ArtPrize, an international art competition held in Grand Rapids, Mich., is quickly becoming a coveted destination for visual artists.

Started in 2009 by Rick DeVos, with funding from his family foundation, the showcase now attracts 1, 582 artists from 36 countries and 42 states. The competition is spread over 164 venues around Grand Rapids, an approach which won an “Our Town” grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in July. “We want to reboot the conversation with the public around the arts,” said Catherine Creamer, the executive director of ArtPrize.

The unusual exhibition style is combined with a departure from the expert juried panels. From the opening on September 21 until September 28 the public votes on all the art. Then the Top 10 works are announced on September 29 and the public can cast one vote for its favorite until October 5. The festival closes October 9.

Last year 465,000 votes were cast. Several specific categories, such as 3D, will be judged by professional artists.

“Paper Clips,” a submission for ArtPrize (Courtesy of Francie Hester and Lisa Hill)

Yvette M. Burton, Francie Hester and Lisa Hill are among the Washington area artists who entered the competition.

“Summer Dance,” by Burton is a giant blaze of orange and yellow.

"Summer Dance" by Yvette M. Burton, a submission for ArtPrize (Courtesy of Yvette M. Burton)

The prize money was attractive, says Burton, but there was more. ‘The fact that it is a public vote, that opens it up a lot. It just gives you an opportunity to get more exposure,” said Burton, who has lived in Herndon for about 1 year. By day Burton is an engineer and works for VW Passat car line. “It is a morning and night thing for sure,” she says of her art. “For me art is no different from eating a balanced meal every day.”

“Summer Dance” is a sculptured canvas, with Burton molding the canvas and making the lines rise. She went to 40 feet because that fit into her car. It will be hung at the Holiday Inn hotel.

“When I stepped back to look at it, it looks like a dance you would see in the Caribbean in the summer,” said Burton.

The artists are matched with their Grand Rapids venues and Hester received a call from the Mercantile Bank of Michigan asking her to exhibit.

“Paper Clips,” by Hester and Hill is a tribute to Diane Granat Yalowitz, a Washington writer, and Brendan Ogg, a young poet. Both died of brain cancer.

To pay tribute, Hester and Hill took the words of their friends’ writing and wrapped them around paper clips. “We have created 11 separate word columns. At the bottom of each column is a base. Under Diane’s pieces, I have painted on aluminum and then etched brain scans. Under Brendan's columns we are printing his poems.,’ said Hester, who has lived in the Washington area for about 30 years.

ArtPrize appealed to her because “it’s a very different concept. The public is voting, and you are getting unbelievable exposure,” Hester said .

In Grand Rapids the work is displayed for 19 days. The venues range from a coffee shop to a mechanics workshop to a theater. “We wanted to bring artists together and let the public curate,” said Creamer, the program’s executive director. The boundary of the displays are 3 -square miles from downtown Grand Rapids.

Exposure is guaranteed. “Any artist who participates has the work displayed on line,” said Creamer.

Art Prize has another connection to Washington. The Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation gave $22.5 million in May 2010 to support the arts management programs at the Kennedy Center. Grand Rapids was also the location of one of the institute’s capacity building programs. Dick DeVos is the former chief executive of Amway and Betsy DeVos is a member of the center’s board of trustees.