ArtPrize seems like an apt venue for artist Steve Lambert's Capitalism Works for Me project. Arguably the art world's most populist high-profile event, the annual Grand Rapids–based festival allows visitors to vote on their favorites works, with winners in both juried and public-vote categories taking home anywhere from $20,000 to $200,000. Lambert's project, a mobile billboard/voting machine that invites passersby to weigh in—true or false—on the artwork's eponymous statement, is a finalist in both the juried and popular vote contests. And tomorrow could be Lambert's payday.
But today—the day before ArtPrize winners are revealed—Lambert took to Twitter to make a four-tweet announcement:
To those who know Lambert, the agonizing shouldn't come as a surprise. Co-founder of the Center for Artistic Activism (with Stephen Duncombe), he's more interested in art's role in making change than in making money.
Lambert hasn't publicly elaborated on his decision yet—although he's agreed to answer my questions about it later tonight—but a clue to his rationale might reside in his choice of the Grand Rapids Foundation's LGBT Fund as recipient of his potential winnings: ArtPrize is the brainchild of Rick DeVos, the grandson of Amway co-founder Rich DeVos, the multibillionare whose family has funded an array of political causes, and son of Amway former president (and Orlando Magic CEO) Dick DeVos and former Michigan Republican Party chair Betsy DeVos. As Matthew Power wrote for GQ in 2012, "the DeVoses have for decades quietly underwritten a mind-boggling array of free-market and evangelical-Christian causes. Pull back the curtain on a hot-button conservative issue, from anti-gay-marriage statutes to privatizing public education to the Citizens United case, and you'll find the extended DeVos family."
It's unclear, as Power states, to what degree the younger DeVos shares his family's conservative values on social issues, and ArtPrize staffers I've discussed the issue with over the past few years say his politics are far milder. His parent's family foundation is listed an as ArtPrize sponsor, and news reports state that ArtPrize finalist prize money has come from the foundation as well. Only Lambert can state whether this link is the key factor in his decision to give away his potential ArtPrize winnings.
Update: Here's my Q&A with Lambert about his decision.