Letts’ Work Featured in ArtPrize Competition

ArtPrize, an unprecedented competition that awarded more than $500,000 based on a public vote, was held Sept. 23-Oct. 10 in Grand Rapids. More than 1,260 worldwide artists participated, including Michael Letts (Art and Design).

“I didn’t make the top 10, but I wasn’t expecting to, either,” he said. “It was great exposure because thousands of people went to Grand Rapids for the event. They had a rare opportunity to see many original works by significant artists in a concentrated area.

"It took considerable time, effort and cost on the artists’ part, but the visibility was worth it. I would definitely consider doing it again. The idea was to get the public involved and initiate a dialogue about art and hopefully increase appreciation of diverse art forms.”

ArtPrize transformed a three-mile district through downtown Grand Rapids into an exhibit space. Letts said artists paid an entry fee, created a Web page featuring their work and then applied to a particular venue in the hope of showing there. Each venue had its own jurying process. He was one of about 30 artists from 1,100 applicants selected to display pieces in the highly coveted DeVos Place—considered among the top 10 venues for the city-wide show.

Visitors had to register in person at a venue in order to cast a vote of thumbs up or down at a computer kiosk or via text message on site, or after the fact online. The first-place winner received $250,000.

Letts entered a series of four acrylic-on-canvas panels, each measuring 5 feet by 6 feet. They were titled (from left to right below) Monument, The Curve, Two Hearts One River and Plum Beach. In his artist statement, he wrote: “My paintings echo the northern forests of Michigan in every season. But the images represent more than the visual. Evocative of deeper experiences, they personify the landscape as metaphor. The paintings are drawn from specific places that resonate in memory, places that strike with their presence, enchanted places. They recall the vision quests and rites of passage of a time when we lived closer to our spirits.”

Letts was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula. He received his BFA from NMU in 1984, an MFA from Ohio State University and a Michigan teaching certificate in art and English from NMU. He teaches art education courses.  

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