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Auburn Hills and Ferndale ahead of the pack in embracing the newest bar sport: Axe-throwing

For all the hullabaloo made about lumberjack fashion becoming trendy these past several years, it seems the big bearded plaid-wearing types are once more making in-roads into contemporary culture with the unlikeliest of bar games: Axe-throwing. And in southeastern Michigan, it's Oakland County leading the charge.

Recently two different venues, one in Auburn Hills and one in Ferndale, have announced their participation in the sport.

In Auburn Hills, it's The HUB Stadium, a 30,000 sq. ft. facility dedicated to sports and food, craft beers, and specialty cocktails. Having already embraced Bombowling, a sport where participants compete in throwing footballs at bowling pins, The HUB has now expanded its offerings to include axe-throwing. The HUB also offers the seemingly far more conventional sport of Ping Pong.

In axe-throwing, competitors pair off in side-by-side stalls to throw axes at targets, a sport reminiscent of darts. The HUB says that a highly-trained Axe-Throwing Coach is always on hand to maintain safety.

The HUB has affiliated itself with the World Axe-Throwing League, and registration for its 2018 Axe-Throwing Leagues is currently available. The WATL bills itself as the professional association for axe-throwing, organizing tournaments and leagues across the world.

The HUB Stadium is located at 2550 Takata Dr. in Auburn Hills.

Not yet open is Detroit Axe, a bar and axe-throwing venue currently under construction in Ferndale. Located in the old Local Kitchen & Bar, Detroit Axe will offer 12 lanes of axe-throwing fun, as well as arcade and pinball machines, bumper pool, shuffleboard, and more.

Detroit Axe will also offer a full bar and kitchen, with its event space accommodating up to 150 people.

Detroit Axe is located at 344 W. Nine Mile Rd. in Ferndale.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Recess Cafe opens in downtown Ferndale, empowers LGBTQ youth with life and business skills

After spending the past eight weeks learning about business development, marketing, inventory, and budgeting, the young people of the Affirmations Youth Workforce Program have reached the culmination of their hard work with the grand opening of the Recess Cafe in downtown Ferndale. An open mic night helped ring in the celebration.

Though the classroom portion of the program has come to a close, the Youth Workforce Program will now spend the next eight weeks gaining hands-on experience while actually operating the cafe. Recess Cafe operates every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 4 to 8 p.m. through mid-January.

Affirmations, the community center for people that identify as LGBTQ and their allies, runs two 16-week cohorts of the Youth Workforce Development program per year. Cohorts are typically made up of ten to twelve people that identify as LGBTQ, ages 16 to 24 years old.

In addition to the business skills learned, those enrolled in the program also receive monetary stipends to cover travel costs and the time served working the cafe. Members of the local business community make up a business advisory council to advise the youth.

Ian Unger, Youth Program Coordinator at Affirmations, says that both the youth program and Affirmations itself exist to empower people.

"Young people come to Affirmations to find a safe space and to develop life skills," says Unger. "We want to prepare these kids to become the next leaders in their communities."

Each cohort decides how Recess Cafe will be run. The current iteration features an outer space theme, coinciding with the students' idea that Recess Cafe is a space for everyone. Space decorations and space-themed events complement the cafe. Open mics and craft-making nights also make up the programming schedule for the next eight weeks.

The cafe itself features standard fare, including hot chocolate, coffee, tea, smoothies, and root beer. Snacks include jerky, cookies, candy, and other treats.

Recess Cafe is open to the public. It is located in the Affirmations building at 290 W. 9 Mile Rd. in downtown Ferndale.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Macaron maker to celebrate grand opening of bakery in Plymouth's historic Old Village

Moving from her home kitchen to farmer markets to pop-ups, Adina St. John's Blu Kitchen has now found a permanent location for her line of macarons. The bakery will celebrate its grand opening Saturday, Nov. 11 at its new storefront in Plymouth's historic Old Village neighborhood.

