The Grand Rapids Convention & Visitors Bureau renamed itself Experience Grand Rapids in 2010, and the change is fitting, as the organization is actively working to frame the cultural experiences a visitor to Grand Rapids can expect.
“Trends today indicate that we should share the experiences of a place, not just list places to visit,” said Janet Korn, Experience Grand Rapids’ vice president of marketing.
“Grand Rapids has a wonderful selection and diversity of choices for arts experiences. They weave nicely with great food, craft beer and other forms of entertainment.”
One event unique to Grand Rapids is helping to shape the region’s arts and culture narrative in a meaningful way: ArtPrize. The annual event was created to be a very different kind of art competition, one that allows any artist in the world to compete, anyone with property in downtown Grand Rapids to turn their space into a venue and any visitor to vote for their favorite artwork online.
“ArtPrize is unlike anything else. To call it an event or exhibit is misrepresenting it,” Korn said.
Although ArtPrize is only in its fourth year (scheduled for Sept. 19 – Oct. 7), a study conducted by the Anderson Economic Group revealed that the 2011 ArtPrize event added $15.4 million to the Grand Rapids/Kent County economy, attracted more than 320,000 visitors and created more than 200 new jobs during its 19 days.
“Of course we have a lot of other arts and culture assets in the Grand Rapids area, like the symphony, opera, ballet, museums, Meijer gardens, a sculpture park, an art school and furniture designers, but ArtPrize brought awareness to the public and gave them a way to engage with what the artists are creating.”
Experience Grand Rapids has been actively building on that momentum, and over the last few years, has collaborated with The Cultural Marketing Group, which represents the different cultural institutions in Grand Rapids. The entities recognized the value in combining marketing efforts and launched the Culture Pass GR, a year-round discount card that provides access to exclusive savings and special offers to 24 partnering West Michigan arts and cultural organizations. The pass is free for members and subscribers of these organizations and is also included in culture pass hotel packages. Beginning this fall, it will be available in area Schuler Bookstores.
This year, Experience Grand Rapids received the Destination Marketing Association International’s 2012 Arts Destination Marketing Award for its role in the Culture Pass GR program. The Destination Marketing Award celebrates industry organizations and partner cultural institutions that have effectively used the arts to market the community as a distinctive travel destination.
“The award is an excellent example of how the synergy between destination marketing organizations and arts organizations plays a key role in building awareness in the marketplace by weaving a community’s cultural heritage into the narrative,” said Kerri VanderHoff, Cultural Marketing Group board president and director of marketing at Grand Rapids Art Museum.
Experience Grand Rapids also supported the Culture Pass initiative by leveraging its relationships with area lodging partners to develop the “Get Cultured” hotel package concept, resulting in new collaborations between hotels and the Culture Marketing Group. Participating hotels incorporated free Culture Passes into their signature “Get Cultured” packages, which offer hotel guests special rates and incentives.
“Tourism in GR is thriving,” Korn said. “We have a lot of visitors coming here to experience the arts, but we also have a great dining scene, and those two go hand-in-hand. We were recently recognized as Beer City USA for our craft beer here. Our food and beverage industry helps round out the Grand Rapids experience.”