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One man on an ArtPrize mission

Bill Terkeurst

When the ArtPrize winners are announced this weekend, a few talented artists will go home thousands of dollars richer, and many of those involved with the Grand Rapids arts community will, we assume, go home and take a nap. But if he plays his cards right – and if venues don't close early, foiling his carefully laid plans -- one local man will go home with the satisfaction of having quietly visited every single venue for the fourth year in a row.
When the ArtPrize winners are announced this weekend, a few talented artists will go home thousands of dollars richer, and many of those involved with the Grand Rapids arts community will, we assume, go home and take a nap. But if he plays his cards right – and if venues don't close early, foiling his carefully laid plans -- one local man will go home with the satisfaction of having quietly visited every single venue for the fourth year in a row.
 
Meet Bill Terkeurst, one of many interesting people involved with ArtPrize 2014. He's not an artist, not a judge, not even an organizer. He's a Grand Rapids computer programmer-turned-art-lover who makes it his mission to make the most of the city-turned-gallery each year.
 
Does he see every single piece? Well, not exactly.
 
"I confess, I'm confident I don't see every piece because in some of the venues stuff is tucked around the corner, and almost every year there's at least one venue that's closed when I get there," says Terkeurst, who prefers to see the art during the day and takes vacation time from his job to do so.
 
But if he misses a painting here and a sculpture there, it's not for lack of trying. This year, for the fourth year in a row, Terkeurst has set out to visit every single ArtPrize venue over a four-day period. With just a venue map, a camera, and his lifelong love of art and architecture, he begins, as any good northender would, at the Choo Choo Grill before methodically working his way through each location, snapping photos all the while and enjoying every minute.
 
"Because of my love of architecture, I love being downtown. I spend a lot of time looking up at the buildings. Back when I grew up, downtown was just a part of me," says Terkeurst, who was born and raised in Grand Rapids, graduated from Creston High, and attended Grand Rapids Community College and Hope College before moving to the east side of the state to teach. He returned to West Michigan in the early 90s and is now a computer programmer with Hewlett Packard.
 
He plans his ArtPrize strategy meticulously, describing how he prints out, zooms in, and sections the venue map before planning out a street-by-street route. He typically takes two days to hit all the outlying venues that require driving and two days (sometimes more) to tackle downtown. His intentional approach allows him to get to less-visited venues that others don't always see – he mentions The Mitten Brewing Company, Bridgewater Place, and Monroe Community Church as sleeper spots that tend to have great pieces – and it factors in another element as well: food.
 
"You have to make sure you get to all the right restaurants at the right time," he says, mentioning Founders, Grand Rapids Brewing, and Z's as personal favorites. "You get your burger and beer to refresh and you keep on going."
 
Terkeurst has voted every year. While his money is on Intersections as the big winner this year, he says there aren't many obvious winners, adding that "there are another dozen or so that I really loved, and many of those weren't downtown."
 
He also pays attention to the way the event has subtly changed its structure each year, and he approves: "I've been pleased that they've listened to the public, the jurors, the critics, and they've slowly evolved every year."
 
Part of his motivation to take it all in, he says, comes from seeing the rejuvenation that has happened in the city since he returned, as well as watching a handful of returning artists evolve and succeed over the years. And of course, it's about the art.
 
"I love the innovation and the ideas that people have, the use of materials, just the creative things that people do," he says. He says he lets his heart tell him how much time to spend with each piece and tries to document much of the art he views, typically putting together a 60-shot photo album of each day's journey. He makes his albums public on Facebook, which allows him to extend his experience exploring the city into something he can talk about with friends near and far.
 
"I have friends who used to live here who can live vicariously through me," he says, and adds that the photos also tend to spark conversations with local friends who may have already seen the pieces and who want to critique, debate, and discuss. "Even friends who go to a lot of the event, we end up in our own little dialogue with each other."
 
These conversations – both in person and online – are what Terkeurst says, when pressed, ArtPrize is truly "about."
 
"It's a lot of the conversations. Whoever I'm standing next to, I almost always make a comment, just to start up a dialogue about the subject, the use of material . . . I remember standing there last year looking at the wall-of-mud mural underneath one of those buildings along the river: Really? Mud? They're making art with mud now?" Terkeurst laughs. "The chance to talk to a total stranger you're meeting for 15-20 seconds and share a thought or an opinion," he continues, "and getting people downtown are the biggest benefits of ArtPrize."

Stephanie Doublestein is the managing editor of Rapid Growth Media.
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