St. John moved from Milwaukee to Michigan in 2010. With her kids in school, St. John, who has a background in photography, found the time to start experimenting in the kitchen. Walking around area farmers markets and learning about her new home, St. John wondered aloud if it would be fun to work out of a farmers market. Blu Kitchen was borne out of this confluence of events.

Experimenting with different flavors and demand, St. John started selling her macarons at local spots like Eastern Market and Corktown Farmers Market in 2015. A year later, she realized that pop-ups better served her business, often teaming with mobile coffee shop Drifter Coffee. Now, in 2017, St. John has found a space of her own.

It was that complementary relationship with Drifter Coffee that led to the Blu Kitchen storefront. Visiting her Drifter friends at an event in Plymouth, St. John saw the vacant storefront next door. After months of construction, the 660 sq. ft. space features a full kitchen and pick-up counter.

As construction carried on throughout the year, St. John's neighbors, including the Old Village development board and other local businesses, would often stop in to say hello. Meeting her neighbors and becoming a fabric of the community has been important to St. John.

"It's about being an actual person and not just a business with a generic sign out front," says St. John. "I want to make sure to meet the neighbors and be conscious of what our presence brings to the neighborhood."

Blu Kitchen celebrates its grand opening Saturday, Nov. 11, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. They'll be selling their signature macarons, and Drifter Coffee will be parked outside.

Blu Kitchen is located at 965 N. Mill St. in Plymouth.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

New production facility aims to help food start-ups scale up, celebrates grand opening in Inkster

There's a common problem faced by entrepreneurs starting out in the food business. It occurs when someone's business gets too big for the kitchen, but not yet big enough for a large-scale commercial co-packing facility.

A team of local entrepreneurs and an influential non-profit have partnered to change that.

In southeastern Michigan, there are few facilities that support those in-between situations, says Amit Makhecha, owner of M&R Ventures, which manufactures a line of chutneys. Makhecha has struggled with scaling up his start-up due to this specific shortfall, and he's not the only one.

That's why Eastern Market Corporation has been working to address the issue. They've partnered with Makhecha and two other area food small businesses, Marcia Nodel and her daughter-in-law Michal Nodel of Marcia’s Munchies and Scott and Suzi Owens of Scotty O’Hotty, to open the FEAST co-packing processing facility in Inkster.

FEAST, or Food Entrepreneur Accelerator and Start-Up Terminal, is a 14,500 sq. ft. facility on Michigan Avenue, complete with state-of-the-art technologies, commercial kitchens, and a food processing center. It celebrated its grand opening Thursday, Oct. 19, in Inkster.

"Facilities are either real small or real big, but there's hardly anything in between," says Makhecha, who is co-founder and managing director of FEAST. "That's the gap we're trying to fill."

To do that, Makhecha says that FEAST will never turn an entrepreneur away because their order is too small. He doesn't even want to mention a production range, so as not to scare potential small business owners away.

FEAST is currently looking for customers throughout the region, ready to start co-packing products from southeastern Michigan's food entrepreneurs looking to scale-up.

"This is for people who make the products by hand, but want to be free to leave the kitchen and go out and start selling," says Makhecha.

FEAST is located at 26762 Michigan Ave. in Inkster. Interested parties should visit the company online, here.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

13 acres in Ferndale and Pleasant Ridge to be redeveloped into residential, retail, and office space

A large redevelopment project that straddles the cities of Ferndale and Pleasant Ridge is one step closer to reality, thanks to the recent approval of brownfield tax credits from the Michigan Strategic Fund.

In an area more recognizable for its industrial past, a 13-acre site anchored by the vacant building at 660 E. 10 Mile Rd. will be transformed into a mixed-use campus featuring a marketplace, brewery, beer garden, and more.

Five remaining buildings on-site will also be rehabilitated, featuring office space, retail space, fitness center, and, in keeping in the spirit of the site's past light industrial life, a fire suppression company.

The project will also feature the construction of 75 new residential units.

"Iron Ridge is an exciting project that transforms a contaminated, defunct site into a shared gathering place for two communities -- Ferndale and our neighbors in Pleasant Ridge," says Jordan Twardy, Ferndale's Community and Economic Development Director.

