TRAVERSE CITY — Sometimes you have to ask questions to get the picture on the Traverse City area’s art and culture scene.
Is it time for Artcenter Traverse City to have a home of its own? Is it possible over the long term for Traverse City to become the Santa Fe of the Upper Midwest?
Those specific questions are not on Artcenter Traverse City’s online survey, but they are being discussed by some area visual artists, gallery owners and art lovers as the local arts nonprofit assesses the art and culture needs of the public and area artists in Grand Traverse, Antrim, Benzie, Kalkaska and Leelanau counties.
The survey deadline, originally set for May 31, recently was extended to June 30 to allow returning summer residents to participate, said Bob Streit, Artcenter treasurer and owner of Twisted Gallery in Elk Rapids. The survey is available at www.artcentertraversecity.com, the organization’s web site. More than 300 people have replied since it was posted in early April. Artcenter supporters originally had hoped for 1,000 responses.
The interactive survey is being conducted by ArtServe Michigan, a statewide arts advocacy support organization, with the help of a $5,000 planning grant from Rotary Charities and Northsky NonProfit Network to help determine, among other things, interest in a new center and the impact it would have on visual arts in the Traverse City area. The grant required a 25 percent match, or $1,250 from the nonprofit.
Artcenter Traverse City was founded in 1951 and has had at least three names over the last six decades, including Arts Council and Arts and Crafts Center. The art group has been homeless since 2011 when it no longer could afford its latest gallery space at All Faiths Chapel on former state hospital property.
Art classes and exhibits are its two core services today, said David Lawrence, the nonprofit’s president. Its exhibits have been located in a variety of different venues over the last two years, including the City Opera House, Mercato 630 at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons and the privately owned Art and Design Studio along Woodmere.
Art classes have been held in area churches, the History Center of Traverse City, the William & Susanne Janis Community Room at the Dennos Museum Center, the Con Foster Museum building and elsewhere. Its office is staffed by one in loaned space along U.S. 31 North in Acme.
“We’re kind of like vagabonds,” said Lawrence, who thinks Artcenter needs to have a home. “It’s a challenge to find space, not so much for classes but for gallery space three to four weeks at a time.”
Artcenter’s oldest perennial event is the popular juried Outdoor Art Fair on the Northwest Michigan College Campus, now in its 53rd year. It is held annually on the last Saturday of July.
“All we need now is 82 degrees and clear sky,” said Lawrence, a retired architect now living in Traverse City who has worked on such projects as the Wharton Center at Michigan State University, Upjohn Fine Arts Building at Western Michigan University and the Howard Performing Arts Center at Andrews University in Berrien Springs.
In January, Artcenter submitted a proposal to the Traverse City/Garfield Township Joint Recreational Authority to use the Historic Barn at the the Grand Traverse Commons as a regional art center. That proposal is currently on hold until the survey is completed and results reported.
Matt Cowall, executive director of the authority, said the proposal was looked on favorably by board members and also spurred them to develop guidelines to seek public input this summer on other proposals for use.
“We want to do this in a very transparent public process,” he said. “The Artcenter idea will be part of it and we will also solicit other ideas.
Artcenter treasurer Bob Streit said art and art events can be important economic drivers in communities. His long-term goal as owner of the high-end Twisted Fish gallery in Elk Rapids is to see northwestern Michigan — stretching from Mackinaw City to Ludington and from Grand Traverse Bay to I-75 — become a national art tourist destination, or “Santa Fe of the Upper Midwest,” as he called it. That area already has a total 22 art organizations.
Streit sees the survey as a first step to a many year process. His shorter-term goal is to create greater appreciation and understanding for art in the region to help boost better gallery art sales during the region’s wintry months from October through April. Summer sales at his gallery can total $75,000 to $100,000 a month from June to September but fall to an average of $2,000 to $3,000 during winter months.
Streit also is a member of the Northwest Michigan Arts Coalition, an independent group formed last fall by five art centers — Artcenter Traverse City, Interlochen Center for the Arts, Oliver Art Center in Frankfort, Crooked Tree Art Center in Petoskey, and an art group in Manistee. It will host a one-day meeting in early October to begin planning for broader regional focus, he said, and later expand to include additional groups.
“If Northwest Michigan did become the Santa Fe of the Upper Midwest, it would bring more people here and more attention to the visual arts,” Streit said. “These are not things that will change easily, but they will hopefully change over a longer time period of time.”
Spring and summer Artcenter activities
• Downtown Traverse City Art Walk, May 3
• Plein Air painting class and "paint out," May 16-18; a public art installation of six carhoods, donated by auto dealer Bill Marsh and painted by well-known local artists, at the Hardy Parking Deck
• Lecture on the development of Broad Art Museum at MSU and its design, May 13
• Month-long May invitational exhibit at the City Opera House by Artcenter members Lisa Perrine Brown, Charles Perry Jones and Connie McKinney
• 2013 Michigan Water Color Traveling Exhibition at The Art and Design Studio,1207 Woodmere Ave., July 13
• Invitational art show at 630 Mercato in August
• Art & the Garden Show at 630 Mercato in September
• The organization also annually prints 40,000 Arts & Craft Trails brochures that list arts events in northwest Lower Michigan, for state-operated Visitor Centers in Michigan