A Step-by-Step Guide to Experiencing ArtPrize 2014 in Grand Rapids

ArtPrize 2014 kicks off in just a couple of weeks! Grand Rapids will hum with creative energy across three square miles of downtown as artists and visitors from around the world flock to display and view the artwork.

Photo courtesy of Experience GR

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

This world’s largest art competition boasts more than 4500 artists at 515 venues! If you’re heading to the event for the first time or want to see more of what the area has to offer, use this step-by-step guide for experiencing ArtPrize from Experience Grand Rapids.

The sixth year of ArtPrize®, held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, returns September 24-October 12. The largest art competition in the country will feature over 1,500 international works of art throughout a three square mile area. What truly sets ArtPrize apart though is the fact your vote helps select one of the winners of the $200,000 grand prize.

To help make your ArtPrize experience the best it can be, we’ve gathered the top five insider tips from experienced ArtPrize visitors both in and outside of Grand Rapids.

Plan Your Day

Stick-to-it-tive-ness Richard Morse 2012

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

Visit the ArtPrize website to see all 1,536 entries and start planning your “must see” exhibits. If you have an iPhone, iPad or Android device, download the ArtPrize app to search for specific entries or discover art near you when you come to town. You can also vote through the app-no need to wait in line! If you can swing it, plan more than one day to visit. Grand Rapids is home to many hotels downtown and in outlying areas to meet your overnight needs.

Pick a Parking Spot

Getting to ArtPrize early in the day will give you the most parking options. There are many downtown surface lots to choose from, and the Monroe Center Ramp provides one free hour of parking if you arrive between 8 am and 6 pm. Downtown parking meters are free after 6 p.m. Monday-Friday and most meters are free Saturdays while all are on Sundays. Don’t carry change in your pocket? Create an account to pay for parking via your cell phone.

Bus in

Why drive your car into the city, when you can leave it at participating Meijer stores and ride the bus!? Starting September 17, you can pick up two ArtPrize wristbands for only $5 at participating Meijer stores.  These wristbands give you unlimited rides on all Rapid, DASH and Silver Line buses all 19 days of ArtPrize. Wristbands are also available at the HUB and all Exhibition Centers.

Avoid the Crowds…or Not

Photo by Amanda Baarmen

Photo by Amanda Baarmen

The early bird gets the worm and fewer people on the streets at ArtPrize. Getting to ArtPrize early especially on day one not only helps you beat the crowds, you may even get to meet a few of the artists and speak to them about their work. Another way to manage the crowds is to visit Monday-Thursday when crowds are significantly less. And if you are a member of Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) you can get into GRAM two hours before the public to see nearly 20 ArtPrize entries.

But there is also an upside to additional people; especially when many are in town for the same reason. Being surround by likeminded people enjoying art, Grand Rapids and such a unique event can add energy and excitement to your day. Instead of “fighting the crowds,” soak in the amazing vibe of ArtPrize as you wander around the city and take it all in.

Explore ArtPrize

There are many ways to discover ArtPrize. To take any guesswork out of your day, download a self-guided tour for families and small groups available August 29. Speaking of groups, it’s a good idea to tour in smaller groups of two to four. Having fewer people to keep together makes it easier to get around. Then make plans with a larger group at a restaurant downtown to compare notes!

Another helpful tip is to bring your bicycle. Bikes make it easier to get to outlying venues and simply see more art since you can get from one venue to another that much quicker. You can also park a bit farther out of the city and ride in to avoid any parking jams.

Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes and clothes to ensure you can access any venue. It’s also a good idea to bring a sweater or dress in layers. The weather can be a bit unpredictable near the lakeshore!

Time to Eat

Brewery Vivant - Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

Brewery Vivant – Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

While you are enjoying the cultural feast, it’s easy to forget to eat physical food. Luckily, with over 100 restaurants in the downtown area, finding a place for a bite and a beverage isn’t too hard.

Since Grand Rapids is Beer City USA, stop into one of the many brewpubs for a pint and a nice little lunch. Or grab something to go and eat outside in front of your favorite outdoor art.

Whichever way you decide to spend your time at ArtPrize, remember there is no one way to visit ArtPrize. Make the experience yours and have a blast.

Have you been to ArtPrize? Tell us your helpful tips and tricks for first-time ArtPrize visitors.

