There sure is a lot of excitement in downtown Grand Rapids.  Sure, the new City Flats hotel just opened, and millions of dollars in new projects are being developed.  But, that's small change compared to the opening of Art Prize 2011. It is still a week away, but there are already hundreds of pieces on display in downtown Grand Rapids.

"It's nice to be able to walk around and see it before it actually opens," says Forrest Hanson as he studies a fish sculpture in front of Van Andel Arena.

WZZM TV13 reports ArtPrize contestants showing work at the Van Andel Arena, the Bob and more than a dozen other downtown locations have their entries up ahead of time this year.

Merchants in what they call the "arena district" invited them to come a week early so the public will have more time to see the art and to add an extra week of ArtPrize excitement.

Most artists jumped at the chance.

"Oh, totally," says artist Jeffery Gauss. "It allows people who really love the show to come down and check out the art without the crowds."

"It's great," says Phil Lackey standing in front of a photo collage on the Bob Building.

"It is," agrees his wife Janice. "Because once it starts there's large crowds and you really can't get to see everything you want to see without waiting in maybe a long, long line."

And with the art up early, customers have another reason to visit the bars and restaurants where it's hanging to not only see what's on the wall, but also what's on the menu.

"Not only are there less crowds but we have food and drink too," explains Garry Boyd at Hopcat Brewery And Restaurant. "So,  you can go out to eat and check out a lot of art. You can make a progressive of it if you want to have a couple of stops."

Last year many venues also kept their art hanging for a week after the end of the ArtPrize competition.

ArtPrize runs for nearly 3 weeks, from September 21 through October 9.

If they start a week early and carry on for a week after there could be almost 5 weeks of ArtPrize activity downtown this year.