Art Loop Open announces winner after finalists’ dispute

By Meghan Keyes

One hundred ninety-one pieces of artwork created by Chicagoland artists had a shot at a $25,000 first prize awarded to the recipient of the most text messaged votes from Oct. 15 to 28. The finalists were announced on Oct. 22, but after a disqualification and a reinstating for one artist, the top 10 became a top 11.

As previously reported in The Chronicle on Oct. 18, Art Loop Open is a competition held in 10 non-traditional venues scattered throughout the Loop, including hotel lobbies and shopping centers. The competition continues amid controversy regarding voting rules and what some see as unfair conditions.

Bernard Williams was one of the top 10 artists. His piece, “Buffalo Chart,” featured in Block 37, was an installation of symbols representing American culture, according to his artist’s statement.

Shortly after the top 10 were announced, Williams was disqualified on the grounds he had published his voting number. The rules stated an artist could not promote his or her number other than the posting next to his or her work in the venue. The Art Loop Open jurors were alerted by a flyer allegedly distributed at Columbia, by someone other than Williams, in faculty members’ mailboxes with Williams’ number on it.

“I thought I had a spectacular piece I could put in public, attract a lot of attention and I think get the kind of votes that might win a prize,” Williams said. “We know a public vote is not necessarily about best work in competition. It has a lot to do with networking … a mix of the best work and best promotion.”

Williams said his disqualification was wrongful. He was reinstated to the top 10, now a top 11, as of Oct. 26, but the voting period was not amended.

“We realized how much widespread misunderstanding there was about the rules and our own flaw is designing the system of voting,” said Carolina Jayaram, executive director for Chicago Artists’ Coalition, one of the event planners for Art Loop Open. “In order to wipe the slate clean for round two and make it fair for the top 10, we decided to allow the publishing of numbers.”

Many artists agree with the decision because monitoring the social networking of participants proved challenging.

“There’s no way to see who’s sneaking around rules,” said artist John Dempsey, the first prize winner. “The people who put this on did a great job … their communication with the artists has been outstanding, they’ve been great at promoting everyone’s art and the top 11 people.”

Another artist, Colleen Plumb, expected some controversy from a first-year competition of this scale.

“It’s not a fair way of voting by any means, but I understand the spirit of it,” Plumb said. “The intention was not to be unfair—it’s a good thing to get people out and looking at work. It seems almost impossible to be fair.”

Jayaram said the experience has been positive overall and hopes next year will be smoother.

“The community response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Jayaram said. “Even the criticism has been constructive. We were open to feedback from the beginning. We hope to make it better each year.”