Congratulations to this year’s People’s Choice Award winner Mathew Pierce! The sophomore from Ottawa Hills High School captured the imaginations of voters with his work Striped Hyena. In his artist statement, he helped us ponder the important role hyenas play in the circle of life, although fans of the Lion King will always be a little suspicious of them.

We also offer congratulations to the winner of the juried Smart Art award, Joshua Kortenhoven. The 9th grader from City HMS impressed judges with his work Green Shoes. His  focus on traveling by foot earned him a $2,000 college scholarship courtesy of Consumers Energy.

Kortenhoven’s artwork, along with the art from top 20 finalists, is on display during ArtPrize in the window display at 40 Monroe Center St. NW #105. A large banner hanging outside the Consumers Energy electric substation downtown at Fulton Street and Market Avenue features the work from the top 10 finalists. ArtPrize concludes October 1, 2023.





Editor’s Note: VOTING IS NOW CLOSED. Thank you for participating!

One of our favorite fall traditions is hosting SmartArt, a partnership between ArtPrize, Grand Rapids Public Schools and Consumers Energy. The idea is simple, challenge student artists to create their best work on renewable energy and reward the best of the best.

One aspect of SmartArt is the People’s Choice Award. It’s where readers like you get a chance to see the art, read the artists’ statements , and vote for the one you feel is best. This year’s field is a little larger in celebration of 10 years of SmartArt!

If you are ready to learn more about the art, let your journey begin.


Biomass is an often-unfamiliar term that describes an ancient form of energy production, the burning of plant and animal matter. The focal point of this piece is my rendition of The Girl with A Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer. I chose to revise this classic painting to illustrate how old industrial methods resulted in environmental damage. As climate change now envelops the world, we are left to rectify the issues caused by generations of people who did not know the devastating effects of pollution. I believe that for many people, environmental issues are indeed like old paintings; while they are framed in public view, they are strictly hands off.

As biomass is one of the oldest energy sources, it plays into the theme that climate change is not a new phenomenon. Humans have changed the course of the world from the moment they learned to harness energy. In this same way, one of the solutions to climate change could be to go back to our roots. Wood emits even more carbon than coal and burning biomass results in huge amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, being released into the atmosphere. However, if excess crops are burned and replaced with new crops, we could harvest energy and neutralize the Carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere. The girl in the painting is looking to a future where with burning comes replenishing, and ancient solutions may be the key to solving current problems.


Economic Greed

Corporate workers don’t realize how the actions of industrial companies are affecting the earth. I’ve heard people say that they don’t care about climate change because they don’t think it’s affecting us and won’t affect us anytime soon. While that’s partially true, it is not affecting us Michiganders as much as the rest of the world. So many other places are being affected. So many countries are suffering from air pollution, and people are dying from it. So much wildlife is dying and losing habitats because we need more space. Now don’t get me wrong, progress is necessary for humanity. If we don’t find new things to accomplish, we won’t have any point in living anymore.

The economy must thrive or else the world will fall into chaos, but there are so many better options, sometimes more efficient ways to do things. Powering everything by geothermal or solar energy, for example. I understand this is expensive, but it is still possible.

We need more plant life in urban areas as well. While this is not a BIG solution, it’s something we can ALL contribute to and make it bigger. In my piece I show a skeleton holding a phone, and behind him is the earth, breaking apart. Next to the skeleton, there is a sign saying “We found a solution, Ignorance!” to represent our thoughts on the issue. There are many people who help solve this problem, but it is not enough. We need the world to change.


Sunclimbers explores humanity’s exploitation and disconnection from the natural forces that govern our lives. It shows humans summiting each pillar of season, seeing nature as a thing to be conquered and used up reaching for the top and struggling to climb each pillar. To the humans, this is viewed as a challenge, with one figure falling off and many in strained positions. Once they reach the top, they have nowhere to go, paralleling the use of non-renewable resources for energy. However, the flora and fauna floats all through the piece with no obstructions, showing the natural flow of seasons and energy in a circular fashion against humanity’s desires to conquer and exploit. This piece was done with ink pen over a pencil outline, and I focused on improvising as much as I could after that, highlighting rich textures through extensive stippling and hatching.

The Veil

The climate crisis is arguably the most pressing problem in the world today, as well as the root of all my anxieties. I feel many people seem detached and indifferent when it comes to this topic, and my passion is to change that. This piece is The Veil, representing the tendency of people to turn a blind eye to an issue that seems too big to fix- in this case the climate crisis, as a self-soothing mechanism. The lush tropical leaves in the foreground are what people pretend is there to continue living life normally, when, in reality, there exists skulls and a bare wasteland in the background, as a representation that the weight of the situation is much worse than we are initially seeing. The human skull and the mountain goat skull being the same size symbolize that we caused a crisis that has ruined the natural world and will one day be our demise if we don’t take vigorous and decisive action now. The brunt of climate change is typically experienced by lower income individuals that struggle to recover after a climate-caused disaster like a flood or hurricane. Those that are typically shielded from these harsh realities find it easier to disregard the facts, as they have never experienced it first-hand. I want to show people that it’s not too late, but it takes more than words, thoughts, and prayers to make ripples- it takes action.