"The mix of uses creates a sense of place that connects residents with unique places to dine and shop, and given its location near I-696, it will function as a unique gateway destination to both communities."

The development team behind the mixed-use campus, Iron Ridge Holdings LLC, was able to secure $3,531,500 in local and school tax capture for the alleviation of brownfield conditions at the site. Announcement of the County of Oakland Brownfield Redevelopment Authority receiving MSF approval for the brownfield tax credit was announced Tuesday, Oct. 24.

According to officials from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the Iron Ridge redevelopment will, "Reactivate a group of vacant or underutilized industrial and residential parcels into a vibrant mixed-use campus, bring new housing to the city of Ferndale and will increase density and economic activity in the area."

Officials expect the project to create 200 new jobs and generate a total capital investment of $32 million.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Southfield rec center renovations on track to be completed in January 2018

Renovations are underway at Southfield's Beech Woods Recreation Center. And while the improvements being made should make a better experience for everyone, the renovations will especially improve access for those residents making use of wheelchairs and other devices.

Among the improvements being made is the installation of a new elevator, significant because Beech Woods is the home of the southeast Michigan Jr. wheelchair basketball program. A second phase of renovations will see the repair of a handicap-accessible ramp, providing access to the Beech Woods picnic area. That picnic area is also scheduled to be improved.

Access, however, is just part of the renovation budget. Also included in the updates is a new floor for the gymnasium, updated locker room, and a renovated office space and lobby. The wellness center will also be expanded.

"The extensive renovations taking place at Beech Woods will provide residents with a vastly improved facility and amenities," Parks & Recreation Director Terry Fields said in a statement. "We’re very excited about the upgrades that will be made to the wellness center, gymnasium, office space, lobby and other improvements that will make Beech Woods more user-friendly and customer focused."

As a result of the renovations, the Parks & Recreation department's programs and offices have been moved to the John Grace Community Center, 21030 Indian St. For those voting in Precincts 34 and 35 in the Nov. 7, 2017, general election, polling stations have been temporarily moved to the Beech Woods Pro Shop, which is located on the original Beech Woods campus.

In January 2017, Southfield City Council approved a $2.5 million budgets for the renovations, which are scheduled to be completed in January 2018. Construction began in September 2017. Phase two of the project, which includes access to and improvement of the Beech Woods picnic area is funded in part by a Recreation Passport Grant, which itself is funded by the state's sale of recreation passports.

Beech Woods Recreation Center is located at 22200 Beech Rd. in Southfield.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Small biz 'Boot Camp' launched for aspiring entrepreneurs in Oakland County

A group of Pontiac and Oakland County business leaders, governments officials, and stakeholders gathered in downtown Pontiac on the afternoon of Wednesday, Oct. 18, to celebrate the launch of a new program designed to better prepare would-be entrepreneurs in the microloan application process.

Called the Financial Literacy Boot Camp for Entrepreneurs, the program is free to all Oakland County resdents. The Boot Camp is funded in part by a $50,000 grant from Huntington Bank.

Oakland County's Financial Empowerment Center and JVS have partnered to administer the program.

Though a "Boot Camp" by name, the financial literacy program actually consists of private, one-on-one education and counseling sessions.

"Applying for business loans can be a daunting and overwhelming process," says Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner. "We're trying to make it more friendly and welcoming."

Oakland County residents can schedule a session with JVS, who will meet wherever it's convenient, be it the county's Pontiac offices, the JVS offices in Southfield, or a resident's local coffee shop.

"We believe that the best way to help people is to help people help themselves," said Paul Blatt, COO and executive vice president of JVS Detroit. "The boot camp does that."

JVS provides a number of services to those enrolled in the bootcamp. One-on-one financial literacy education and counseling will assist residents in better understanding budgeting, money management, profit and loss statements, expense tracking, cash flow, and other essential business skills.

