TRAVERSE CITY — A team of students enrolled in Northwestern Michigan College’s Entrepreneurial Micro-Business course are using their spring term lab to make a difference in their community.

Students needed to fulfill a course requirement of starting up their own business venture, so Dennis Keovongkoth, Jonathon Murfield, Sarah Adkins, Brad Solak and Jonathan Steele, all non-traditional students at NMC, founded MAD (Making A Difference) Cherries for Charity, a public art event that launched Sunday and runs through May 19.

The plan is to raise money and awareness for three local charitable organizations: Women’s Resource Center, Third Level Crisis Center, and Freedom Builders.

Steele said the class normally includes all steps in starting and running a business, but his group took an unusual approach.

“We were throwing around business ideas and decided to do something more along the lines of social entrepreneurship,” Steele said. “We decided to do something for the community and hope the project will continue to grow off of this.”

Students used start-up capital provided by the school, and secured title sponsorships from Traverse City businesses Cherry Republic and Yen Yoga, then purchased eight large, cherry polyester resin figurines from a company in Nebraska with the idea of asking local artists to turn them into individual works of art.

The art community responded enthusiastically, and Steele said the painted cherry figurines will be on display along Front Street in Traverse City through May 5. The public will be able to vote online for their favorite in exchange for a small donation, and the cherry art will be auctioned by online bidding until May 19. Proceeds will benefit the three organizations.

The artworks, many of which were completed at the Traverse City Art and Design Studio, were revealed at a kick-off event last Friday at Inside Out Gallery.

“The MAD Cherry team is the most ambitious project to date, both because of its scale and potential community impact,” said class instructor John Fitzpatrick. “It will offer a display of local art talent, fundraising opportunities for several area charities, and promotional exposure for many businesses ... all in one package.”

In addition to the poly resin cherries, Terry Berden, owner and founder of Great Lakes Stainless, commissioned a piece and donated it to this year’s event. The stainless steel sculpture of two cherries linked by a stem rising to roughly nine feet is part of the art work that will be auctioned.

Along with the large statues, Steele said shoppers will find 12 smaller cherries on display in local businesses that are part of an online scavenger hunt with prizes.

Steele said the sculptures will be moved to the NMC Campus on May 6 and will be on display during the annual NMC Barbecue on May 19.

For information about the project or to view or bid on the cherry art, visit or go to their Facebook page, MAD Cherries for Charity.



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