Have Appetite, Will Travel: A Guide to Grand Rapids Restaurant Week 2014

Restaurant Week Grand Rapids is happening August 13-24, 2014. Sixty restaurants offer three-course tasting menus featuring their culinary team’s skills and the West Michigan harvest. Molly Crist, Experience Grand Rapids blogger and Onward Travel tour operator, fills us in on this year’s RWGR highlights.

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

Grand Rapidians love food, beer, wine, and getting out on the town… which makes Restaurant Week one of the best times of the year in our corner of the Mitten. It’s time to head to West Michigan and warm a restaurant seat while soaking up the waning summer because RWGR is happening Wednesday, August 13 to Sunday, August 24. Read on for highlights of this year’s event that combines creative chefs, a range of beverages, the peak of Michigan’s harvest, and summertime revelry.

Great food for a terrific value

Three-course menus are $28 per person, though you’ll find two for $28 at several restaurants: Lindo Mexico, Rezervoir Lounge, Fajita Republic and Osta’s Lebanese Cuisine. Check out Fajita Republic’s DIY guacamole – fresh haas avocados with a selection of toppings (spiced pepitas, pico de gallo, bacon, chiles, oh my!) that you can mix until your heart’s content.

Perfect timing

August is the height of harvest in West Michigan. It’s the best time of the year for farmers markets and gardeners (holy summer squash!), which means locavore chefs are smiling, too. RWGR menus celebrate the bounty and your taste buds will, too. From sweet corn, to heirloom tomatoes, to Great Lake fish, it doesn’t get any fresher.

Food and beverage pairing

Alambre_Especial1

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

This year’s theme is Perfect Pairings. GR’s reputation as Beer City USA is well established with fifteen craft breweries and more popping up all the time. The Great Lake’s ability to insulate coastal farmland, keeping it cool in summer and preventing a bitter freeze in winter, means Michigan has a climate for wine production, and fortunately many local producers are creating delicious wines. Distilleries are popping up around the state, with creative spirits growing in popularity. To celebrate Michigan’s status as a beverage-producing-triple-threat – not to mention all the carefully roasted and brewed coffees – RWGR’s theme emphasizes the art of pairing food and drink.

CitySen is featuring a Southern-Style American menu, from Fried Green Tomatoes, to Chicken and Waffles, to Pecan Pie. Try the Baby Back Ribs braised in Bell’s Oberon paired with a pint of Oberon mixed with Founders’ Rubaeus, a good complement to the fruity house-made BBQ sauce.  Bar Divani has an eclectic, flavor-forward-menu that offers an appetizer, salad, and entree – try starting with the Pulled Pork Rangoons with Sesame Chili Sauce, paired with a glass of Noel Bougrier Vouvray.

Local beverages are in the food, too!

In addition to pairing food and drink, chefs are cooking with locally-made beverages. At Grand Rapids Brewing Company, you can enjoy Michigan’s only certified organic brewery and chef-inspired, gourmet cuisine. The Brewer’s Flan on GRBC’s RWGR menu is a chocolate stout custard with cocoa nibs, salted caramel and mint, no doubt delicious with some stout in your glass, too. The Rubeaus Cheesecake at Licari’s is quite decadent, too, with Amoretti Cookie crust and a suggested pairing of Ferris Coffee Nicaraguan brew or Atwater’s Decadent Chocolate Stout.

Do good while dining

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

One dollar from each meal goes towards a scholarship fund at the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education at Grand Rapids Community College. Since 2010, RWGR participating restaurants have donated almost $75,000 to the fund. It’s all about growing our local food culture in Grand Rapids, from farms to classrooms.

Cocktail competition

Local mixologists at participating RWGR restaurants are shaking it up for the Grand Cocktail competition that debuts August 6. Mixologists will vie to win an all-expense paid trip to Woodford Reserve in Kentucky. You can participate by sipping cocktails around town and voting at restaurantweekgr.com. Start at Judson’s at the B.O.B. with a sip of their Bufala Negra, a seasonal concoction of Woodford Reserve, basil, brown sugar, ginger beer and balsamic brown sugar simple syrup. Cheers, indeed!

Be a part of the fun

Beyond the tantalizing food choices, RWGR is an annual dining highlight because of the bustling atmosphere and feeling of culinary-inspired revelry.

Take advantage of an opportunity to visit a spot that might normally be out of your price range, a newly opened restaurant, or a place you’ve never been. invite your friends and enjoy wonderful food, a bustling city, a walkable downtown with many dining choices, and al fresco dining options to make the most of the beautiful summer nights ahead.