Counselors will help resolve residents' credit collection or credit score issues. And counselors will provide assistance through the microloan application process. Microloans can range anywhere from $1,000 to $250,000.

James and April Forbes, the couple behind the Menagerie pop-up dinners, kitchen incubator, and forthcoming restaurant, spoke at the press conference. James and April are currently in the process of developing the restaurant Menagerie Lounge, which is scheduled to open in downtown Pontiac in February 2018. The couple was recently awarded a $35,000 Small Business Administration loan from Center for Empowerment and Economic Development.

Like Meisner, James Forbes also used the word daunting when describing the loan application process.

"It's daunting to have to put together business plans, P&Ls, financial projections," said James, who has 32 years of experience in the restaurant industry. "I can't imagine how people with zero experience go about approaching that process. That's why this boot camp is really important."

There are a lot of people in Oakland County that might have a good idea for a small business but just might not have the business know-how to fill out the forms and engage the banks, that might not have all of their personal finances in order. The boot camp was designed for those people in mind.

"We want the people that start the loan application process but don't finish, the people that applied but were rejected," Meisner said.

The press conference was held at 31 N. Saginaw St. in downtown Pontiac. The multi-level building is being renovated by owner Matt Russell, though the basement floor is currently occupied by Alley Cat Cafe and Indian Hill Wine Cellar. The building also serves as headquarters for Russell's event management platform LocalHop.

"I hope this program helps Michigan build more of an entrepreneurial mindset," said Russell. "Starting a company is stressful, scary, and hard, but it's worth it."

The Financial Literacy Boot Camp for Entrepreneurs is free to all residents of Oakland County. Interested parties should visit the Treasurer office online or call (248) 233-4299 for information about enrollment and services.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Nonprofit performance foundation launched to showcase metro Detroit's underserved populations

A new metro Detroit nonprofit is designed to provide more performance opportunities for underserved populations.

New Generation Fine Arts Foundation (NewGen) is the brainchild of Kendall Owens. The Plymouth native has headquartered NewGen in Canton and plans on serving all of metro Detroit.

The idea started while Owens was traveling in dance competitions, where she noticed minorities weren't well represented. NewGen is her attempt to help change that.
Owens is also creating programming for the developmentally disabled. Dance is a great form of art therapy, she says, and can be beneficial for people of all sorts of backgrounds.

Where she gets the time to start a non-profit foundation is anyone's guess. Owens is an honors college double major--nursing and dance--undergrad at Western Michigan University and is just twenty years old.

"I'm a double major and learning so much about nursing and dance. Both increase quality of life," says Owens. "Finding that connection between the two has really pushed me. It's what motivates me."

Set to graduate in 2019, Owens plans on offering after-school programs and summer camps beginning in 2020. In the meantime, NewGen will launch its inaugural showcase event in 2018. Titled Blaqk Box, registration for the two-day event opens in March, auditions will be held in May, and the event itself will occur in July.

The first day of Blaqk Box will feature master classes and showcases from national talent, with workshops and storytelling sessions. A painting class will also be offered.

The second day will feature performances from those that registered in March.

"I want to try and bring opportunities to the underserved," says Owens. "If I had something like this, I would have been better prepared."

Visit New Generation Fine Arts Foundation online for registration information and more.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

April Wagner's epiphany studios opens downtown Detroit pop-up, plans Pontiac headquarters expansion

April Wagner's epiphany studios, the Pontiac-based hot glass studio and gallery is growing.

Since Sept. 15, Wagner has been selling pieces from her line of functional and decorative glasswork art at the historic Guardian Building in downtown Detroit. It's a perfect fit for a company that's in the business of art and craftsmanship; the Guardian Building is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of Art Deco skyscraper architecture in the world.

"Being in the Guardian has been inspirational. I feel like the role of the craftsperson hasn't changed over the years, even with technology," says Wagner. "Well-crafted things will always be important."

For now, the epiphany studios gallery at the Guardian is a pop-up, though Wagner says that if things go well enough, she'll consider keeping a permanent space there. She'll stay open at least through next year's North American International Auto Show in January.

