Artists are weaving themselves into the history of the Masonic Temple near Downtown Bay City

The Historic Masonic Temple - located on the southeast corner of Center and Madison - has been through some remarkable changes during its time here in Bay City. It has grown from the home of the Freemasons more than 100 years ago to the home of community workshops and live performances today.

The Historic Masonic Temple, 614 Center Ave., was built in 1893.The building’s history is as rich as the town itself. The Masonic Temple was built at 700 N. Madison Ave. in 1893 as the home of Bay City’s local Joppa Lodge #315, which was chartered in Bay City in 1874. Learn more about the building in this 2019 Route Bay City article.

Erica Tatum, who recently took on the role of program director for the center, says she wants the building to become a vibrant center for education.

“The whole point of restoring and renovating the Temple is to make it not just like an events venue, but also a community school for the arts,” Tatum says. “So we've had people interested in doing music lessons there, teaching yoga classes there and everything. We've been able to house different groups in the building.”

Katie Curtis joins other creatives for a workshop at the Historic Masonic Temple.Before Tatum took on her role, former program directors Adam Gat and Kelley Kent had built three creative, weekly workshops and offered the building as a venue to host events and performances. Tatum hopes to build on that momentum, bringing a creative workspace back into the community.

“One of the things that Kelley wanted to start up was a writers roundtable group,” says Tatum. “And Adam was like, ‘Well why don't we start incorporating different arts and we can have them on different days? And if you want to come by regularly, it'll sort of be like a guild.’ “

Since then, the events are called workshops instead of guilds. The guiding principles are the same, though.

Kelley Kent was the one who first suggested the guilds, or workshops, to bring creatives into the Temple.“Say you are a poet or a writer,” Tatum says. “Every week on Wednesday night, we have our Writers’ Roundtable where you can bring your laptop or bring your notebook and work on your writing, talk to the other people about what they're working on, get feedback. That expanded into Artists’ Assembly, which is basically the same thing but for artists on Saturday morning.”

It didn’t stop there.

“I like to sew. I'm a costumer, so I was like, ‘Do you think we could add a Crafters’ Club on Sunday afternoon, because not anything else is really happening?’ We have people who do sewing, knitting, jewelry making, cruller beads – any kind of arts and crafts type thing.”

Tatum’s ideas to open to all ages stemmed from personal experience.

“I actually work in a quilting store outside of the Temple and we have drop-in workshops there for sewing and quilting. But it's kind of always the same people, an older crowd. It's a little harder to break into that if you don't know anybody or you're just starting out.

The workshops follow CDC guidelines, encouraging participants to wear masks, stay 6 feet apart, and stay home if they aren’t feeling well."So the whole point of the workshops is that if you're a published author or a professional artist, you can come in and help out people that are just starting out, or just want to dip their toe into something new. It's for everybody.”

Tatum has been thinking of additional ways to help the public reap the benefits of the Masonic Temple. She has a vision for the future of the Temple, which extends far beyond its historical significance and striking architecture. Although she’s new to the role as program director, she has years of experience with the Temple and its programs.

“I was introduced to the Masonic by a friend back in 2017,” she says. “She was starting up a theater company there and she asked a bunch of us to come check out the place to see if we were interested in volunteering with the theatre company. I was introduced to Kelley Kent, who at the time was kind of running all of the programming at the Temple. And I was like, ‘Hey, you guys do monster movies here! Would you be interested in doing ‘this and this’ event and concerts here?’ And she's like, ‘Oh yeah. Anything you want to do, do it at the Temple. We want to bring more people.’ 

All ages are welcome at the workshops. So far, the youngest participants are in their teens. But organizers say younger – and older – participants are welcome. “So a couple of years ago, in 2019, the friend that actually started the theatre company was really busy and she was like, ‘Hey do you just want to take over for me?’ And so I did. One thing led to another. Now I'm running the theater company there.”

The path to building the Temple’s audience has come with COVID-19 roadblocks over the past year.

The workshops began in late 2019 and early 2020. The pandemic forced them to close until the fall of 2020. Now, the Writers’ Workshop runs every Wednesday from 7-9 pm, the Artist Assembly is every Saturday from 9-11:30 am, and the Crafters Guild is the first and third Sunday from noon-4 pm.

“Our workshops are free,” she says. “We always accept donations, but it's more about getting people into the Temple (and) getting them interested in the building, because that's a big obstacle for us. A lot of people just don't know we are there. I mean I lived in Bay City for like five years and had never been to that building, had never noticed that building (being used), and I drive by it all the time but it just kind of blends into the rest of the old buildings.”

All ages groups are encouraged to attend any of the workshops.

Three times a week, workshops filled with writers, artists, and crafters meet at the Masonic Temple to exchange ideas.“We have some teenagers that come to the Writers’ Roundtable sometimes, but no kids yet,” she says. “We are totally open to that.”

Some events are already planned on the near horizon. Earlier this month, the Vanishing Elephant Players staged hosted “Pronoun,” a play by Evan Placey, at the Temple.

“We are looking to start doing our Midnight Monster Movies,” she adds. “We used to do them once a month and then the pandemic (began), but we're looking to bring those back in summer.”

Erica Tatum, the new program director for the Historic Masonic Temple, hopes to turn it into a community arts school.Tatum sees a bright future for the Temple.

“We are taking it slow, as cautiously as we can,” she says. “But just based on how many of our volunteers already have been vaccinated, we're cautiously optimistic. So it looks like we're gonna start being able to bring (more) things back in the summer, late summer.”

In the meantime between the workshops and events, the Temple is going to make some much needed updates.

“The summer is going to be a little hectic for us, but keep an eye on our Facebook page for events that are coming in the late summer to the fall. We'll be opening back up. We’re trying to make our building more accessible and part of that is a wheelchair lift.”

For more information you can keep up to date with the Bay City Masonic Temple on its website or on Facebook. You can call the Temple at (989) 632-5097. 


 
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