Safety Harbor artist couple cause a stir at competition with peace sign collection

Todd Ramquist and his partner Kiaralinda have been hoping voters in an art contest will give peace a chance.

Right now the two 49-year-old Safety Harbor artists are in Grand Rapids, Mich., taking part in a new, novel art competition called ArtPrize.

"They are grooving up the town," said their friend and fellow artist, Siobhan Nehin of Tarpon Springs.

The couple, who met during a seventh-grade art project, has amassed thousands of peace flags and strung them up with lights on a block in the downtown area of the city.

The peace flags were made by children, artists, former military, activists, and interested others from 42 countries.

"We solicited them on YouTube and through our e-mail list," said Ramquist, speaking by phone from Michigan .

They also invite passers-by in Grand Rapids to create their own peace flags to add to the installation.

Theirs is one of 1,262 entries scattered in and outside a variety of venues in the hometown of former President Gerald Ford. Any artist — novice or seasoned — could enter as long as a suitable venue was available.

ArtPrize, an international competition running Sept. 23 through Oct. 10, is billed as having the "world's largest art prize," with $449,000 divvied up amongst the top 10 finalists. The first-place winner gets $250,000.

It was the brainchild of Amway heir, Rick DeVos, a Grand Rapids native who hoped to bring visitors to the town in an artful way.

Call it the American Idol of art contests because everyday people — not a panel of elite judges — decide who the winner is.

The first week, registered voters attending the event gave works of art a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" by voting online or with their cell phones. More than 320,000 votes were cast in the first round.

The top 10 finalists were announced Thursday evening, and voters will be allowed to cast one more vote for the winner through Oct. 7. The winners and their places will be announced Oct. 8.

By Thursday, the couple knew they were not going to make the top 10, although they had been among the top 50 on some days.

However, a strange thing happened on the way to the ballot box.

The couple has landed on the apex of the "most controversial" list, which means that about half of the people who voted for them loved the exhibit, and about half the voters gave a thumbs down.

Ramquist is still scratching his head.

"The only thing I can say is, this is a conservative town," he said. "I think people liked the physical art rather than the abstract concepts."

Unfortunately, there are no prizes for the most controversial, but he said they are having a great time.

The couple, known for their whimsy, owns a house in Safety Harbor painted in lively tropical and adorned with hundreds of bowling balls. They have had public art installations in Citrus Park Mall as well as many local libraries and recreation centers.

For now, Ramquist is enjoying his role as the "peace peddler," riding a bike on the streets of Grand Rapids , all lit up with LED lights run from a car battery.

"It's really exciting to do this whole thing," he said, "and next year (he thinks in the spring) we're off to Hong Kong to wrap a church with peace flags."

To learn more

For more information about Art Prize, visit www.artprize.org/home

Unique contest

Learn more

For more information about the Art Prize competition, visit www.artprize.org/home

Safety Harbor artist couple cause a stir at competition with peace sign collection 10/01/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 1, 2009 8:54pm]

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