She currently occupies a 300 sq. ft. gallery-type space in the building's promenade level. The downtown Detroit epiphany studios offer a good representation of Wagner's pieces, from the functional bowls and cups to the more decorative and artistic sculptures. Holiday pieces, too, are a theme, including glass pumpkins for the fall and planned Christmas ornaments for later in the season.

In addition to Wagner's newfound presence in downtown Detroit, the artist is also preparing to expand her Pontiac studio, nearly doubling its size. Wagner's 4,000 sq. ft. Pontiac headquarters serves mainly as a studio, with 3,000 sq. ft. dedicated to machinery, workspace, and shipping. She's planning on building a 3,000 sq. ft. addition on the building, and expects to complete it within the next three years.

One of the things that spurred on the expansion is a current project, a chandelier that is 9.5 ft. tall. Constricted by space, Wagner has to work on the chandelier in pieces. The new expansion will feature a two-story open space that will allow the artist to work on such large projects as one piece.

The epiphany studios gallery at the Guardian Building is open Thursday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and also by appointment.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Former Plymouth middle school woodshop to be converted into art gallery, classroom, and more

Plymouth's old Central Middle School ceased operations in 2015, the city having moved its 7th and 8th graders to another facility in town. But the historic school building in downtown Plymouth is set to educate children once more, this time in the form of art education.

While rest of the 100-year old building has been converted into the Plymouth Arts & Recreation Complex, the corner of the old middle school that once housed a wood shop classroom is now becoming home to Warehouse Studio and the headquarters and classroom of Art Foundation. Warehouse Studio amenities will include a modern art gallery, production studio, and retail space.

The second part of the project, Art Foundation, is a non-profit designed to foster and nurture the creative minds of young people. According to artist Tony RoKo, founder of both Warehouse and Art Foundation, he wasn't supported in his creative endeavors as a kid, and this is his chance to give what he never received. The Plymouth location will serve as the headquarters for his non-profit, as well as a classroom.

To raise the money required to launch both Warehouse Studio and the Art Foundation space, RoKo has partnered with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation on a crowdfunding campaign. Should Art Foundation successfully raise $40,000 by Nov. 7, MEDC will contribute a $40,000 matching grant as part of their Public Spaces Community Places placemaking initiative.

The crowdfunding campaign is being hosted by the Michigan-based Patronicity platform, which is online here.

According to officials, the money raised from the crowdfunding campaign will go towards renovating the old wood shop into a studio, furnish the classroom, and install modern technologies befitting a gallery and retail store. Funds will also go towards the development of curricula and public programs to be carried out at the main Plymouth location as well as Art Foundation's satellite location at the DEN non-profit accelerator in Detroit.

The Plymouth Arts and Recreation Complex, the future home of Warehouse Studio and Art Foundation, is located at 650 Church St. in downtown Plymouth.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Restaurant veterans to open southern-inspired Menagerie Lounge in Pontiac

A new restaurant is being planned for downtown Pontiac, and it comes from a few familiar faces in the city's dining scene.

James and April Forbes, the couple responsible for the pop-up kitchen and incubator Menagerie, are planning on opening a restaurant of their own. Dubbed Menagerie Lounge, the restaurant will feature southern-inspired fare, live entertainment, and design work and art from local Pontiac artists. The couple, who won the Food Network's Cupcake Wars in 2012, will also carry their own award-winning desserts.

Scheduled for a February 2018 opening, Menagerie Lounge will be located at 155 N. Saginaw St. in downtown Pontiac.

"When we go out to eat, we've been in the service industry for so long that we have a different lens that we view the experience through. We're more forgiving, but we also know how we want our staff to treat our customers," April says. "The customer service will be top notch because people work hard for their money."

The build-out of the restaurant is being funded, in part, by a recently announced $25,000 grant from Flagstar Bank and a $35,000 Small Business Administration (SBA) loan from Center for Empowerment and Economic Development (CEED). The grant is part of $2.5 million that Flagstar is scheduled to invest in small business development in Pontiac.

