All Eyes on the ArtPrize by The Wall Street Journal

In this interview with the Wall Street Journal, Rick DeVos writes, "I wanted to help develop a creative culture, one that’s open to new experiences and ideas." DeVos founded ArtPrize six years ago, an art festival that occupies three square miles of downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. For 19 days, "Art from around the world pops up in every inch of downtown, and it’s all free and open to the public."

When Rick DeVos came up with the idea for ArtPrize 5½ years ago, he wanted everyone to notice. “I followed the principle of the purple cow,” he says, referring to author Seth Godin’s concept that great products get people talking, as if they’d spied a purple cow, and gain visibility through word of mouth. So he created the world’s most lucrative art contest, with the biggest winners chosen by the public rather than experts.

There may be more prestigious awards for artists, such as the Guggenheim’s Hugo Boss Prize or the Tate’s Turner Prize. Yet none gives away more money than ArtPrize, which begins its fifth season on Wednesday and runs to Oct. 6. Before it’s over, organizers will bestow a total of $560,000 on winners in 16 categories, including a $200,000 award selected by the hundreds of thousands of people expected to visit the event here, a city otherwise known for furniture making, President Gerald Ford and a nickname it would rather forget—“Bland Rapids.”

Mr. DeVos, 32, is the grandson of Richard DeVos, a co-founder of Amway, the direct-selling company. His father, Dick DeVos, was the company’s CEO and an unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor of Michigan in 2006. The family name is on buildings all over their hometown, from the convention center and performance hall to the children’s hospital. ArtPrize is another result of the family’s philanthropy.

Rick DeVos spends most of his time in the stripped-down offices of Start Garden, a seed fund for entrepreneurs. Recent investments include, which provides live pictures of Santa Claus feeding his animals at Christmas time (and sells apps). Yet ArtPrize, with offices nearby, is his best-known start-up, an exercise in attention-getting venture philanthropy.

“I wanted to help develop a creative culture, one that’s open to new experiences and ideas,” Mr. DeVos says. “We’re very Midwestern here in Grand Rapids. Everybody does their thing and goes about their business. ArtPrize disrupts that.” Continue reading at Wall Street Journal