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This year try listening to ArtPrize

The Total Blam Blams play at The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids Saturday night. Jason and Nora Heystek front the band which is entering ArtPrize for the first time this year.
Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
The Total Blam Blams play at The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids Saturday night. Jason and Nora Heystek front the band which is entering ArtPrize for the first time this year.

ArtPrize 2011 begins Wednesday afternoon in Grand Rapids. Sound and performing arts will play a bigger role in this year’s contest. Music, ballet, and other performances are, after all, art. But there haven’t been a lot of entries in the past.

The winner of the art competition gets $250,000 in prize money. Organizers claim it’s the world’s largest art prize.

This is the third annual ArtPrize. The third time I’ve seen giant sculptures, breath-taking murals, funny and eye-opening drawings take over a three-mile zone in downtown.

This year there are more than 120 entries in the sound and performance categories. That’s still less than ten-percent of the more than 1,500 total entries.

Nick Weaver is helping put on Prospecto Musical Showcase and Sonic Experience. It’s a separate music showcase in the middle of ArtPrize. He thinks musical performers will have an advantage in the contest because it’s people who visit, not art critics, who determine the winner.

“Regardless of who you are, where you’re from, what your education level is, you are interacting with music on some level every single day,” Weaver said, “I think that’s one of the important parts of putting more music in ArtPrize is it makes it more accessible for more people.”

Weaver is super excited because he’s managed to recruit some of his favorite indie bands like Best Coast, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and Gringo Starto take part in ArtPrize.

Here's some of the videos the bands entered.



There’s also jazz musicians, up and coming pop singers and less recognizable bands in ArtPrize.

Husband and wife duo Nora and Jason Heystek front the band The Total Blam Blams.

“Power pop’ or ‘sleaze soul’ is usually the way I’ve describe (our music),” Nora said.

“I always tell people we try to play R&B but we’re a bunch of punk-rock white kids so it always ends up sounding like that,” Jason replies.

The Heysteks grew up playing music near Flint, mostly in rap groups. They both have regular day jobs. They tell me if they won any money at artprize, they’d probably use it pay down their mortgage.

Listening booths are set up where you can put on headphones to listen to musicians who’ve entered ArtPrize. Many will also perform live.

But music and performing arts are different than a painting or a sculpture. These entries move and change through time and space.

Jason Heystek isn’t convinced any musician has a real shot at winning ArtPrize.

“Its hard to reach people with a ‘put on these headphones and listen to this thing’ when you can assume go and do something else.”

The Heysteks say The Total Blam Blams are looking for exposure; any exposure. So really, they have nothing to lose.

“I like playing shows we shouldn’t play, places where we wouldn’t usually fit in,” Jason said, “Just so that different people would get to see the show – because it’s a good show we’re not just standing there noodling around, playing some kind of nonsensical arty crap.”

 We’re not really concerned about being cool,” Nora adds, “We really just want to play.”

You can catch The Blams live Friday night. A full line up of musicians and performers is online at ArtPrize.org.

ArtPrize runs through October 9th.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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