From conveyor belts to classrooms, Studio 23’s renovation expands art education in Bay County

Studio 23 was established in 1959 inside the old Wieland Furniture Store on US 23. 

“Which is where we got our name,” says Tara Welch, the Executive Director of Studio 23, an art gallery located in the Jennison Building in downtown Bay City. 

“Then we moved to the little red schoolhouse on Knight Road, then Thomas Jefferson School, and then City Hall. This is our 5th and final home,” she says, standing on the original terrazzo floor in the entrance of the newly renovated Studio 23. 

Jennison Hardware Company was established in 1850. The original building burned twice, once in 1870 and a second time in 1924. 

“Dave, one of our board members, remembers going there as a kid when it was a hardware store,” says Bay City native and President of the Board of Studio 23, Sarah Dandamudi. “They had some sort of a conveyor belt system where they would send supplies and things down from storage upstairs.” 

In the late 1990’s two stories were added to the building as part of its conversion into a high-end condominium complex that also housed a well-established art gallery on the bottom level. 

“We haven’t done any renovations since, and it was ready for it. We were ready. Classes and educational programs are bigger now, so we needed more space. We also needed to do some much-needed updating to the gallery,” says Welch. 

Dandamudi says much of the growth can be attributed to Welch and the background she brought to the organization.
“Her background is in art education,” Dandamudi says, “and when she came to the studio, she revamped our whole education program. I don’t know if anyone was prepared for how much that would take off.” 

At the beginning of her education, however, Welch had her eyes on a different profession.

“I thought I wanted to be a nurse. I was taking art classes for fun, and my art professors encouraged me to plan my path with the art community,” says Welch. “When I started teaching here I was 23. Then, one of the positions opened up here, and all of a sudden I was the bookkeeper. Then the office manager left, and so I became the office manager, the bookkeeper, and a teacher. Not long after that, our director retired and I decided to apply.” 

Welch became the Executive at the age of 24.

The Fresh Face of Studio 23 

“It feels modern. Clean. It's an art space that you could put in any city,” said Dandamudi. 
Several local businesses were consulted for the renovations at Studio 23 including Form and Function, an interior design firm, Spicer Group; a civil engineering and surveying company; and Simoni Sound Systems, an audio and video systems company.

“Kathy Staudacher helped do our blueprints. She designed the space originally,” said Welch. 
  • Renovations include: 
  • New front reception area including a projection donor wall 
  • Updated and expanded classroom space with epoxy floors 
  • New sound system 
  • New acoustical ceiling that increases sound absorption by 33% 
  • LED lighting throughout the gallery 
  • 2 murals 
  • New office space 
  • Refinished stage area on the first floor 

“The floor was probably the hardest decision of the whole remodel. We wanted something warm and inviting but also something that would fade away to make sure the emphasis is always on the artwork,” says Welch. 

Studio 23’s Mission 

Dedicated to bringing arts to the Great Lakes Bay Area, the goal of Studio 23 is to offer more art education programs and exhibit artists. 

“As we continue to grow, we see ourselves being more involved in the public school system. Right now we are teaching classes in three local schools. We are [also] working on collaborations in Midland, Saginaw, and Mount Pleasant. This is just phase one. We want to make sure we are becoming a regional organization, not just Bay County.” said Welch. 

Studio 23 will celebrate its 60th birthday party at their Open House on May 9th. Tours will be given from 5:30-7:30 pm following the ribbon cutting ceremony which will held by the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce at 5:00 pm. 

“We are excited to invite everyone into the space to check out all the nooks and crannies of where we remodeled,” concluded Welch. “Come see us!”
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