The artist Steve Lambert has two shots at winning $200,000 (one for the jury’s prize, the other for the public’s) tomorrow at this year’s ArtPrize, the Grand Rapids-based art competition. He also has a 1-in-4 chance of winning $20,000 in his category. And yet, in a recent blog post, he has said doesn’t want any of the money, at least not for himself.
Lambert has been shortlisted for Capitalism Works for Me! True/False (2011), a sculpture installation which has been touring Europe and America since 2011, and featured in competition at ArtPrize at the Kendall College of Art and Design. The work features the word “CAPITALISM” in big sans-serif lettering and adorned with lightbulbs, with a scoreboard under the sign that says “Works for me!” in cursive. Viewers get to pick for themselves “on their lives” whether capitalism works for them by pressing either the green “True” button or the red “False” button. The scoreboard then tallies their votes and displays their choices in digital numbers, as if picking the “True” choice were something like scoring a touchdown for a homecoming football team.
In a blog post titled “No Thanks ArtPrize,” Lambert, who hails from Beacon, New York, wrote about why he had apprehensions about winning any money. “I mean, I don’t have to tell you I could use the money,” Lambert wrote in the blog post, posted today with the subtitle “I’m Not Going to Keep the Money.” Lambert’s uneasiness about winning ArtPrize derives from the person supplying the prize money: Rick DeVos, the co-founder of ArtPrize and Amway, a multi-level marketing company devoted to the health, beauty, and car industries. As Lambert points out in his blog post, multi-level marketing is “a polite term for pyramid scheme,” in which a sales force receives money for their own sales as well as those performed by salespeople that they recruit.
DeVos’ family is also known for union-busting and supporting anti-gay organizations. (Although U.S. District Judge Bernard A. Friedman found Michigan’s ban on gay marriage to be unconstitutional earlier this year, many parts of Michigan continue to have problems with gay rights.)
“The DeVos family has, for generations, been on the wrong side of the fight for civil rights for LGBT people,” writes Lambert in his blog post, and to combat this, Lambert intends to give all his award money to the LGBT Fund of Grand Rapids, if he wins. He will also continue working with the Center for Artistic Activism, which has advocated for LGBT rights in Russia and Yugoslavia, and will now turn its eyes toward Western Michigan.
“I think the money behind ArtPrize is working against what I see as the spirit of art itself,” Lambert wrote at the end of his blog post. Read all of “No Thanks ArtPrize” here.