ArtPrize Finalist Steve Lambert Doesn’t Want the Money

Steve Lambert, Capitalism Works For Me: True/False at the 2014 ArtPrize Photo: Cait Munro

Artist Steve Lambert is a finalist for the jury award at ArtPrize 2014, which comes with a $200,000 cash prize. He is also a jury finalist for his category, which gives him a one in four shot at taking home at least $20,000 tonight when the winners are announced. It’s a lot of money. And he has no intention of taking it.

Lambert, like many of the more established artists participating in the contest, entered because a curator asked him. He believed he had little shot of taking home the prize money, but wanted to participate in the show at Kendall College of Art and Design, where his piece, Capitalism Works For Me: True/False, is currently on display. He, like many artists, critics, and casual observers, takes issue with a host of things about the contest, especially the family history of ArtPrize’s founder, Rick DeVos.

In a post on his personal website titled “No Thanks ArtPrize,” Lambert writes: “What bothers me the most is the DeVos family has, for generations, been on the wrong side of the fight for civil rights for LGBT people. And they back their opinions with millions in political money against civil rights. It’s a long story, but the end is: they haven’t changed.”

As a response to the family’s ongoing oppression of LGBT people, Lambert has pledged that if he wins any prize money tonight he will immediately hand it to the LGBT Fund of Grand Rapids. Despite the fact that he could certainly use the money, he explains, “I had to ask myself, how bad does it have to be for me to say no to the money? In this situation, where is my line? And I realized, ‘oh, it’s behind me.'”

Winning ArtPrize has been a career-changing event for artists in the past. Winners are awarded not only copious sums of money, but also massive attention from press, curators, and art collectors. This year, it could be a similarly life-changing experience for the underrepresented LGBT community of western Michigan.

UPDATE: In a statement on the ArtPrize website, exhibitions director Kevin Buist responds to Lambert’s decision, writing: “Lambert’s announcement isn’t a plea for votes, it’s a political statement, and we welcome it.” He goes on to list the sources of funding for ArtPrize’s cash awards, which break down like so:

31% comes from foundations. This includes the our founding sponsor the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, as well as about a dozen others, including the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.

5% comes from federal, state, and local government sources (thank you, taxpayers!).

55% comes from corporate giving. This is a long list of local and international brands, led by Meijer, PNC Bank, Kendall College of Art and Design, and Amway Corporation.

9% comes from our individual and family membership programs, ArtFan and ArtClub.

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