Green Shoes

I’ve come to realize that motorized transportation has a significantly negative impact on our environment. In this piece, I wanted to convey a message that using our feet, instead of our cars both produces less pollution and gives us a valuable opportunity to observe the world where we live and take time to enjoy beauty in things we wouldn’t otherwise notice.

Through my art, I aimed to exhibit the idea of walking, biking, and unicycling, not just as a means of transportation but also a way to connect with our surroundings; slowing us down and giving us a chance to appreciate our lives.

In contrast, commuting via cars often creates a sense of detachment from our environment, because of its fast-paced nature it makes us feel less physically present in the space that we’re in, making us more of an observer, rather than a participant in our communities and environments. Moreover, the environmental impact of motor travel cannot be ignored.

My piece depicts the beauty and serenity of foot travel, with a focus on the simple pleasures that come from physically being in a space, like feeling the ground beneath our feet and breathing in fresh air. I hope my work inspires others to reconsider their relationship with transportation and embrace the beauty of walking and biking, not only for personal well-being, but also the health of our planet.


I have named this painting, “Healing”. This title means to me that using renewable energy can help the world heal and become a better place. I’m sure every being on Earth would like to breathe clean air and be able to live without pollution. For the world to heal, it must start using smarter energy first. The piece shows a landscape, a flowing river, a wind turbine, and a large lady in the back. This is supposed to represent Mother Nature, and how using renewable energy can help make the world a better place. There are ducks and birds, showing how animals can also benefit from renewable energy. As for who or what inspired my artwork, it was Te Fit from Moana. I enjoy the idea of Mother Nature, and so I wanted to incorporate that into my painting. The painting is expressing a sense of calm, and peace. Nature is how it’s supposed to be, filled with life. This painting will inspire the viewer to make the world as pleasant as it is in the painting. And to do that, we have to start using renewable energy. In conclusion, I hope my painting can inspire and jumpstart the global use of renewable energy.

Mother Earth

This art piece depicts what the world is like with and without renewable energy. On the right side you can see a beautiful, bright, shiny Mother Earth.

She appears to be very happy and clean with beautiful blue oceans and bright, healthy green grass. She even has wind turbines, and she seems to be thriving. The atmosphere around her is bright and is clean. This shows what the world is like with renewable energy. The atmosphere is clean, and the Earth thrives. With these wind turbines the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere is limited and reduced due to the lesser need for these gases to be produced to make energy. On the other side of the painting is a dark and grey Mother Earth. There is smoke all around her and even her hair is made of gases. She is brown and dying.

There is one single stream of water, her tears, flowing from her eyes. This half of the painting shows what happens if we don’t reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced into the atmosphere and don’t start using renewable energy. The lightning bolt separating these two sides of the world represents how quickly the Earth’s health can decline just like how quickly lightning strikes. My overall goal while creating this piece was to show what life is like with and without renewable energy and to send the message that renewable energy can seriously benefit our planet.

Striped Hyena

The striped hyena is a species of hyena native to North and East Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Hyenas are neither a part of the dog or cat families. Instead, they are so unique they belong to their own family called Hyaenidae.

Because of movies like the Lion king, Hyena’s have been made to look like evil creatures. But if you were to study hyenas, you would see that is far from the truth. Hyenas are highly intelligent creatures and often work as a collective in their social groups, and are very attentive parents to their kids. They are also nature’s garbage disposals with stomach acid powerful enough to fully digest bones no matter the species. So they play an important part in Africa’s circle of life in the wild.


The whales in the painting represent our society. As the whale matures over time, it uses cleaner energy to help maintain a safer and cleaner environment for all. A sustainable environment creates a space for nature to grow and produce life that will help everyone and every animal on Earth.

There is trash in the water to represent how we are treating the Earth now. However, as you change your view to the right of the painting, the water is cleaner and clearer, trash is less, and animals are thriving and prominent. Humans have destroyed the environment for animals that have been here forever. The whales in the painting are carrying the weight of what humans have done to the world, and represent the burden that they carry, which is not their own.

Hopefully as we move towards cleaner and sustainable energy, we can lessen this burden and begin to provide an Earth that is better for everyone.

