museums&MORE Winter 2011
Editor’s Letter: The Art of Retail

By Abby Heugel, Managing Editor

I’m going to take a minute to brag a bit, as something pretty cool happened in my city of Grand Rapids this fall – the second year of ArtPrize. The inaugural event was founded by the grandson of a local philanthropist as an experiment involving artists, venue owners and managers, and viewers casting votes for their favorite artwork, all operating as independently of each other as possible.

More than 1,700 artists from 21 countries and 44 states were showcased, basically making one big art gallery out of the city’s downtown. According to a local newspaper, “a three-square mile district of downtown Grand Rapids became a vast, urban exhibition of public art outdoors as well as inside museums, galleries, offices, stores, restaurants, pubs, coffee houses and a tattoo parlor.”
Instead of a panel of experts judging the art, ArtPrize winners were determined by public vote through mobile devices and the Internet.

The Top 10 finalists were unveiled and then viewers had another week to select the winners of $449,000 in prize money using e-mail, text messages and iPhone apps. More than 334,000 votes were cast during the event.

Another distinctive aspect of the competition was that it operated on an “all-media-welcome concept” intended to get people to look at art in a new way. What is “all-media-welcome?” Along with traditional painting and sculpture, artists have entered a giant dinette set atop a downtown bridge, a musically choreographed paper airplane drop, a long scroll of paper on which people wrote their recession stories and a massive Loch Ness-like monster in the middle of the Grand River.

What is art?
The question is obviously abstract, but the answer is much less important than the discussion. What this competition does is makes art accessible to people that otherwise might have had no interest. Children and families walk around the city with their project maps, people talk to each other about where they’ve been and what they’ve seen, museums and galleries are rediscovered or visited for the first time. In other words, it gets people talking about art.

My point isn’t to try and lure you to Grand Rapids next year, although you are more than welcome to come and explore, but rather to lure you to explore something new with your stores and capitalize on those events that are already happening in your area.

What can you do to garner excitement and get people talking about your destination and the products associated with it? If there are no events, team up with other local merchants and create one using both traditional and social media resources. While it might not take off right away, it will get the word out there, get people talking and keep your store on the radar.

This is our annual “Trends” issue and despite all the product innovations and retail statistics out there, the most important trend to keep in mind is “people, product, purchase.” Make sure you connect with the person before pushing the product, as it’s the personal relationships and discussions that will lead to the purchase.

That is the art of retail.

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