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"Nessie on the Grand" captivated at ArtPrize in 2009. Photo by Rachel Kramer.

Assuming you live in Chicago and you don’t drive, say, a Hummer, it takes just a single tank of gas to do a round-trip jaunt to Grand Rapids, the thriving Michigan city that offers plenty to fill a culture lover’s weekend.

Next week is the kickoff of ArtPrize, the city’s supremely democratic annual competition that awards $560,000 in prize money to artists (it’s all based on viewer votes). And as you stroll downtown deciding who you think is deserving of the dough, here are some other stops for your to-do list: 

Downtown Market Grand Rapids is situated in one of the best farming regions in the world, and this just-opened, $30 million building is a gleaming temple to food: There’s an indoor market hall with 19 butchers, bakers and fishmongers; demonstration kitchens; rooftop greenhouses; and dozens of outdoor produce vendors. 435 Ionia Ave. SW; 616-805-5308 or

Meijer Gardens Haven’t seen enough art? Tour the open-air museum at this stunning garden and sculpture park, where works by Edgar Degas and Roy Lichtenstein live among flowers and serene waterways. Admission $12; 1000 E. Beltline Ave. NE; 888-957-1580 or

Leigh’s Okay, time for some retail therapy. You need a fall wardrobe, and this beautifully appointed local shop--a welcome break from department-store shopping--has it all, from weatherproof boots by Aquatalia and Donald Pliner to sweaters by Autumn Cashmere and party frocks by Blumarine. 1942 Breton Rd. SE; 616-942-6300 or

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