"We're super excited about the loan and grant opportunity. It's not often that a small restaurant gets this type of opportunity at all," says James. "We're excited about the direction the city is heading in."

April recommends that businesses interested in applying for the loans and grants be prepared and have their business plans ready. Oakland County's One Stop Shop Business Center, she says, was a big help in preparing Menagerie's business plan.

Menagerie, which got its start as a pop-up kitchen in 2015, moved to Lafayette Market earlier this year, where they facilitate the pop-up kitchen and restaurant incubator programs. The couple says that they will continue to work on the incubator program, even after their own restaurant opens.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Ferndale restaurateur and DDA chief not content to rest on laurels: Dean Bach of Dino's, M-Brew

They told him that it couldn't be done. They said he was crazy for building a nice bar in turn-of-the-century downtown Ferndale. And to the naysayers' credit, when Dean Bach opened Dino's Lounge in August 2002, Ferndale didn't anywhere nearly resemble the trendy hub that it's become today. Bach says that downtown was more known for empty storefronts than it was condos, more for busted "massage parlors" than hip nightspots.

But with Dino's, Bach took an if-you-build-it-they-will-come approach. A patron of the nearby Post Bar, he was starting to age out of the "plastic cups and sweaty bodies bumping into each other" phase of his nightlife. As he transitioned out of his early 30s, Bach wanted to build a bar where you could feel like a grown-up but still young, too; a place that was upscale but not uptight.

It's fifteen years later and Bach has been proven right on his gamble on the old Rialto Cafe building on Woodward Avenue. His enthusiasm for the community early on, like appearing on local TV spots and acting as a booster for the city as much as for his restaurant, helped establish Ferndale's downtown as a destination. So it's no wonder he's since become chairperson of the Ferndale Downtown Development Association. 
Today, development in Ferndale is going both up and out, with taller buildings being built and downtown's fashionable footprint beginning to stretch east of Woodward and down Nine Mile Road toward I-75.

"There's nothing wrong with putting a nice place somewhere that doesn't have many nice places. I thought, It'll catch up to me. And the next thing you know, people were passing me by and now there's a lot nicer places all around me," says Bach. "That's why we've done all these renovations. Because now I have to go back and catch up to the people that have passed me up while I sat here for fifteen years enjoying the fruits of the original labor."

Bach recently shut down his restaurant for a two-week-long renovation blitza risky move for any business owner. Most of the work was performed by Bach, his wife, family, friends, and employees, determined to re-open as soon as possible.

Garage doors open up to the city sidewalk. The mustard yellow walls have been painted over in shades of grey and white, with most of the posters and knick knacks removed for a cleaner, modern look. Reclaimed wood covers many of the walls and pillars. Bach hired a former employee with her own furniture business to build tables and chairs out of reclaimed wood from a 300 year old Grosse Ile building. The giant mirror has been refurbished, and Edison bulbs punctuate the room.

Rebuilt bathrooms, new kitchen equipment, and more gives Dino's a fresh feel, one Bach contends is necessary after fifteen years in businesswhich is 50 years in restaurant years, he says. Bach even got rid of three of the five TVs and, he says proudly, not a single person has complained.

The menu, too, has been updated. It's smaller with more focus, centering on foods that don't require a fork but lend themselves to creative and easily modifiable recipes, including sandwiches, loaded fries and poutine, mini-shish kabobs, and chicken wings. One thing that has remained, of course, is the famous Dino's brunch.

In 2014, Bach partnered on another bar in town, M-Brew. It's a Michigan-themed bar in an old VFW hall converted to feel like a northern Michigan lake house, complete with a fireplace and wrap-around porch. Bach personally drives around northern Michigan, happily searching out hard-to-find small batch beers to bring back to Ferndale.

