Yes competition can bring out the best, but it's one thing when there's some score or other measurable, but another when it's a matter of preference - de gustibus non est disputandum - visual arts competitions are like chili or BBQ cook-offs where it comes down to what someone does or does not like.
It's true that a competition is only as good as its judging. I used to be an "American Idol" fan, but the tastes of the judges and the voting public really tended towards the bland and the predictable in a way that became increasingly hard to watch. On the other hand, the judging on rival reality show "The Sing Off" was so good that I think it noticeably improved the caliber of the whole genre.
For our competition, we're using a panel of judges drawn from the participating organizations themselves (they will judge each other's entries, not their own). They will be asked to give each group a 1-10 score in three areas: Technique (how skilled is the artist), Challenge (how challenging is the artwork), and Integrity (how successfully does the final artwork present as an integral whole). Those scores will be averaged within each area, and the composites multiplied together for a final numeric score between 1 and 1000.
There's still room for argument whether it's legitimate to quantify art this way at all, but I think this rubric gives a fair way to compare and contrast artworks of contrasting genres and styles.
Chris I'm a little older than you, not by much :-), but I clearly remember when I played little league sports we had winners and losers. And I did'nt want to be a loser so I tried harder to not be on the short end. But nowadays when I go to my nephews games they don't even keep score, it's a different sport, he plays soccer but it's the same principle.
I do think there can be a lot of value to cooperative games, --I'm not a fan of the "winning is everything" mindset. But anything can be negative when taken to an extreme --competition OR non-competition.
I am not a member of any groups around town. Although I have quite a few artist friends that tried and failed at joining Columbus art group’s and collectives. They usually site having no space or are not looking for new members, which is usually the reason for the rejection.
I know that "Creative Arts of Women" is open to any local female artist, and is always seeking new members. It's a great group too --co-founder Stephanie Rond is someone I've come to deeply respect in a short period of time.
I'm not sure there's an exact equivalent for men or for both genders, but it seems like new groups are forming all the time --Cap City Creatives, pARTy Columbus, etc., etc. True, the older, more established groups might be less open to new members, but the energy seems to be more with the newer groups anyway. And you could always get together and form your own...