New Ypsi Fine Arts Club offers supportive community for area artists and art lovers

The Ypsi Fine Arts Club is inspired by the Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club, a group of artists and art enthusiasts that meets regularly to support and showcase Detroit art.
In February 2023, staff at Ypsilanti's Riverside Arts Center (RAC) held a series of community feedback conversations to ask Ypsilanti’s community of artists, art enthusiasts, educators, and nonprofits what they wanted to see at RAC. While answers varied among those present at each forum, a consistent theme emerged: a desire for RAC to become a central gathering place for artists.

"Artists, creatives, and art lovers wanted a place to gather to be somewhere that feels like a home base, where they can commune and share with each other," says RAC Executive Director Elizabeth Warren. "The Ypsi Fine Arts Club was our response to that call."

The Ypsi Fine Arts Club is inspired by the Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club, a group of artists and art enthusiasts that meets regularly to support and showcase Detroit art. The Ypsi Fine Arts Club held its inaugural meeting on May 17, and will run every other Wednesday night from 5 p.m.-8 p.m., with the exception of holidays. The space is intended to allow attendees to discuss their current creative endeavors, receive feedback, and even show and sell pieces to enthusiasts and collectors in attendance. 

"After you see someone’s art, you know a little bit more about them. You become part of it with them," Warren says.

Each meeting begins with first-time attendees introducing themselves to give the group an idea of who they are and what kind of art they create – or if they don’t create at all and have come to promote galleries' calls for artists or to purchase a new piece for their own space. Warren says doing so makes both the idea of sharing your art and receiving feedback, as well as connecting with other local artists, much less intimidating.
RAC executive director Elizabeth Warren at the inaugural meeting of the Ypsi Fine Arts Club.
"Using this club as a tool to create community change could be really powerful," Warren says. "We want to give amateur artists opportunities to show their work in a meaningful way, and have people walk into that room caring about each other and leave caring about each other more."

The idea to bring the concept of the Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club to Ypsilanti came from Embracing our Differences Art Director Lynne Settles, a former Ypsilanti Community Schools art teacher returning to her own creative work.

Settles met with Takeisha Jefferson, a Michigan-based photographer and longtime Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club member, at an art exhibit she was holding in Ypsi. There, Settles learned about the Fine Arts Breakfast Club model for the first time.

"Takeisha took me to a meeting of the Fine Arts Breakfast Club, and I was blown away by the atmosphere and energy, and the way artists were supporting and encouraging each other," Settles says. "I pitched it to the folks at Riverside, and we agreed that this is something that Ypsi needs to bring all of these artists together, at least a few times a month."

Jefferson, who has acted as a liaison between Warren, Settles, and Detroit’s club, says the concept of the club is "vital for a place like Ypsi." 
Takeisha Jefferson at the inaugural meeting of the Ypsi Fine Arts Club.
"We’re rich in talent, but have long lacked a unifying platform that brings our artists into the limelight," Jefferson says.

Jefferson took Settles back to another meeting in Detroit, bringing Warren along this time as well. Warren was pleasantly surprised to win the Detroit club's regular art raffle on her first night, and to connect with the club's co-founder, Henry Harper.

"He has been very responsive, kind, and excited to have another platform for artists to be able to talk about their work and become better artists," Warren says.

The artist raffle, along with other aspects of Detroit’s format, have all found a home in Ypsi’s club as well, paying homage to the club's inspiration in Detroit. Jefferson feels that by doing so, she, Warren and Settles are "not only creating a space for artists to thrive, but also ensuring the artist is visible in the art." 

"The Ypsi Fine Arts Club, in many ways, is the key to uncovering the many hidden gems in our region and giving them the recognition they deserve," Jefferson says. "'I’m ecstatic about the enthusiastic turnout we've had so far, which is a testament to the dedication of Riverside and Lynne to our community."
Lynne Settles at the inaugural meeting of the Ypsi Fine Arts Club.
Ypsilanti mixed-media painter Alysia Yvette attended both the soft, private launch of the Ypsi Fine Arts Club and the public inaugural meeting in May. She feels the club will provide an avenue for her to connect with more artists, with the added bonus of possibly selling work.

"Becoming a part of this group was important to me personally, because I found it difficult trying to navigate this art space and find different events and ways to get myself and my art out there," Yvette says. "Being a member of the club, I have access to much more information regarding upcoming events and shows. I've been able to speak with other artists and start trying new things."

Yvette says sharing art can be emotionally difficult, but the club’s format encourages discussion and constructive critique when requested, which makes the process easier over time. 

"Having a community behind you to encourage you, critique you when necessary, and share your same interests and love for art is so amazing and necessary to your growth," Yvette says. "Building relationships within this community is what it's about. It's been a great opportunity and we have a fun time."

Warren says the meeting schedule gives artists more opportunities to show up when they’re able, and not feel like they’ve missed out if they can't make a meeting.
Kathi Talley, Bill Kinley, Lynne Settle, Takeisha Jefferson, Elizabeth Warren , Grey Grant, and Maggie Spencer at the inaugural meeting of the Ypsi Fine Arts Club.
"There’s no commitment. If you miss one, you know there’s another one coming up that month," Warren says. "It’s extremely accessible. There are no barriers to coming. You open the door, you walk in, [and] you sit down. You get this experience that you’re not really going to find anywhere else except Detroit."

Settles says the Ypsi Fine Arts Club not only creates a greater sense of community for local artists, but also helps stimulate the Ypsi community as a whole.

"We know that the arts drive income and bring people into cities," Settles says. "There are artists that want to teach classes. There are parents looking for artists teaching certain things. If someone approaches me looking for artists to do murals, I have somewhere to send them. It’s going to be revenue-producing for the city, for the artists, and for Riverside as well."

The Ypsilanti Fine Arts Club meets the first and third Wednesday of each month from 5 p.m.-8 p.m. at Riverside Arts Center, 76 N. Huron St. in downtown Ypsilanti. The meetings are free to attend, although attendees may choose to purchase raffle tickets or food from a local vendor when available. Attendees are not required to present art, but may sign up to do so by 6 p.m. For more information on the club, visit RAC’s website, or contact Warren at elizabeth@riversidearts.org.

"Stereotypically, we’ve been told we’re the 'weird bunch,' but we just see the world a little differently, and now we’re in a room where everyone sees the world a little differently," Settles says.

Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.

All photos by Doug Coombe.
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