Bach's enjoyed that last pursuit so much that he's ready to announce yet another restaurant: the Belle Iron Grill in the northern Michigan town of Gaylord, tentatively scheduled to open in July 2018. Bach is bringing the Dino's "Funday" Brunch concept to Gaylord, a trend they've yet to catch on to, he says. If M-Brew is his chance to bring northern Michigan to Ferndale, than the Belle Iron Grill will be his chance to bring Ferndale to northern Michigan.

"This has become a kind of utopia of friendliness," says Bach. "Ferndale is a very special city. It's become this bright and shiny piece of Woodward where everybody says hello to you when you're walking down the street."

"This is a special town."

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Farmington Hills dance, yoga, and Bharat Natyam instructor builds a 40-year legacy of community

Chaula Thacker started both her business, Chauladevi Institute of Dance and Yoga, and non-profit organization, Nadanta, in 1977, just a year after her arrival in the United States in 1976. 
She came to study ballet, but her teacher soon asked Thacker to start teaching, too, a request that would affect the rest of her life. She knows numerous styles of dance, but her specialty is Bharat Natyam, a classical Indian dance known for its colorful costumes and exuberance.

"I came to this country and started studying ballet in Dayton, but they had me start teaching Bharat Natyam right away," says Thacker. "I said, I came here to learn ballet, and you're telling me to teach my dance style. They said, 'you can do both.' So I did."

Both her business and non-profit still exist today, 40 years later. And 40 years later, she is still at it. 
In her dance and yoga studio, she teaches school children, university students, senior citizens, and more, both Indians and non-Indians alike. She also volunteers classes for people with special needs, offering wheelchair dance classes and more.

Thacker also operates the non-profit Nadanta out of her Farmington Hills home, dedicating the entirety of her basement to the organization, as well as a couple of bedrooms-turned-offices upstairs. While the business allows her to teach, Nadanta allows Thacker the ability to promote and preserve the Indian tradition of Bharat Natyam.

When Thacker first arrived in the United States, she says that not many people were interested in Bharat Natyam, even Indians themselves. Nadanta has helped change that. Over its 40-year existence, Thacker's group has been invited to perform all over the world, from the then-Soviet Union to Disneyworld.

"The very first year we were invited to Russia and Europe as cultural ambassadors," says Thacker. "Three different continents: Indians born and raised in the United States, except me, presenting Indian art from America in the Soviet Union."

Metro Detroiters might recognize Nadanta from any number of their many performances; Thacker says they're busy just about every single weekend of the year. Public performances, private parties, birthdays, weddings, competitions; here or abroad, the group is in high demand. 
They're regular performers at events held in downtown Detroit and have performed at the Arts Beats and Eats festival for 19 years straight. They sell out local theaters and have been taped for television, including PBS. Nadanta is so busy that they don't bother advertising for gigs. There's simply no need.

"It's all by how we've established ourselves," Thacker says. "We don't really advertise too much; we don't have fifteen different YouTube channels. We don't have any of those. Now, sometimes we should, but we don't have the hours to work on that. Whatever time we do have is spent on the production itself. And people keep coming back."

That hard work has paid off for the group. And Thacker says that audiences can see the discipline and effort put into their performances. They've performed in numerous countries. They've won hundreds of awards and competitions. They've earned financial support from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts every year since 1988.

Thacker herself is tireless, either teaching at CIDY, Nadanta, or both, every single day of the week. In addition to being the founder and artistic director at Nadanta, Thacker has been a faculty member at College for Creative Studies and has taught dance classes at Wayne State University, Oakland University, and Marygrove College. 
And not only has she a degree in dance, Thacker also earned a degree in microbiology. While she never pursued a career in microbiology, Thacker says that elements like anatomy and the movement of the DNA strand have informed her work. She's also written a book, "An Introduction to Bharat Natyam," among her many, many other accomplishments.

For Thacker, all that effort has been worth it. After 40 years of teaching and choreographing, Thacker is now working with the sons and daughters of previous students. She's watched other students form lifelong bonds, and she's watched them pair off into couples. This December, she'll be traveling to Chicago to watch a performance by a new Bharat Natyam dance company started by one of her former students.