Do you plan to check out Grand Rapids Restaurant Week? 

Seven Things You Should Know About Grand Rapids as Beer City, USA

Grand Rapids, MI proudly held the title of Beer City, USA in the year 2013. Today, guest blogger Lyndsay Isreal from Experience Grand Rapids shares seven interesting things to know about Beer City, USA.

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

The Beer City, USA Contest has officially ended, and Grand Rapids is proud to retire the title! Here are 7 interesting facts about Beer City – and how the competition has helped boost an already-booming beer industry in West Michigan:

1. Grand Rapids tied with Asheville, NC in 2012 with 17,849 votes. In 2013, they put a stake in the ground with 27,005 votes in a week-long online poll. The Grand Rapids Society of Brewers (GRSOB), taproom owners, taptenders and enthusiasts headed all over town to encourage people to vote.

2. The vote was founded in 2009 by Colorado homebrewer Charlie Papazian as a nonscientific poll to put the spotlight on tasty beers. Portland, Oregon, Asheville and Grand Rapids are the only cities that have won! (Asheville won three years and then split the win with GR in 2012) Kate Avery of Brewery Vivant says that “Beer City put GR on the map…and now we’re lucky to have the competitors and companions Beer City nurtured”.

Photo courtesy of Brewery Vivant

Photo courtesy of Brewery Vivant

3. Beer City has led to more and better homebrewing. Jason Warnes, a dedicated member of his homebrew club The Brewsquitos, is now co-head brewer at The Mitten Brewing Co. He agrees that Beer City is changing the homebrew community. “We have almost doubled the size of the group in the last two years. Not only that, the brewers themselves have become better. Breweries also have been more active in getting homebrew clubs in their tap rotation, through homebrew competitions that the brewery hosts. Suppliers have increased in the past few years too, there are now several places to choose to buy your homebrew supplies.”

4. The festivals, releases, and food-pairing events all over town have garnered national attention…and tons of beer tourism.  Cool Brews. Hot Eats. 2014 was an opportunity for chefs all over town to show a little love for the craft beverages…and they knocked it out of the park, using beer and cider in unique menu items that had locals dining out every night for.  The Michigan Brewers Guild hosts three beer festivals a year, and selling out in the first ten minutes is no longer uncommon.  Founder’s famous KBS had people camping out in Michigan March weather for two days to leave with bottles of the cave-aged imperial stout.  That’s dedication.

Photo courtesy of The Mitten Brewing Co.

Photo courtesy of The Mitten Brewing Co.

5. The Beer City Ale Trail Map was released this winter by Experience Grand Rapids with thirty-two Grand Rapids craft beverage hot spots on it. That’s a lot of stops for one city! Make sure you request an Ale Trail Map at the next GR brewery you visit so that you can check them off one by one…preferably not in one weekend.

6. Our craft beer obsession in GR has fostered growth in all sorts of complimentary industries: cider, hotels, restaurants, distilleries and wineries. Jason Lummen, founder of The People’s Cider Company, is grateful for Beer City. “Beer culture makes projects like mine possible”, and amidst so much variety, “we’ve created an adventurous consumer”. Hotels in Grand Rapids have embraced the enthusiasm and now offer all sorts of beer packages when special events are happening in town. Growler fills, t-shirts, and even Brew and Renew spa packages (hint-at the JW Marriot) are options for people booking for a beer fest.

7. Beer City has come to an end! In a surprise move by Papazian, 2013’s poll was declared the final contest. Good beer has been spotlighted and Grand Rapids couldn’t be more thrilled. When asked if the trend was about to die down, Avery, Wanhatalo, Warnes and Lummens all gave a resounding No. Wob Wanhatalo, co-head brewer with Warnes, says that “The timing was right. It won’t level off, the culture for craft beer established in GR is all about eating, drinking and being social- at each place you get something different. It’s why I do what I do.”

What is your favorite thing about Grand Rapids, Beer City, USA?

Lyndsay Israel originated in Northern Michigan and is now a dedicated Grand Rapids resident.  When she grows up, the plan is to teach high school English and Chemistry classes.  She writes to show how much she loves the mitten state!  Look for her articles at The Awesome Mitten and Experience GR, or follow her on Twitter @lyndsayisrael.