Just Another Rainforest of the Sea

“Just Another Rainforest of the Sea” represents how coral reefs are dying at a fast rate. The coral reefs are being threatened with death by many actions such as the ocean’s temperature rising, overfishing, rising sea levels, and many other human-caused problems. Crown of thorn is an invasive species that also harms the reefs by eating the coral alive. Humans need to reduce our footprint on coral reefs. We need to keep the rainforests of the sea safe and protected because coral reefs are home to a wide variety of marine life, like turtles, carbs, fish, starfish, and other living organisms. I chose to use acrylic paint for my piece so it can make everything more vibrant. And to make the contrast more noticeable. I used almost all the colors in the rainbow. The piece is supposed to represent the coral reef fading away and dying, and that we should protect our rainforests of the sea.

Power Cleaner Greener World

I was born with technology in my hands. I don’t remember what happened to the devices I played on, that was 17 years ago, and chances are they were thrown away. This practice is unacceptable and letting electronic devices end up in the landfills or waters is not a long-lasting plan for our earth. The future needs to focus on requiring all electric devices to be recycled, including all parts of the device. Let’s shatter the amount of electric waste ending up in our ecosystem.

Let’s use our power to recycle parts of outdated electronic devices. Devices need to be taken to the proper recycle centers. Easier, accessible drop off locations would help communities recycle electronic devices.

Not everything is broken. We all need to look deeper into our own reflection to see if we are participating in a clean world. I believe we can make this world greener by recycling electronic devices.


Art has many different points of views and meaning. In “Stories”, I’m focusing on the environment and the planet. Each of my feathers has a meaning to the affects of non-renewable energy and what it does to the environment. The blue feather represents the melting snow, ice, and the rising sea levels. The orange feather represents the increase of forest fires and the burning of materials to make energy. The green feather represents loss of animal habitat, loss of food for animals, and the lack of animal reproduction. Finally, the stick is the earth that we are trying to save. Many people don’t realize the impact of their actions on the earth until it’s already done, such as throwing trash on the ground, making new machines that require gas, burning fossil fuels, not recycling materials that could be recycled, and so on. This all hurts the environment, and we don’t always realize the impact that it has on the earth. Plastic is one of these items, like the plastic I used to create my artwork. There are about 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic that are polluting the ocean, making not only the rising sea levels from global warming bad, but the habitat for so many amazing animals polluted by plastic.

That is why I created my artwork with plastic to turn this harmful thing into a beautiful piece of art for many people to view and put light onto the harm we are causing.

Una Hermosa Bendicion

Represented in my artwork is the traditional yarn work of the Huichol people. In the Huichol culture, colorful yarn work reflects their spiritual relationship with their ancestors and deities. This piece intertwines the importance of renewable energy of the wind and sun, as well as the most praised deities of the Huichol people- the eagle-headed sun god, Huitzilopochtli, and the feathered serpent wind god, Quetzacoatl. I chose these two gods because of the reverence the Huichol people had for them, even calling them a “beautiful blessing” or ‘una hermosa bendicion”. These two gods provided natural resources for their people to survive.

The title of my piece, “Una Hermosa Bendicion II” relates to renewable energy, as the sun and wind are renewable resources that will provide energy for us like the gods of the Huichol people. Earth is a blessing, and like the Huichol people’s sacrificial art, this piece is a call for thanks to nature for providing for us. For this piece, I chose yarn to not only represent the rich culture of the Huichol people, but also to reuse leftover yarn.

Within the composition I have included ways we can harness these natural blessings including windmills and solar energy panels. This is done in hopes to inspire the viewer to ponder how we are using our resources and the beauty that can radiate from it.

Reaching for the Sun

“Reaching for the Sun” is a plaster cast of hands with moss plants surrounding a glowing sun. My artwork is about how we currently have the technology to harness the energy of the sun and power the planet as if the energy source was right in our grasp. I was inspired by the phrase “within one’s grasp” to discuss our opportunity to use renewable energy forms that are already in existence.

The elements that stand out most in my piece are form and texture. I used plaster casting for the hands, moss to represent plants, clay and wool for the sun and fairy lights to make the sun glow. My goals as an artist are to improve my skills in a variety of art media and to develop an artistic style from the process. Making this project taught me that when using plaster and alginate, the best way to keep everything from breaking is to work slowly and to use clay tools to get some of the extra pieces of plaster off. My first rendition of this piece was going to be many arms reaching for a sun, but I think what I did for the final is a better rendition to simplify the idea I had. This artwork has influenced me to consider creating more art with the theme of environmental action to bring attention to this very important theme that is affecting our lives day to day.


The world around you doesn’t always reflect the way you view the world. The world around you might be the opposite of what you want it to be. So, you find comfort in your imagination, then you find that a bit of your imagination had slipped into the world around you, surrounded by green grass. But it’s just your imagination. You know this because the product of your imagination can’t cancel out the grey sky, black smoke, and dead trees.

“You”, is referring to the girl on the canvas. She is someone who wishes that her dream could become a reality. She stays and stares; she doesn’t know what she’s looking at but she’s too concentrated on her imagination to care. Unable to cancel out all the ugly, maybe it’s because she knows deep down, she can’t hide from reality.

