ArtPrize, the Grand Rapids art show and competition that surprised locals by drawing tens of thousands of visitors when it debuted in 2009, is back for a second year.

And it's expected to be even bigger this time. The southwestern Michigan city's vibrant arts scene will get an infusion of energy from 1,713 artists displaying their works for 19 days in 192 venues, from plazas, hotels and museums, to restaurants, coffee shops and parks.

One of the most unusual aspects of the event, which runs Sept. 22-Oct. 10, is that the public decides the top 10 winners through "American Idol"-style voting. Last year, more than 37,000 people voted on their ArtPrize favorites either online or by text message.

Artists from 21 countries and 44 states are taking part in the competition, which offers $449,000 in prizes decided by the public, including a top award of $250,000.

"It's designed for maximum openness in participation," ArtPrize founder Rick DeVos said. "The extent to which people got it the first year and ran with it even further than we had imagined was amazing."

The success of the inaugural ArtPrize caught many off-guard. Throngs spent hours or days walking between the 159 venues that displayed the work of 1,262 artists. Some restaurants ran out of food and were forced to close early.

Organizers had also expected most visitors would be in their 20s or 30s, but all ages turned out. This year's schedule includes some family-focused events such as neighborhood block parties.

In starting ArtPrize, Rich DeVos' long-term goal is to encourage the growth of the area's creative culture. In the process, he's helped to raise Grand Rapids' profile as an arts destination.

The biggest challenge for visitors will be deciding what to see and what to skip. The event's seven main exhibition centers -- including the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids Art Museum, and Grand Rapids Public Museum -- make a good jumping-off point for visitors. With the exception of Meijer Gardens, all of the venues are in the downtown area.

ArtPrize is also turning the city's Old Federal Building into "The Hub," where artists can meet, the event's speaker series will be based, and visitors can get information and technical help with voting or mapping.

>If you go:

ArtPrize: Grand Rapids, Mich., Sept. 22-Oct. 10; Most artworks are on display in a 3-square-mile district of downtown. The nearby Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is the only one of the event's seven major exhibition centers outside that area. Finalists -- including the top 10 winners chosen by the public -- are announced Sept. 30. The winner is announced Oct. 7.

Getting there: Grand Rapids, located in southwestern Michigan, is about a 6 1/2 -hour drive from Buffalo. Gerald R. Ford International Airport is about 20 minutes from downtown. Buses and trains both stop in downtown Grand Rapids.

Where to stay: Downtown hotels offer a great home base to walk to many of the exhibition centers and events, and some tour packages are being offered. Staying outside of downtown, visitors may drive to Meijer Gardens and take a shuttle bus downtown, or park downtown and walk or bike around. The Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau has resources for organizing a trip, (616) 459-8287 or visit