The Story of Monica Pritchard’s 2021 ArtPrize Victory
Monica Pritchard was an unlikely choice to win one of the world’s largest art competitions. Her resume as a business professional of thirty years with a focus on operations, sales, and marketing would not indicate that she would be someone who might win.
But win she did, manifesting both personal and professional experiences into “Before You Go” the 2021 ArtPrize Grand Prize winner.
The experiential exhibit allowed visitors to step into an “old-school” phone booth and listen to recordings of people expressing words they wish they had spoken to someone before they died.
Thousands of people entered the booth on the iconic Blue Bridge in Grand Rapids, Michigan during the 18-day event that annually displays art installations across the city. “Before You Go” received the most votes from visitors among the 958 entries. The cash prize was $50,000.
“I had just finished a tenure as Chief Operating Officer of a law firm that specialized in elder care. I saw first-hand how families dealt with the end-of-life experience, and the powerful desire to reflect and share with those close to them before they passed on. It touched me. And I was going through my own experience with my aging mother who had come to live with my family, before she passed” said Pritchard, an Account Director at LEAD Marketing Agency in Grand Rapids, MI.
Amid substantial life events and with time to reflect, the concept of “Before You Go” began to take shape. But, what to do about it? And how could this be shared with others?
“My son, Christian Reichle is an artist. He is a professional graphic designer and certainly has more ability than I in creating art. We had discussed this concept over the course of a couple of years and discussed different formats for presenting. He was visiting from Cincinnati at the time and we decided to collaborate on this.”
Monica could implement her project management skills and convey her concept to Christian who could put his creative acumen to work.
“We did not set out to win ArtPrize. We simply created this piece because it felt like the right thing to do. But I will tell you, managing the particulars that go along with an ArtPrize installation is a lot of work. And we got a little publicity that made people aware of the project.”
Social media posts and on-air features by the local NBC and ABC affiliates just prior to the start of ArtPrize created buzz. The installation had lines of people forming on day one.
“The phone booth was a bit of novelty and certainly our location was wonderful. A phone booth is nostalgic to some individuals and a curiosity to other individuals. That idea gained quite a bit of attention, but there are many pieces that went into the entire project,” said Pritchard.
People may have had uncertainty when they approached the phone booth, but once inside they were left alone with their thoughts and emotions. And what to do next.
“You really had no choice but to pick up the phone and listen to what people recorded. The look on people’s faces was certainly different coming out, than going in,” she said.
They say good art moves you.
“This topic engages everyone. I think the feelings people experienced in the booth made it memorable and I hope prompted some people to have those conversations with people they care about before it is too late,” said Pritchard.
Pritchard and Reichle worked for months to secure voice messages from willing participants. They established an 866 number for interested people to call. They visited senior living facilities, with a recorder in hand, whose residents wanted to participate. The idea eventually spread via word of mouth. In total, over one hundred interviews were garnered. And the pair listened to each of them at least two times.
“Listening to the interviews was equal parts exhausting and fulfilling. It was quite the experience,” said Pritchard.
The interviews were segmented into 350 clips and categorized into nine categories such as advice, beliefs, wishes, regrets, etc. so that listeners in the booth could quickly dial up the type of recording they would like to hear.
Reichle spent hours concepting, designing and repurposing an old phone booth complete with the familiar blue and silver colors of phone booths of yesteryear. He sourced all the materials and installed the one-way mirror film where you could see in, but not out to enhance the isolation. And the team created the list of topics and uploaded the recordings into a digital system.
During the competition, the pair were at the installation daily and were able to take in first-hand the reaction to their work.
Pritchard summed up the six-month odyssey concisely, “I had an idea that I was enthusiastic about and a concept that turned into a production for which I am proud. It was a gratifying experience for many reasons.”