“Imagine” is centered around a face of a girl whose surroundings don’t precisely fit her imagination. In her head, there is bright green grass, windmills, trees, and a bright red house. She uses her imagination to cover the yellow dead grass with dark green grass, but her mind isn’t able to cancel out the cut-down trees, grey skies, the power plants, and black smoke.

I had made a mistake while sculpting the face, a part of her had broken off when it was in the kiln, but instead of gluing her back together and trying to cover my mistake I thought to use my mistake to create her Imagination.

Military vs. Future

“Military vs. Future” is about the United States military budget and how we can redirect funding towards implementing solutions to climate change. The US Department of Defense has 1.73 trillion dollars available to spend this year. This is 15% of the annual budget of the United States. Military vs. Future is communicating the fact that this is far too much money to be spending on our military. Instead of spending money on the military, these funds could go towards the solutions to climate change that we already have. We already have the solutions to climate change, but people in power are unwilling to spend the money to actually implement them.

The hand in this piece is moving to approve funding for the future, instead of trillions of dollars towards weapons and the military. The pencil was used to indicate that this is a problem right now, as a pencil is more modern than a quill that might have been used to write a document like the constitution.

The background of the paper was done with watercolor to mimic old parchment. The writing on the paper is designed to look like the font that was used to write official documents such as The Constitution. The hand is shaded with pencil, and the pencil is done with acrylic paint.


“REUSABLE ENERGY” is a poster that represents renewable energy’s most recognizable source of wind energy and a recognizable political campaign poster. I took inspiration from the “Hope” poster from the Obama presidential campaign, which was designed by Shepard Fairey, due to the motivational nature of the image and the subject we are trying to promote. The way the “Hope” poster from the Obama campaign inspired many to vote, possibly the “REUSABLE ENERGY” could bring the same feeling to viewers and the desire to promote renewable energy.

“REUSABLE ENERGY” was made to look like someone’s view of wind turbines while standing on the ground, so I made it a perspective of the wind turbines going up into the clouds. I added a gradient over the turbines to look like mist cascading over mountains to make them look grand and large. I set myself a limited color palette to mimic the style of the hope poster, using purples, pinks, and light blues. The bold text like that of Shepard Fairey’s design clearly describes what the poster is about with a bold text saying, “REUSABLE ENERGY”. Lastly the god rays shining through the clouds represent the hope that renewable energy will give us a new future, of clean and renewable energy, cutting emissions.

A Better Future

In my research I found that renewable energy sources are holding our planet up, they help reduce greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere. The United Nations page on climate change and renewable energy says that “renewable energy is key to a safer, cleaner, and sustainable world.”

Every column represents a different renewable energy form, which holds up the bleeding earth. Consumers Energy has a commitment to sustainability, people, our planet, and prosperity. The columns are holding the earth from falling, the renewable energy is healing the earth. Gas emissions from fossil fuels are ruining our earth, and mining for fossil fuels is ruining our planet, and the ecosystems living in the areas. If more people were committed to our planet like Consumers Energy’s mission then the earth would heal. The moss is the structure of the base, each column is etched with something that represents the different types of renewable energy.

I chose a sculpture because it’s used completely out of scrap materials, the metals used are completely scrapped. Pollution and the drilling for fossil fuels negatively impacts our earth and using pieces that are not aiding the erosion of our planet was the first priority when brainstorming for my project. I want people to understand the importance of recycling and being more conservative when it comes to waste use. The reason the columns come from the earth is because they are aiding in the survival of our planet.

If I Could Wear It On My Shell

I am a turtle, swimming in the sea. I am beautiful and green. I am an amazing view.

Wrong, I am beautiful on the outside, but you can’t see what’s going on the inside of me. What if I wore the toxins from my insides on my shell? Would I still be beautiful and green in your eyes? Would I still be beautiful if my shell was no longer reflected in the water but instead was black and filled with garbage and chemicals? Would I still be fabulous?

How come humans do this? I wish that humans would take better care of their earth and stop polluting the ocean. It’s just not fair.

The ocean is my home, and I am not ready to say goodbye just yet. Please help me. You may not see it and I may not show it, but I wear mankind’s responsibility on my shell. How do you feel? Am I still pretty?


“Connected” tells the story of pollution and how it is destroying the planet, and us in the process. The average U.S. citizen produces over four pounds of trash daily, adding up to over 1,500 pounds each year. The United States of America alone produces 12% of the world’s waste. It is clear we are killing the planet with all this trash, and if we kill this planet, we kill ourselves. The polluted air damages our lungs and body causing various diseases and ailments such as lung cancer, coronary artery disease, COPD, and many, many more.


Voting is live through September 13, 2023 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Thanks for supporting these great artists with your votes!