Cancer-stricken artist vows ‘If it’s the last thing I do’ Rockford artist Mark Heckman refuses to be down in the mouth about his health when winning ArtPrize could give him another shot at realizing his dream of creating a lasting monument to Grand Rapids. Heckman, who is battling stage III non-Hodgkins lymphoma, is unveiling a series of artistic billboards to draw attention to his renewed effort to erect a giant tooth sculpture to honor the city as the first in the nation to fluoridate its water. “I don’t want sympathy – I want votes,” said Heckman, who has adopted the persona of The Tooth Fairy for his artistic campaign. “I’m going to keep fighting tooth and nail for this project—if it’s the last thing I do.” His ArtPrize entry centers around a number of CBS outdoor billboards in downtown Grand Rapids, including the tongue-in-cheek “First In Fluoride” which depicts George Washington and the Tooth Fairy crossing the city’s Grand River with a mammoth molar. “It’s a fact that the father of our country had terrible dentures,” Heckman said, noting that Washington had lost all but one of his teeth by the time of his inauguration. “He probably should have spent more time brushing and less time cutting down cherry trees.” Heckman, who has garnered worldwide attention with his billboards about AIDS, racism and various environmental issues, has also painted a pair of side-by-side billboards that promote Grand Rapids Tap Water with the advertising slogan, “Tastes Great. Less Fillings.” “I feel the art world has a giant cavity that is waiting to be filled with my project,” he said. “There is no question that a giant tooth would draw attention to Grand Rapids’ place in dental history.” ArtPrize, which has drawn artists from around the world to the biggest competition of its kind, will be decided by a public vote between Sept. 23 and Oct. 7.
Local artist among hundreds vying for $250,000 Linda Bassford of Rockford has entered her art in ArtPrize. She’ll compete with artists from all over the world for nearly one-half million dollars in prize money, including $250,000 to the artist who receives the most public votes. ArtPrize will run from Sept. 23 through Oct. 10 in Grand Rapids. ArtPrize will have no formal jury, curator or judge. The visiting public will register to vote and decide who wins the prizes, using mobile devices and the Internet. Bassford plans to enter a wall mural of a Michigan landmark, the lighthouse at Grand Haven. She says the mural for Degage Ministries in Grand Rapids was created to inspire patrons of the ministry who often take trips to Grand Haven during the summer. ArtPrize art works and performances, professional and amateur, will be exhibited at hundreds of venues, all within a three-square-mile area in Grand Rapids’ downtown riverfront district. The city has offered up parks and bridges for outdoor venue displays. Scores of businesses will convert lobbies and public space for displays. The Midwest city of nearly 200,000, and a larger metro area population of more than one million, will become an art gallery. Grand Rapids is the home of the internationally recognized Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, which showcases one of the world’s foremost collections of modern and contemporary sculptures, including pieces from well-known artists such as Moore, Oldenberg, Goldsworthy, Plensa and many more. In 2006, the city hosted a large-scale exhibit by Tom Otterness, considered one of the premier public artists, which attracted more than 750,000 visitors. The city recently built and opened the world’s first LEED gold certified art museum. For more information about ArtPrize, go to artprize.org.