Saline art center pursues "more vibrant downtown" in expanded new location

Whitepine Studios arose from the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its classes and other programs have quickly become popular.
On June 1, Whitepine Studios, an art gallery, studio, and event space, will relocate to 105 W. Michigan Ave. in Saline. The larger space will allow Whitepine to expand its services, says Marketing Director Randy Dence.
Dence says Whitepine Studios currently offers a wide variety of art classes aimed at all age groups, "from mommy-and-me-type-classes" to "mobile events with the senior communities." The space is available for birthday parties and summer camps for kids, but Whitepine's current location at 141 W. Michigan Ave. in Saline has limited what the business can do. During Whitepine's first year offering summer camps, Dence says some camps sold out. 
Whitepine Studios Marketing Director Randy Dence.
"We had to tell children, 'We don't have room for you,' which no kid likes to hear [and] no mother likes to hear," he says.
The new building, which was previously occupied by Smokehouse 52, will not only allow Whitepine to double the size of its camps, but also add a reception area for parents and other visitors to wait in, and a dedicated gallery space featuring the work of local and not-so-local artists. The large main space, where art classes and camps will take place, will also be available to rent.
A family affair
The idea for Whitepine Studios came out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dence says. His daughter, Kaili Dence, is an artist and graduate of the University of Michigan Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design. She was teaching art classes online, and Randy Dence says Kaili Dence quickly became frustrated with the online medium.
"She came to the conclusion pretty quickly that really what was needed was an in-person experience," Randy Dence says. He adds that the Dence family founded Whitepine Studios "to create a complete custom experience."
Kaili Dence serves as creative director of Whitepine Studios, leading the majority of art classes and camps. Her brother, Tyler Dence, is technical director, overseeing Whitepine Studios' website. Joanne Dence, their mother and Randy Dence's wife, is managing director, handling logistics and daily operations.
 Whitepine Studios Creative Director Kaili Dence.
"We each have our own niche, if you will," Randy Dence says. "The tasks divide up pretty fairly."
He adds that it would be "tough if you had four artists, or four computer scientists, or four engineers" trying to run a business. Instead, each family member is able to draw on their own unique set of interests and skills. 

"It's nice that we each bring our own strengths to the table," Randy Dence adds.
A custom experience
Coming out of COVID lockdown, Randy Dence says he noticed a "void."
"Everybody bought stuff for their home office or for their yard [during] the pandemic, but what they really missed was experiences," he says.
Now, he says, "people don't necessarily want to go and buy another barbecue grill. They just bought one last summer." Instead, he says people want to get together "to share experiences."
 Randy Dence and Kaili Dence at the future location of Whitepine Studios.
"Say you and your girlfriends want to get together for a Paint and Pour," Randy Dence says, referring to a popular series of casual classes in which participants are provided wine alongside painting instruction.
"You paint a nice painting, you have some wine, have a few laughs," Randy Dence says. At the end of the evening, "you walk away with a nice piece of art that you did."
Whitepine's new space "is perfect for that. It's very cozy," he adds.
But Randy Dence's ambitions aren't limited to the studio alone. He wants to help revitalize Saline's downtown by making Whitepine Studios "a destination business."
 The future location of Whitepine Studios.
Let's say you stop in at Whitepine Studios for a painting party, Randy Dence says.

"You're probably not just going to come into the studio at 7:30 and then leave at 8:30, right?" he says. "You're going to say, 'Afterwards, we'll go have a drink or we'll take a look at the yard and the art gallery and hang around and chat. We'll come in a little early, maybe have dinner.'"
That means that Whitepine will help boost traffic to nearby businesses, Randy Dence says. He imagines Saline as "a cultural hub where you can go for music, have something to eat, have a glass of wine, and make it an experience rather than a transaction."
"If I could say, 'What would be the vision long term?' [it] is to have a more vibrant downtown," he says.

Natalia Holtzman is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Millions, and others.

All photos by Doug Coombe.
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