Art Prize A Connection for Churches

Written by Terry DeBoer on . Posted in Local

Blessed“Blessed are” – The expressive painting is an ArtPrize entry displayed at First (Park) Congregational Church Sally Lundquist is happy to see this year's ArtPrize entries going up on display at her First (Park) Congregational Church in downtown Grand Rapids.

A year ago, the congregation wasn't sure it would be a venue for the 2018 art competition.

"We were all concerned about our sanctuary repair project, and weren't sure it would be completed," said Lundquist, Art Prize committee chair for the historic downtown church at 10 E. Park Pl. NE.

The church's large social hall, usually filled with temporary gallery walls for ArtPrize displays, was still being used for worship during the first part of September as sanctuary repairs were completed.

But with a little ingenuity and careful logistics, Park Church is able to accommodate 36 indoor and three outdoor pieces this year.


ArtPrize, now in its 10th year, is an international art competition which runs from Sept. 19 to Oct. 7. More than 160 venues – mostly in downtown Grand Rapids – are displaying roughly 1,200 works of art, with $500,000 in prize money awarded both via public vote and by a panel of judges. The exhibits draw hundreds of thousands of visitors annually (for more information visit

This is the ninth year Park Church has been a venue for the arts competition.

"We do it for two reasons, from my point of view," explained Lundquist. "One, it's a service to the community and people have appreciated it. And also, it's our biggest public relations effort to introduce people to our church."

Visitor numbers help tell the story. In its peak year more than 23,000 onlookers came through the church doors to see the art entries. Last year was a lower than average count of around 14,000.

"It's very weather-dependent," Lundquist said of the crowd totals. "When it's too hot – or it's too rainy – people don't want to walk too far."


Each year venues negotiate with participating artists to see which pieces they will get to host. The coordinator said they go through entries online and see which ones interest them and invite the artists to consider their space. Or the artist can contact the venue, gauging the space as well as the interest.


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"It's really kind of a dance," she said. "And it can sometimes go very late in the process."

Lundquist said Park Church doesn't go out of its way to find "religious" art. The church has its own permanent art displays, many of which have faith-related themes. Those works are temporarily removed to make room for ArtPrize entries and to avoid confusion for visitors who may think the existing church pieces are part of the competition.

"We do have some ArtPrize artists who come back to us in succeeding years – they like our venue," she added.


Lundquist encourages other churches to become ArtPrize venues, saying it's been a good experience. But there are challenges to consider.

"You do have to have somewhat of a budget," she said. "And it takes staff time with things like working out the contracts with artists and helping with volunteer sign-up."

Park Church is hosting a reception for their artists from 6-8pm Fri. Sept. 21. They're providing appetizers, beverages and live music at the event welcoming the public to meet their artists.

And then there's the work of preparing for and then cleaning up after the ArtPrize hubbub.

This year there is a competing church event: a wedding will keep the church off limits to the public on the first Saturday of the competition, although the outdoor exhibits will still be accessible.

Art Prize patrons will be sharing the church with a concert audience on Thursday Sept. 20.

"There are some drawbacks, but it's been such a great event for the church," she underscored.

There's a wide variety in format and approach among Park Church's ArtPrize displays.

One of the paintings literally takes a verse of Scripture as its title: "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God" (from The Beatitudes, Matt. 5:8).

The oil on canvas entry from artist Jeremy Thornton was inspired by his work with people with Down's Syndrome and other disabilities, a segment of the population he feels is underrepresented in both the arts and society in general.

"We were quite enchanted by this painting," said Lundquist of her committee's consideration of the work. "We're not trying to do a social justice theme with our display. But it's an important topic. It's a very upbeat look at people with Down's Syndrome and we hope that's the (same) reaction we get from visitors who see it."

Ten of the official ArtPrize venues are churches and faith-based ministries. There are no first-time churches on the list for 2018.
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Author Information
Terry DeBoer
Author: Terry DeBoer
Terry is a journalist/feature writer for newspapers, magazines and websites, with a background in radio broadcasting. His usual beat is arts and entertainment, specializing in Christian/gospel music. A married father of two, he is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan Contributing Writer: West Michigan Christian News August 2011 – Present Feature writer: (website and various newspapers) 1988– 2016 -Spotlight New Christian Music Magazine 1997-2008 -Church News Editor, Church Herald Magazine 2004-2009

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