"That is what I need to see, as a future legacy. Not if Nadanta is still doing something or not, but that they the students are doing something on their own," says Thacker. "As long as there is dance, yoga, and a good sense of Bharat Natyam, then Nadanta survives."

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Local community theaters among those to receive state arts and culture grants

Nearly 500 community arts groups and cultural institutions throughout the state have been named recipients of Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA) grants, and a large number of them located within the greater Detroit metropolitan region.

Over the course of the 2017 and '18 fiscal year, 474 organizations will split $10.6 million in grants. 56 of the state's 83 counties are represented, with Wayne County benefitting quite heavily. Oakland and Macomb counties are represented as well. Organizations include schools, festivals, museums, historical societies, and much more.

Represented well in each of Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne counties are community theaters. Tipping Point Theatre, located in downtown Northville, is the recipient of two grants, one listed at $53,091 and the other at $15,000. Dan Ferrara, the theater's Director of Development, says that the money will go toward operational costs as well as updated and energy efficient lighting equipment.

"As a non-profit arts organization, the MCACA support is critical to our success and our impact on the community. We employ over 90 Michigan artists each year and our ticket-holders spend nearly a half-million dollars each season at surrounding businesses before and after performances," says Ferrara. "By helping us succeed, MCACA is supporting not only local arts, but the local economy."

This is the first year that Open Book Theatre Company was eligible for an operational grant from MCACA, and the Trenton theater successfully secured $11,250 for the upcoming fiscal year. Krista Schafer Ewbank, Artistic Director at Open Book, says she's thrilled.

"A grant from MCACA helps more than just financially; it's a recognition of the importance of the work we do bringing professional theatre to our community Downriver and lends credibility to our organization as we seek support from other avenues," says Schafer Ewbank. "The grant will help us pay both artistic and administrative staff, as well as the expenses that come with running a theatre, everything from paying the electric bill to buying toilet paper."

Click here for a full list of this year's MCACA grant recipients.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Pontiac in the news: Non-profit medical center opens, historic downtown theater offers hurricane aid

Wellness Plan: The Wellness Plan has opened a new medical center in Pontiac. It's the second location in the city for the non-profit organization, and its fifth overall.

The newest Wellness Plan Medical Center takes over the former site of Oakland Primary Health Services at 46156 Woodward Ave. Patients can expect the same medical and dental services as offered by other Wellness Plan locations, as well as expanded services. Additional offerings include women's health services, an on-site pharmacy, and integrated behavioral health and social services.

A Federally Qualified Health Center, the Wellness Plan is a non-profit that caters to uninsured and underinsured populations. There is a Sliding Fee Discount Program for those eligible, taking factors like family size and household income into account.

"We are thrilled to build on our sustained growth and more than 40-year history in Metro Detroit with our newest location in Pontiac," The Wellness Plan CEO Anthony King says in a statement. "Reinforcing our deep ties to the Pontiac community, we will continue to provide quality medical care to those who need it most."

The Wellness Plan opened its first medical center in Pontiac three years ago, at the Henderson Health Center at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital.

Hurricane Relief: Following the devastation recently wrought by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, downtown Pontiac's Flagstar Strand Theatre has announced that it will donate a portion of ticket sales to help in recovery and relief efforts.

A portion of every ticket sold to the following seven shows will be donated to the American Red Cross and MusiCares:
  • Sunday, Oct. 1 -- Boz Scaggs
  • Tuesday, Oct. 10 -- An Evening with Travis Tritt, solo acoustic
  • Wednesday, Oct. 11 -- Tango Buenos Aires
  • Thursday, Oct. 19 -- Chris Isaak
  • Saturday, Oct. -- The Artimus Pyle Band Honoring the Music of Ronnie Van Zant’s Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • Saturday, Oct. 28 -- Festival of South African Dance
  • Wednesday, Nov. 1 -- Martial Artists Acrobats of the Tianjin
The Flagstar Strand Theatre is located at 12 N. Saginaw St. in downtown Pontiac.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.
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