business Development Manager: My favorite memory from my time at ArtPrize would probably be Opening Day of last year’s event. I moved to Grand Rapids when I was offered my position at ArtPrize. So, having never experienced the event before, I was totally taken aback by the scale and incredible quality of the art around the city. I don’t think I will ever forget the impact that day had on me and how it changed the way I talk about the event going forward.
Jori Bennett, Executive Director: There are SO many! One memory that stands out was walking around the City on my first ArtPrize Opening Day. I was truly blown away by the energy buzzing around the City and the amount of people talking about art on the streets. This memory never leaves me and fuels the work we do in the off season — I look forward to experiencing the buzz and conversation every year.
Alee’a Ulsh-Cherry, Public Relations Specialist: My favorite memory was when Richard Schlatter, 2017 Public Vote winner, came upstairs to the press room and asked me to pinch him so he could make sure he wasn't dreaming. He was completely in shock and disbelief when he found out he was the recipient of $200,000. It was amazing to see his reaction, among others, and how grateful they were to have been chosen for their respective prizes. I felt like I was on a reality TV show! I can't wait to be a part of that experience again this year.